5 Steps to Acing your Engineering Internship Interview

5 steps to acing your engineering internship interview

The process of getting an internship can be a painful one. Here are 5 steps to make sure you ace your engineering internship interview.

Most people apply to dozens of internships and are lucky to get one or two interviews for their effort.So, when you do get an internship interview, you don’t want to mess it up.

Luckily, it’s easier than you think to prepare for your interview. Most engineering internships have a very similar interview process and it’s possible to be extremely prepared in these 5 steps.

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  1. Prepare your Elevator Pitch
  2. Prepare for the Internship Interview Questions
    1. Accountability/Responsibility
    2. Leadership
    3. Teamwork
    4. Creativity/Innovation
    5. Technical Proficiency
  3. Questions to ask in an internship interview
  4. Send a Follow-Up Email after your Internship Interview
  5. How to accept an internship position

1. Prepare your Elevator Pitch

First impressions matter. How you start an interview will set the tone for the rest of it.

99% of the time, the first question in your interview will be “So tell me about yourself!”. This is debatably the most important part of the interview to prepare for because you know it’s going to happen!

When preparing for this question, formulate your response and practice it out loud in a mirror. Saying it out loud a few times will make you feel much more prepared when the interview comes.

Your pitch should be between 30-60 seconds talking at a normal pace. Rushing through your elevator pitch will make you seem nervous and over-rehearsed. You want your elevator pitch to seem natural. Like you just came up with it on the spot. No one needs to know you were muttering it to yourself all morning.

There are three basic components to an elevator pitch for a college engineering internship:

  1. An overview of your schooling
  2. Your most relevant accomplishment
  3. Why you are excited to potentially work at the place you are interviewing for

Here are some example elevator pitches:

  • “My name is Alex and I am currently a Junior majoring in mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado. Last summer I worked at P&G where I got the opportunity to work as a manufacturing engineer on the bounty paper towel line. I’m looking to work at SpaceX this summer to get experience in another sector of the industry and to hopefully improve my design skills.”
  • “My name is Sarah and I’m a rising senior at Duke University majoring in biomedical engineering. I work in a biomechanics lab where we study gait kinematics in patients who have undergone total knee replacements. I’m excited about the opportunity to work at Boston Scientific because I want the chance to practice my skills as a biomedical engineer in an industry setting.”

Don’t worry about squeezing too much into your elevator pitch. The goal is to sound confident and prepared. You will get the chance to talk about the other points on your resume later on in the interview.

2. Prepare for the Internship Interview Questions

Interivew quetions for engineering internship

Every internship interview asks the same questions, just in different variations of words. If you learn the basic categories of these questions and practice your responses, you’ll be in a great position.

This is the part of the interview where you get to talk about everything on your resume and you don’t want to leave the interview wishing you had talked about something you didn’t. Luckily, there’s an easy way to avoid this.

Before you even look at these questions, think of the top 5 things you want to tell your interviewer about. As you think about these next few categories of questions, think about how you can fit these experiences into your responses. By doing this, not only can you make sure you hit all the important points, but you also make sure you won’t regret any answers.

Here are the 5 basic engineering internship interview questions, how to recognize the type of question, and how to respond to each one:

Accountability/Responsibility

How to recognize the question:

This is where you’ll get questions like “tell me about a time you failed” or “tell me about a time you had a problem you couldn’t solve”.

How to answer the question:

The trick to this question is that they don’t really care what the failure was. They want to know how you handled the situation, and either fixed it or moved on from it. The basic structure of this answer should be what the failure was, how you fixed it, and what you learned from the experience.

Leadership

How to recognize the question:

In this category, the interviewer may ask you to define your leadership style, tell them about the best leader you’ve worked with, or tell them about a time you had to manage or motivate a team.

How to answer the question:

These questions can be hard to answer. If you’ve never had experience leading or managing people, try to pivot your response to a time you had to step up. Talk about a group project where you had to motivate your teammates.

A lot of times, this question can seem repetitive with the teamwork section. To avoid this, do a bit of research on leadership styles and try to work it into your answer.

Google “great leadership qualities” and think of someone you know who sounds familiar. A great way to end your response to any leadership question can be something along the lines of:

One of the best leaders I’ve worked with is [insert person here]. They are great at [insert 2 or 3 qualities of a good leader]. When faced with a situation of leadership (like the one you just described), I try and emulate these leadership qualities“.

An example might be:

One of the best leaders I’ve worked with is my research professor. I’ve noticed that she can accommodate individual learning styles, lets everyone in the room have a voice, and is very motivating. I think about her when I’m faced with leadership situations and try to emulate these leadership qualities”

This shows your interviewer that you are perceptive to leadership qualities even if you might have not had many chances to practice too much leadership yourself.

