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Top 5 skills employers look for in an intern

Skills employers look for

Sun Tzu in his book The Art of War says that “great results can be achieved with small forces”. This is true for both wars as well as your career. Your internship is an exciting time but also challenging. Here are 5 small forces that will make a big difference in your career and are very attractive skills for all your potential employers.

1. Adaptability

Workplaces are most often subjected to different kinds of change over time. It could be in leadership, team structures, working processes or even the kind of work you get to do. While we assume changes in the workplace won’t affect us, I’ve learnt it the hard way that it absolutely does.

During my internship right after college I faced two major changes; my boss who I absolutely adored was leaving and there was a structure change that would change the work I do. Naturally, I found myself resisting these changes while actively rebelling against them. I hated my new boss and I was seriously unhappy with the work I was doing. 

During a conversation with a senior colleague about my growing frustration, he gave me a piece of advice that I will carry for the rest of my career and life. He listened to my rant and simply said “The skill of accepting change and the willingness to discover what the future could hold for you is an act of courage and the first sign of a leader”.

So, I learned the art of adaptability. Here are a few things I did to navigate this period of change:

  1. Observe 

Take note in everything that is happening around you and understand where it is going. Once you see the big picture you are most less likely to resist change.

  1. Talk!

If you have any issue or concern or simply something you don’t agree with, speak up. Talk to your colleagues, superiors or any senior that could explain it to you. We are wired to fear what we don’t know so let’s try to understand it.

  1. Let go

Letting go of what made you comfortable is downright scary but a rite of passage. Stop comparing what it was to what it is and create your own way of learning and understanding the changes. No two things can be alike and each situation comes with its pros and cons.

2. Critical thinking

Solving problems through observing every detail and analyzing the situation carefully is a skill every employer looks for in an intern. The ability to look at a situation from all possible angles and understand how to solve it shows the employer that you are a proactive problem solver. 

Sometimes you could be given tasks to manage alone and most things are new as an intern. This is where critical thinking comes into play. To complete the task successfully you need to look at the problem objectively and make the right decisions while resolving any conflicts if they arise.

Critical thinking is all about doing the right thing at the right time. During my internship I was given the task of managing a project all on my own and I messed it up on the grandest scale. I didn’t understand my role in getting the work done because I hadn’t thought of it critically. But, like they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

Here are a few things I learned about critical thinking from my failed attempt. 

  1. Know your end goal

Before you start the project answer why you’re doing it; what are you trying to achieve? For example, if you want to start on a special diet, you pick what you want to eat depending on what you want to achieve at the end of it. Just like that, before you start on your project be clear on what you want.

  1. Information is everything

Gather all the information you need. Talk to as many people you can, understand the project through the eyes of others, do your research, see what the latest trends are and basically, be well informed about what you are about to do.

  1. Context is key

Once you have done your research see what you can apply for your project. Not everything you know can work so think about the pros and cons, the kind of project you’re working on and how it all can be used to make it a success. Put your knowledge into context and filter it; this is the real trick of critical thinking.

  1. Consider the consequences

Know what the result of doing a task. For example, sending an email on time to your team member will make the project flow smoothly. On the flip side, if you procrastinate, you won’t meet your deadlines, work will not get done and projects will suffer. 

Choose wisely and think critically!

3. Self-management

Think about all the people you appreciate and idolize. What do they have in common? Whoever it is, they are most probably dependable, positive, self-aware and makes your day a bit easier or in the least, don’t become a problem to others. 

Self-management is a skill that is highly sought after by employers. If you are independent and as a result, extremely reliable and dependable, you become an asset rather than a liability to your workplace. The key to becoming a valuable employee and impressing the hell out of your superiors is to master self-management.

Self-management can look like this:

  1. Doing what you say and saying what you do: clarity and reliability are very important and one of the most impressive features about any person
  2. Engaging: asking the right questions and being an active part of the conversation
  3. Prioritising: first things first, having a solid game plan and focusing on what’s most important
  4. Mindful: put your heart into everything you do and everything you do is the right thing to do

Practising how to be your best self at work takes time. Especially, during your internship. We have all been there where we mess up, learn, and then get it right the next time, or the time after that. Self-management is a learning process and we are all still trying to master it.

