True story, the one that I am about to narrate, although both the person in question and the firm will remain unnamed.
A firm had come on campus for placements, and I happened to know one of the people who happened to be on their recruitment team that day. Midway through the recruitment process, said person came to my office for a chat.
He appeared to be rather frustrated. And when he was halfway through the cup of coffee that had been offered to him, he spoke about what was frustrating him so.
It was, he said, the same story with all of the candidates he’d interviewed that day. When the interview reached the stage where they asked the candidate about their internship or projects they’d worked on while in college, the same conversation played itself out.
“Tell me about your internship at xyz”
“I interned in the abc department at xyz.”
“Ok, what did you do there?”
“I worked on project pqr”
“Yes, but what did you do in that project?”
“I worked with lmn”
“Yes, but what did you do?”
“I submitted a presentation on def”
And on and on, round and round the mulberry bush. It was frustrating, he said, because it was mostly the same story in most of the colleges and universities where they’d been for recruitment. Now, I’m sure (or hopeful, at any rate) that the story will be not quite as bad in the very top tiers of academia. But based on my own experience of interviewing candidates, his experience rang true.
Interviewers don’t ask you about your internship in order to be impressed by the firm you interned in, or to be impressed by the title of your project. They’re interested in the following:
- What skill sets did you have to use to complete your part of the work?
- Which of these skill sets did you pick up on the job?
- What appreciation have you gained of that skill set as a consequence?
- Are you aware of where you fell short, and if so, what are you doing to get better?
- And as a coda of sorts to all of this, what would you do differently if you got the chance to do the internship/project again?
And so when interviewers ask you about what you did in an internship, you have to answer the unsaid questions. What they’re really asking, what they really want to know, is whether you are have acquired the ability to apply your learning. Whether you have the self awareness to know where you’re lacking. Whether you have the “fight” to acquire those skill sets you don’t possess. And most importantly, are you able to assess work you’ve done, and figure out how to do it better the next time around.
When interviewers talk about “attitude”, “willingness to learn” and “jigar“, this is what they’re talking about.
Which brings me to the most important part of this blogpost. There are two ways to react to what I’ve written so far if you’re a student preparing for job interviews.
The first is to train yourself to tell a story like this better, and more convincingly, in an interview.
But that’d be the wrong approach.
The second is to actually apply all of this in your next project. Actually doing all of this makes talking about that much easier, wouldn’t you say?
And as a consequence, writing your CV becomes that much easier.
The bottom-line: doing the work makes talking about it convincingly that much easier.
How to prepare for interviews, you ask? Simple.
Do the work.