Making sure you land that summer internship.

Summer is coming and with it the internships season.

Disclaimer: I started my design/frontend developer career by doing a summer internship with the Nest Collective. Right after the summer, I started working with Deemaze Software, and since then I’ve been involved in the recruitment phase for two years of internships with dozens of candidates. I’m no HR expert, just someone who was once really looking forward to taking part in a summer internship and has since died a bit inside every time I had to say “no” to someone in that same position.

So, what’s this post?
This blog post is meant to help you select good summer internships and prepare for the interviews, focusing on design and development internships. I’ll share some “deal-breaker” interview moments I’ve witnessed while selecting candidates to help you avoid them. With the current Covid-19 situation, I’m afraid there are going to be fewer companies hosting summer internships this year, so you really must bring your A-game!

Also, I’ll be sharing some points you should consider before even applying.

What is this not?
Ill not give you an exhaustive list of Frequent Internship Interviews Questions. If that is what you’re looking for, there’s a lot of that out there. I don’t want you to have a carefully scripted and memorized answer for all template questions you find— I want you to feel prepared enough for the interview that you can confidently take part in a relaxed conversation even when you’re asked something unexpected.

PS: There’s a goodie waiting for you at the end of the post. 🎁

Let’s dive in.

Show your worth

Interviewer: Tell me about you.
Candidate: Erm… I don’t know…

You’ll always be asked about yourself: about your studies, projects you’ve worked on, technical skills, strengths and flaws, or even an open “what should we know about you?” question. We can break this down into two main areas.

Portfolio

Since you’re applying to a summer internship, it’s fair to assume you might not have work experience, but surely you have some experience. University and personal projects are perfectly valid when you’re applying to your first job.

You can choose to set up your portfolio on an existing platform (Behance, Github, etc), build your own website or even share a PDF file—anything is better than nothing. If you don’t submit any portfolio with your application and you’re still called for an interview, be sure to prepare some work to show during the interview. Download everything beforehand so you don’t waste precious interview time or even risk being unable to show what you planned.

But keep in mind that some companies are likely to have a selection phase before the first interview and if you don’t send them anything, they might not call you.

A note about the portfolio: keep it relevant. Send your top work and select the ones that are most relevant to the position you’re applying to. If you have 20 projects on your website, they might end up seeing only the 2 or 3 that are less interesting. If you have work from different areas (e.g. web design vs branding), properly identify the scope and context of each project.

Your true colours

Interviewer: What are your strengths and flaws when working with a team?
Candidate: I don’t really like working with others, I do all the work myself because I like doing things my way.

Yes, this happens. 😐

If you’re applying to a company that values people (and you should!) they’ll be interested not just on your technical skills, but in your personality — your so-called “soft skills”. They’ll want to make sure you’re a good match for their existing team.

Ask yourself what makes you interesting and different.

  • Do you have or previously had any hobby? It doesn’t have to be related to your studies.
  • Are you a part of any organization, such as student unions, junior enterprises, volunteer organization or sports teams? What is/was your role there?
  • Have you ever organized an event? Do you regularly participate in events such as conferences, hackathons, etc?
  • How do you relate to others in the work context? What is it that you wish to improve?

You might be asked about what you’re looking forward to learning or what’s your motivation to be on a summer internship. Anyone trying to spend their summer inside an office must be strongly motivated!

You can also refer some of these points in your application, whenever appropriate. Keep it honest but don’t sell yourself short, shorty!

Stalk the company

Interviewer: What do you know about us? Why are you a good match?
Candidate: I heard you throw good parties.

Again, this actually happens.

But yes, we do. 🍹

This is a two-way relationship, and your first interview is your first date with the company. You may want them to like you but that’s kind of pointless if you don’t like them back. Make your homework and investigate the company you’re applying to, not just because you’ll be better prepared for the interview but also to evaluate if it’s a place where you want to work.

Some things you can look into:

  • Are they specialised in any area (healthcare, music, gaming…)?
  • Do they work with a particular technology (web, mobile, VR, hardware…)?
  • What’s their culture like?
  • How are their work conditions?
  • Do they organize events open to the community? If so, attend some! It‘s an opportunity to meet them without the pressure of a formal interview.

You can get informed about the company by exploring their website, following it on social media and talking to people who work there.

You might be asked “why should we pick you” or “why are you a good match for us” and at the same time you should be asking yourself these same questions about the company. “Is this a good match for me?” If you know nothing about the company, you risk applying to a place you won’t enjoy (and you’re more likely to do bad at the interview).

Research the internship

Interviewer: Why did you apply to our internship?
Candidate: I guess, just, because you have one…?

I don’t need to say it anymore, right?

We understand. You might be shooting CVs in every direction to make sure you find an opportunity, and you have tons of internships to investigate. You might be nervous and forget some things you read the day before. You might have interviews with a bunch of companies on the same week and get some details mixed up—“was that about this company or the next one??”. We understand.

But please, do your research. If it helps, compile a couple of notes on each internship and company that you can quickly go through before an interview, just to be sure you’re aware of who you’re speaking with.

Here are some things you can investigate:

  • Have they revealed the project interns will be working on? Will you be working on it alone or integrated on a team?
  • Have they revealed what technology you’d be working with?
  • Have they organised internships before? Find out about those internships.
  • Will you be paid? How much?
  • Is it remote or on-site? If on-site, where is it held?

Try to gather all the details early so there are no nasty surprises once the internship begins! Which leads us to…

Questions > Assumptions

In every interview, you have the opportunity to ask questions — and you should take it. Feel comfortable to ask about anything from the recruitment process, to work conditions or what’s expected for you to accomplish. Don’t assume anything or you might get disappointed. This helps you understand what internships are better structured and planned ahead, and also shows the interviewer that you’re making an informed decision if you end up working with them — you’re not blindly picking the first company that recruits you.

This part is especially relevant if you’re doing a technical interview, where you should take all opportunities to communicate with the people supervising your interview. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, clarify the specifications of the challenge or show some drafts throughout the process. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand something.

I’ve supervised a couple of technical interviews in which the candidates only shared the final result at the end of the challenge, and when I asked them about the process they used to reach that solution, I found out they had been considering a different one — that in some cases was much more interesting! If they had made some questions while they were exploring different paths, they could’ve reached a better final result.

Post mortem

You might get negative answers, I know I did. Before you move on and don’t look back (or worst, give up on internships entirely 😬), try to learn from it. You can directly ask the company what reason led to the negative response and what you can do to improve. Again, questions are better than assumptions! Several reasons might have been the deal-breaker, but if you don’t ask you might continue making the same mistakes instead of evolving!

I hope you found this helpful, and most of all I hope you find an amazing internship this year!

Where’s my goodie?!

I’m available to review up to 5 design CVs + Portfolios this year (of course, for free). Since internship opportunities are likely to be reduced this year due to the impact of Covid-19 in our routines and companies, I want to help you be on your best. If you’d like to have feedback, reach out to me and we’ll arrange some time to chat. Simply email me or text me on Twitter or Instagram, and, if you can, send me your current portfolio as it is.

I won’t be involved in any internship recruitment this year, so don’t take this as an opportunity to score extra points nor be afraid to share something you think is not strong yet — if your portfolio was already amazing I’d be making a useless offer here. 😄

I’m Rafaela Ferro, a digital product designer and frontend developer. Currently living in Coimbra, Portugal and working with Deemaze Software since 2016.

Frontend developer at SingleStore. Juicy details at rafaelaferro.com.