Here are a few tips that have helped me and a lot more people in the process of it all:

  1. Positivity

 Having a positive outlook on work. Laugh out loud at the mistakes while learning from them and try your best to never make the same blunder twice. Positivity is infectious so if you motivate yourself to see the best in every situation you will naturally make everyone else too!

  1. Perfect timing

The perfect time is the right time. Manage your time wisely and say no to tasks that will fill up your schedule and lead to the worst-case scenario; burnout. Your list of things to do should be manageable for you to be productive. So, it is very important not to bite more than you can chew.

  1. Become responsible

Your colleagues should be able to depend on you and this is a skill that what sets you apart from the rest. Taking responsibilities is a main part of any job and proving you can handle it makes your career. Being able to be trusted to get the job done is a mark of a true leader and this is a sign for your employer to give you more jobs and promote you for higher positions. So, needless to say, this is one of the best skills you must master to achieve any goal you’ve set for yourself.

4. Quick learning

The skill of catching up fast is definitely comes in handy, especially during your internship. While university teaches us facts, theories and information that gives us knowledge, real life is different. Getting the hang of your job in the real world can be tricky. 

From learning how the hang out with your colleagues and balancing your work and social life to understanding the processes at work and how things work, it is important that you get it right and get it quick. 

Internships can be tricky. The role comes with a big learning curve itself and it can get overwhelming. During my internship, I felt like I was drowning in work, simply because I was so alien to the work I was supposed to do. It made me unproductive and also made me doubt myself, as most internships can be. 

The fastest way to recovery and getting confident in your job is to learn everything you do. Ask multiple questions, and always know that there are no stupid ones. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it is your saviour. 

Talk to your boss, colleagues and even people who are not related to your jobs. Strike up a conversation at the lunch room or coffee machine and get to know about the company, the people and the work culture. This will help you become more comfortable and create a space where you can be unapologetically curious.

Apart from the people, snoop around the intranet of the company, if they have one. This should give you a lot of information and even learning programs as well.

To learn more about the job and the industry you’re in, take a few quick courses online:

  1. Waste time on YouTube. There are so many channels that you can subscribe to learn whatever skill you want from animations, illustrations to data science and coding. 
  2. Coursera is a free learning platform where you can access courses from top universities of the world such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia. You can watch short videos about specific subjects and also enrol to courses both long and short term. The lessons are bite-sized and it is a great platform to spend your free time. 
  3. Google has a bunch of sites where you can learn about anything you want. The lessons are interesting, very relevant and of course, short and quick. You can pick out any skill you want to learn and impress yourself and your employer with the certificates you earn. 
  4. Ted is another great place to learn about the industry or listen to others solve problems similar to yours. From climate change to world politics, economics, psychology and science, there are many resources that are timed to fit to your lunch break or just five minutes.

5. Communication

Last but not least, we have the most important skill of all time, communication. Without this, there is no climbing the career ladder or to put it bluntly, getting anywhere in life. 

How we resolve conflict and stand up for ourselves in a healthy way all boils down to how we effectively communicate our thoughts. One of the most important skills when it comes to learning how to communicate comes from patience and empathy. 

Mastering patience and the art of indifference when it comes to communicating can help us make better, rational decisions. We can remain calm and solve problems effectively without escalating them. You don’t have to be the oldest or the most experienced person in the room to become the smartest. 

Empathy is another important thing that you should consider before saying something you would regret. Always make it a habit to put yourself in the shoes of your colleague and try to understand their point of view. They could be right, or wrong but what’s important is that they are heard and understood. 

Final Thoughts

Internships are tough but will not fail to shape the rest of your career. All of us have been an intern somewhere and the lessons we learned have guided us for the rest of our lives. The top five skills sought after by your employer will help you ace your internship while becoming the professional you want to be.



Lihini is a poet and creative writer working in the field of public relations and advertising. She loves the art of writing and spends her time between reading, watching movies and baking. She wants to travel and dreams of visiting all the beautiful places across the world.

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