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By Brian Witte / Varsity Tutors
October 5, 2015

For many students, internships are a vital first step toward a promising career. But finding a promising opportunity is one thing – securing it is quite another! Even with a perfect application, you will still need to do well in the interview in order to land that dream internship. In some ways, successful interviewing is an art, one that requires careful planning and thought. Here are six common mistakes to plan for and avoid:

Mistake #1: Arriving late

This may seem like too obvious a mistake to mention, but interviewees are frequently late to their appointments. Arriving on time for an interview demonstrates your seriousness and your respect for the interviewer’s time. Prior to your appointment, research both location and transportation. In some instances, location may be more complicated than a single address. Texas Instruments, for example, has multiple offices in Dallas, Texas. Certain business campuses may include half a dozen buildings on a sprawling acreage. Before your interview, look at a map of the city or campus, and plan where you will park – or, if applicable, note the nearest public transportation stop. Record this information in a notebook or on your phone so that you are not frantically searching for the location of your interview at the last minute. You can also ask your contact for directions if you are unsure of the area.

Mistake #2: Dressing inappropriately

Clothing sends a message, and in an interview, your appearance may be the first impression you make on others. Like arriving on time, dressing in business-appropriate clothing is a way to show respect. Even if you are interviewing at a company that is known for its casual workplace attire, dressing well shows that you are aware that you are not yet part of the culture.

At a minimum, you should aim for business casual (slacks or a conservative skirt, and dress shirt or blouse as appropriate). For more formal professions, you may need to choose more formal attire, such as a suit.

Mistake #3: Failing to conduct research

The person conducting your interview, and the company hosting your future position, are both unique. Your interviewer wants to see that you are interested in this specific organization. This means that you should conduct research before your interview. For instance, what attracts you to this position?

Start by examining the company website. Learn what the company sells, or what services it provides. What is its mission or strategic vision? Take notes that you can review closer to your interview.

Next, search for news stories and perspectives about the company. What are some new developments that are not yet present on the website? What are some challenges faced by this organization or the field that it is in? Again, take notes, and then bring these ideas up in your interview.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to sell yourself

One common interview mistake is to treat the experience as an opportunity that is just for you. Remember that this internship is also an investment by the company. Interviewing, training, and overseeing an intern involves paid employee time that is not producing salable goods or services. The company, in other words, will be investing in you. What will you offer in return?

Before your interview, review your research. Be prepared to answer – and to volunteer – ways that you can contribute to the organization. You are not yet an expert in your field, but you do have enthusiasm, you may be technologically savvy, and you may have a strong understanding of social media. Think of at least three things that you do as well as or better than your peers. This may involve your writing ability, your interpersonal skills, or your organizational ability.

Mistake #5: Failing to ask questions

Prepare questions in advance for your interviewer. Asking questions shows engagement and interest. An internship is a learning experience, and asking informed questions can demonstrate your interest in learning. Your questions can be about what, exactly, you will be doing, with whom you would work, and what your responsibilities would include. Asking questions about the individual conducting the interview can also show that you are interested in that person’s professional knowledge and trajectory. Consider asking how long he or she has been with the company, and what he or she likes about it. Finally, near the end of the interview, ask about next steps. This is useful information in its own right, but it also introduces the expectation of continued dialogue.

Mistake #6: Choosing not to follow up

Do not forget to send a brief thank you note. A physical note is best, but an email is also acceptable. Keep your note short, but do include a statement of gratitude for your interviewer’s time and interest. Anything you can do to stand out as sincere will ultimately help your cause.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, the leading curated marketplace for the top private tutors in the U.S. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University

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