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Identifying the 10 Soft Skills of a Great Intern

For many good reasons, more and more companies are hiring interns as an efficient and economical resource. However, it seems many employers are struggling to hire the right intern – the one who will step in with some hustle, an entrepreneurial spirit and a great attitude – and make an immediate impact. After all, how do you know which is the best intern to pick when, by default, they have little or no work experience?

Our advice: focus on the soft skills most in demand at your organization.

Rather than eliminating a student or recent grad or anyone excited to learn because their work experience is limited to delivering pizza or working at their uncle’s office, seek out the personal attributes of the intern who will learn quickly – and contribute right away.

When hiring your next intern, consider these “Top 10” soft skills:

1. Passionate

First and foremost, you don’t want an intern to just go through the motions for the next twelve weeks. Your intern should be passionate about the company mission, perhaps the service or products offered – and certainly the opportunity. If not, the internship probably will not be a great experience – for them, or you.

2. Work Ethic

Even without experience listed on their resume, we can spot a person with work ethic (and those without) a mile away. It’s in their posture, and embedded in their body language and how they answer questions. An intern without work ethic is generally high maintenance – and is ultimately a drain on your organization’s resources.

3. Entrepreneurial
This almost goes without saying – but we’re saying it anyway: If your intern candidate is ambitious, the proverbial “go-getter”, and you can see him or her leading their own business or not-for-profit someday… you’ve got a winner. And where better for the intern to learn than with like-minded people already running a challenging team like yours?

4. Ability to Problem Solve

Today’s internships come with considerable responsibility; a successful intern must be incredibly resourceful in completing assignments – and meeting challenges. You’ll want to pick the intern who can solve these problems through logic, critical thinking and by considering input from other members of your team.

5. Self-Disciplined

The most successful interns are those disciplined enough meet project deadlines without constant reminders – and who can sometimes even determine their own tasks and work schedule. This is especially true in a virtual assignment; even an in-office internship, however, requires self-imposed focus and determination.

See also:

6. Independent

Working independently, especially in small teams and start-ups, is the norm. Your intern must be adept at working without direct supervision – and making decisions without the help of others – to complete the projects and initiatives assigned. Perhaps even more important, the independent-minded intern never waits to be told what to do… they always find a way to contribute.

7. A Leader

Depending on the role and unique skill set of the intern, when interviewing an intern you may ask them to lead entire initiatives at your company, freeing up existing resources for other critical projects. Taking on a leadership role is a natural fit for many young professionals entering the workforce (and a great opportunity for them to be noticed early in their career!).

8. Resilient
In today’s economy, many organizations are constantly trying new approaches to achieve goals. Survival often means quickly discarding ineffective initiatives and trying something different. Interns working in this dynamic environment must not get discouraged if their work is replaced with a new approach, or they are suddenly asked to change directions.

9. Versatile

In many companies and non-profits, everyone from the CEO to the interns must wear many hats – and must be flexible enough to handle various assignments. Call it multi-tasking if you will; those who excel in this area often find the work exhilarating – and thrive in a dynamic work environment.

10. Coachable

This is the “big one”! Today’s lean work environments typically do not allow for elongated learning curves. Feedback is often spontaneous, direct and brutally honest. While in the long-term this form of coaching is highly effective, short-term it can cause anxiety for those with thinner skins and temperamental egos. The coachable candidate, then, goes to the top of the “must hire” list!

As you’re reading though this list of characteristics – and making your own Top 10 list of desirable attributes for your next intern – please consider this: not even CEOs and Directors have ALL these character traits; don’t expect perfection. Instead, look for those candidates who complement your existing talent. After all, if you have applicants that show just a few of these amazing attributes during the application and interviewing process, you just may have a real winner – and a major contributor – ready to hire right now!

youtern internsMark Babbitt,  Founder and CEO of YouTern,  is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. He is passionate supporter of Gen Y talent.

Smartrecruiters online recruiting software makes it easy for you to integrate skills assessments into your recruiting process


Mark Babbitt

Mark Babbitt, Founder and CEO of YouTern, is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. He is passionate supporter of Gen Y talent.