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Rock your internship interview

Jenna Johnson

Headed to an internship interview? Then make sure to read this advice from Rachel Jones, assistant director for education outreach at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Rachel Jones.JPGOne of my major responsibilities within the Education Programs at Wolf Trap is facilitating the interviews between our departmental supervisors and intern applicants.

Through the years, I've seen many success stories, such as interns who finish our program and are offered positions here at Wolf Trap, as well as numerous others who secure exciting job opportunities following their internship experience.

The interview process plays a large role in making sure we select students who will thrive in our program. While most candidates we see do a great job in their interviews, there have been a few horror stories. For example, one candidate brought his lunch and ate it during the interview. For most this would be an obvious faux pas. However, there are some other dos and don'ts that might not be as obvious, particularly for students who may be venturing out for their very first interview.

Here are some tips to help you get your foot in the door.

Don't Run the Show
When going on an interview, let the person you are meeting with guide the conversation and lead the questioning. Don't let enthusiasm result in hijacking the discussion. There will likely be time for questions at the end. It's a good idea to have one or two thoughtful questions prepared. This shows your curiosity and interest in the organization.

This is a Solo Act
Leave parents at home. You need to handle this one on your own, including follow-up; so no calls or emails from mom or dad.

Sing Your Praises -- but Leave out the Low Notes
This is your time to make yourself stand out. Focus on accomplishments and show your star quality. Has your attention to detail caught the eye of a professor who complimented you -- be sure to mention those kinds of things. Bring specific examples and anecdotes of your successes. Stay away from negative experiences and mistakes you've made.

Be Ready to Perform - this is not a Rehearsal.
An interview is not the place for practice. You should be prepared with answers and have thought about the types of questions you might be asked. Do your homework so that you are familiar with the organization and its background, unlike a candidate who came to interview at WOLF Trap and kept mentioning how much she "...loved the FOX in the logo."

Request background materials and questions you can review in advance of the interview and set aside time to practice. Ask a roommate or friend to do a mock interview with you in advance so that you are comfortable with your responses. If you do get a question you are not prepared for, don't rush to give an answer. Take your time to think about it so you can craft an appropriate response. Some tough topics to consider include talking about a difficult or challenging experience, handling confrontation and juggling multiple tasks.

What Not to Wear
Choose conservative over flashy. Neat is important -- hair, nails, ironed clothes. Steer clear of items that may be too revealing -- low cut shirts and short skirts. Certain opportunities may call for dressing the part. For example if you are interviewing for an internship at a pottery studio, a suit may seem inappropriate. Instead, pick something that is comfortable and a bit more casual, but still neat and professional. Never wear jeans or sneakers.

Casting CALL?
Many internship interviews are conducted over the phone. When interviewing make sure you are in a quiet location where you are comfortable. If for some reason the circumstance is less than ideal, let the person interviewing you know the situation. Perhaps there is another day or time the interview can be conducted.

Always be conscious of your phone voice -- avoid slang, saying "like" or "um" "totally" and "awesome" and try to sound mature and professional.

It's Not Over Yet
Follow-up is an important part of the interviewing process. The conversation does not end when you leave the office or finish the phone call. Be sure to send a thank-you letter or email to all the people who interviewed you. Reference parts of the discussion that piqued the interest of the person you met and provide more details. If you are sending writing samples, be sure to proof read all materials in advance to make sure there are no spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors.

With these tips and your common sense -- leave the tuna sandwich at home -- you are sure to be a rock star.

About Rachel
Rachel Jones is the assistant director for education outreach at Wolf Trap and oversees the recruitment, application and hiring process for the internship program and directs the program's career development components. Wolf Trap offers paid internships in the fall, spring and summer to college students and recent graduates and was selected by Bloomberg BusinessWeek as one of the "Best Places to Intern in 2009".

Applications for summer internships at Wolf Trap are due March 1. For more information, please email

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By Jenna Johnson  |  February 23, 2010; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags: Internships  
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