Teamwork

How to recognize the question:

Most questions in this category ask you to talk about a situation where you were placed in an unideal team and ask you to describe how you handled it. “Unideal” might be phrased as “a group of very different people”, a “difficult team member” or “an unmotivated group”.

How to answer the question:

Chances are whatever situation you prepare for this can be slightly altered to answer each of these questions. Remember, the interviewer here is trying to get a sense of how you will work on a team at their company! This is not the time to talk about how you were superior to everyone on your team. This is a time to be humble and talk about how you worked WITH the difficult member(s) to accomplish the goal.

Creativity/Innovation

How to recognize the question:

In this part of the interview, the interviewer will ask you to describe a time you designed something, fixed something, or handled a problem.

How to answer the question:

Take all the bragging you didn’t do in the teamwork section and put it here. Think about your coolest engineering feat and use it here. This is the time to show that you are passionate about engineering. The interviewer wants to hear about that cool thing you designed or the problem you fixed. The truth is, if you’re passionate about it, it almost doesn’t matter what it is.

The basic outline of this response should be what the need was, what you designed or implemented to fill that need and the outcome of it. This is also a great time to showcase your ability to simply explain difficult engineering concepts.

Technical Proficiency

How to recognize the question:

This is not always a part of interviews, but it can present itself in many forms. They might ask you about what hard skills you have as an engineer (such as CAD). This also might be where they ask about your greatest strength or weakness.

How to answer the question:

To prepare for the question, think about what your strong suits are as an engineer. Be honest about what your best skills are, as well as what you’re hoping to improve upon. Examples of engineering skills could be CAD, DFM (Design for Manufacture), coding skills, knowledge on a particular manufacturing process, technical writing, and more.

3. Questions to ask in an Internship Interview

At this point, the interview is almost over! You got through all the questions, answered them like a pro and you’re feeling GREAT. Then the interviewer hits you with, “So, do you have any questions for me?”. This is the final part of the interview. You don’t want to end it on a bad note. Always have questions prepared!

Some great questions to ask in an internship interview are:

  1. What is the company culture like at [insert company name here]?
    • This is a great way to hear how the interviewer describes the company. It can help you determine if the company will be a good fit for you.
  2. What are some qualities of the most successful interns you’ve seen at your company?
    • This shows that you not only care about getting the internship but succeeding in it.
  3. What is your favorite part about working at [insert company name]?
    • People love talking about themselves. This is also a great way to get the interviewer to end the interview thinking in a positive mindset!
  4. What advice do you have for me?
    • People also love to give advice. Ask them what advice they have for you as you continue your career in engineering. They might give you valuable career advice, or potentially insight into how the interview went.
  5. What are the next steps in the process?
    • This is more of a logistical question, but you want to leave the interview knowing when you can expect a follow-up and if there is anything else you need to do.

4. Send a Follow-Up Email after your Internship Interview

The final step to acing your engineering internship interview is the follow-up. At the end of the interview, always make sure to genuinely thank them for their time.

Once the interview is over, send them a follow-up thank you email. This serves two purposes. The first is that it shows professionalism and respect. Secondly, it’s likely that recruiter interviewed dozens of candidates that day. By sending them a thank you email, you can make sure you are fresh on their mind when it’s time to make a final decision.

When writing a thank you email, keep it short and sweet. Thank them for their time and mention a specific thing you talked about with them. This makes it more personable.

Here is an example thank-you email to send after an interview:

Dear Jonah, 

Thank you again for taking the time to interview me today. Hearing you talk about how much you enjoyed your time as a project lead at [insert company name] really confirmed my excitement about the opportunity to work there. If there's any more information you need from me, please don't hesitate to reach out. 

Thanks, 
Sarah

5. How to Accept an Internship Offer

So you aced your interview and got an offer! This is the easy part! When it comes to accepting an internship position, don’t overthink it. Simply tell them that you would love to accept the position. Thank them again for their time during the interview process and reiterate how excited you are to be working for their company. Keep it short, sweet, and professional.

Following your initial email or call, you will receive an official offer letter. If your acceptance comes in the form of an initial email or phone call, feel free to ask them any questions you may have about next steps. Ask when you should be expecting an official offer letter, when the start date is, and any other logistical questions you might have.

Don’t worry too much about asking all of your questions. If you forget one or think of another one later, it is always appropriate to email your manager or HR.

Hopefully this article helps prepare you for your internship interview! Remember, the most important thing is to be prepared and be yourself. Remember, the company needs you just as much as you need them and the interviews want you to succeed.


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