Internship interviews: What I’ve learnt

Guardian Open Weekend - some thoughts on Politics

You’ve sent off countless CVs, covering letters and emails, trawled websites and poured over job alerts for hours. Finally, it’s all paid off, and you’ve been invited down to the shiny London offices for an interview for a summer internship. And it’s in three days, panic! Where do you begin after booking the train? After my panicked week before my interview, here’s what I’ve learnt. I think I must have done something right too, as I’ve since secured an internship with political periodical Total Politics.

Research: Do this well, and thoroughly. The company, what they do, who they’re owned by, the stakeholders, the people involved, their values, their taglines. Get as much information as you can about who works there, what they’ve done, what interests they have, and how you can fit in there. Google and Wikipedia are your good friends here, but equally so are the company websites, newspapers and Twitter.

I’d always looked at the Total Politics magazine and browsed their website, but I made sure I’d read the latest issue cover to cover, the most read, up to date blogs from that day and checked their Twitter to inform myself on what they were promoting. The more you know about them, the more confident you will feel when asked to speak about them.

Plan answers to questions: If you were interviewing you, what would you ask? To get you started, think of the obvious; why do you want to intern here? What will you get out of an internship with us? I thought of every question under the sun they might ask, and planned out some thoughts so I wasn’t completely thrown back. You’ll probably not think of them all, but it was useful to cover as many bases as possible.

If there’s any information online on what to expect with them, think about how it will help your career, and what parts of the internship you’re particularly excited about. It will get you thinking about some of the things they might ask you, and get some practise to try and stop a mad case of the rambles coming on. More importantly, it will hopefully tease out the enthusiasm for the company which made you apply in the first place.

Know your strengths and weaknesses, there’s no point lying about your incredible but non-existent Photoshop skills if over two or three months, you’ll have to use them at some point – be honest and accentuate what skills you do have. The company want to know why they should pick you out of the rest – what makes you better than the next budding work experience student?

I know I’m not qualified. I don’t have an NCTJ, BA or a Masters, don’t know shorthand and haven’t much of a clue about media law. But I have had some excellent experience, I’m learning the skills I need on the job, I am extremely keen to learn the rest and I have a lot of knowledge and ideas I can offer the publication.

Have something different to say: Shine. What do you like about the company, and what don’t you like? Many companies will welcome feedback with open arms, so instead of suggesting something they’ve probably already heard of, think outside of the box and give it some thought. Read over your CV and covering letter too, to check what you’ve already told them. Go for something new.

Aside from the pure passion for politics I have, I liked that Total Politics was ‘positive’ about politics, which is a complete contrast to most of the media’s take on things. I also spoke about my future in journalism which I had briefly touched upon on my CV, to give the interviewer an idea of what I wanted to get out of the placement that I hadn’t already mentioned.

Know your subject: Especially if it’s some form of niche market as it was for me with Total Politics, prepare some obscure answers. During my interview I was asked about the MPs I’d heard about in the news recently, and what I thought of them. This is a chance to show your knowledge for your subject areas, and prove to your interviewer you know what you’re talking about.

It goes without saying…

Be polite and friendly: Some advice I received on the day was to shake everyone’s hand and ask them how they were. Simple, but very effective. To be a good journalist, your people skills need to be brilliant, but this is true of almost every career. Smile, and say please and thank you. Keep eye contact and keep body language open to seem approachable and friendly, as I know you are.

Dress well: Regardless of the company, it’s always a good idea to suit up a little. Obviously tailor it to the place you’re applying to, as the zoo might not appreciate the suit so much. I went for something in between – smart blazer, plan shirt and nice jeans. More importantly; wear comfy shoes, especially if (like me) you’re not the best at navigating your way around. This was my mistake – the red heels complimented the blue blazer perfectly, and half a mile didn’t look that far on Google maps. The blisters still hurt.

Arrive early: Think of all the things that could happen to you en route to your interview. The train could be delayed, the bus could break down, the tube could be experiencing engineering works, you might have to stop off at Boots to buy plasters for your bleeding feet. Anything could happen. Prepare and make sure you get there early; nothing looks more uncommitted than turning up late.

To sum up; know your stuff, research everything well, turn up in good time and be polite and friendly. And avoid uncomfortable shoes.

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Filed under Journalism, Media, Work Experience

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