Grades aside – what do employers want from an intern?

An internship with a company in your sought-after industry is often the starting block to a distinguished career. Many universities make internships a prerequisite for graduation, and some companies will hire you as an intern before taking you on full-time to ensure that you are able to meet the demands of the position. While these entry-level positions can sometimes be menial, making a good impression as an intern and showing that you can integrate with the company culture can open doors and secure a career path in your field.

When selecting an intern, employers are often sifting through numerous candidates with similar credentials – many of whom will be as qualified than you are, if not more – and so they become increasingly interested in who you are as opposed to what you know. In many ways, an internship is like an extended job interview, where you have the opportunity to showcase what you can bring to table. Below are 7 traits and characteristics that you should strive to embody when trying to land an interview or when conducting yourself in the workplace:

1. Be professional

Before you have a chance to introduce yourself at an interview, you have already made an impression on the interviewer or recruiter. In under a minute, your attire, confidence, manners and language have all combined to form a solid picture of who you are in your interviewer’s mind. Embodying professionalism is a simple but effective way of leaving a strong first impression, so make sure that you are on time, wear clean, properly-ironed clothing, know the ins-and-outs of the position and leave any personal issues or “baggage” at home.

2. Be enthusiastic

Stephen Covey, American businessman and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said that “if you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all”, and this rings especially true for interns. Enthusiasm and energy are also traits that an interviewer will take note of within minutes, so being aware of this is crucial. Employers take a risk when bringing you on board, and they want to know that you are eager to learn and grow with the company, and they can pick up on this from the way you speak about yourself, your aspirations and your past achievements.

3. Be adaptable

Workplaces are constantly changing, and so being adaptable means being able to complete tasks in numerous ways. For example, if the company that you are interning at begins using cloud-based software for filesharing and correspondence and you are accustomed to using email, you can demonstrate your adaptability by taking the changes in your stride and making it your priority to integrate with the new software.

4. Be self-confident

When it comes to reaching your goals and achieving success, self-confidence and self-assurance are often what separates two people with similar capabilities. Employers want confident interns because confidence comes from being prepared for the task at hand. Confident people are unafraid to ask questions or receive criticism, and they are unconcerned with what others think of them. In an interview, speak confidently on yourself as a candidate, highlighting how you will add value to the company as an intern and beyond.

5. Be honest

An infamous question often asked by interviewers to gauge confidence, honesty and self-awareness is, “what is your biggest weakness as an employee?”. Candidates often feel pressured and put on the spot in these situations, as they feel that any answer is a bad answer, but the truth is that all people – from entry-level employees, all the way up to CEOs – are flawed in some way, and being aware of your flaws shows your employer that you are able to work around them.

6. Be a multitasker

Job titles rarely paint a true picture of what you will be doing on a day-to-day basis in the workplace. This rings particularly true for interns, who are often given many small tasks from different departments, ranging from fetching coffee to editing grammar and typos. Showing that you are more than a “one-trick pony” by highlighting various skills and capabilities in your interview is a good way to make yourself stand out among a swath of similarly-capable candidates.

7. Be emotionally intelligent

Qualifications and accolades are no doubt important, but in the 21st century, there has been a marked shift among recruiters away from IQ and towards EQ, or emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, author and science journalist, put it well: “in a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive, and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding”. Traditionally, the importance of EQ has often been overlooked or disregarded, but employers are finding increasing value in employees who are empathetic and able to manage their emotions and stress.

Keep these traits in mind for your next interview and do some introspection and self-evaluation where necessary. They will also be invaluable in your workplace, helping to ensure that you make the best possible impressions on your employer and co-workers, laying the brickwork for a long, successful career.

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