Internships and placements

10 tips for excelling in your internship

22 Jun 2023, 13:23

Internships provide invaluable professional experience and allow you to test the theories, competencies and concepts you’ve been introduced to throughout your time in college – not to mention they increase your chances of being offered a full-time job, as again according to gradireland research, most employers told us that doing an internship or placement was the best way for students and graduates to address skills deficits.

Students with laptops around a desk

According to the 2021 gradireland graduate salary & graduate recruitment trends survey, over 82% of employers are offering work experience and internships and an average of 27% of graduates recruited come from those who have previously completed internships with the company. As such a prevalent part of the graduate recruitment landscape, internships and work placements represent a great opportunity for you to develop your skills in a workplace environment.

No matter what your degree or preferred industry, employers look for a core set of skills and traits when considering applicants for both internships and entry-level jobs. Your prospective supervisor is interested in more than just your academic achievements, so whether you’re hoping to be a summer intern, planning on honing your time-management skills as an intern during the academic year, or applying for your first job after studies, it’s worth your while to draw attention to the transferable skills you’ve picked up from college activities, volunteering or part-time work.

We’ve put together ten key areas that employers will be looking for their interns to develop in.

1. Communication

Communication occurs in a variety of ways, but future employers are primarily interested in your ability to write and speak professionally. You have the opportunity to demonstrate your written skills in your CV and cover letter, and your verbal skills as you supply insightful answers to the common interview questions you’ll likely be asked. During your interview, you might mention your experience giving oral presentations (which perhaps was required in some of your classes or college presentations). The ability to communicate effectively – to translate ideas and convey information – is key in any field, whether it’s with your manager, colleagues, or clients, and employers.

2. Interpersonal

The ability to communicate effectively is often related to your ability to relate well to others, or “people skills”. This is what makes you someone who your colleagues enjoy working with.

Depending on the industry, you may be interacting with clients, contractors and suppliers as well as your co-workers and managers. It’s important to be able to build and maintain relationships and be the kind of person team members want in the office with them every day. Interpersonal skills are also important because employers seek individuals who can identify the wants and needs of others and who can recognise and acknowledge the value of differing perspectives and the necessity to accept change when needed.

3. Collaboration and teamwork

As an intern, you’ll likely collaborate with other interns and company employees. Your ability to communicate and relate well to others is certainly important for collaboration, as is the capacity to work with others toward a common goal. As part of a team, you have to understand your own strengths and weaknesses so you know how you can best contribute, as well as be aware of how you can bring out the best in others.

4. Time management

If you’ve managed to successfully take a full course load during your studies and meet assignment deadlines, to some extent, you’ve already demonstrated time management skills. But as an intern, you’re not going to have a lecturer or facilitator to tell you when your deadlines are. It’s up to you to organise your time and produce results. Employers want to know that you can prioritise responsibilities and recognise when it’s appropriate to multitask or focus on one particular project at a time.

5. Flexibility

Today’s work culture – whether you’re hoping to intern for a start-up or well-established organisation – often requires even the most senior-level executives to fulfil multiple roles and tasks. As an intern, one day you might find yourself supporting the sales team and the next day performing customer service. While you may have an interest in a particular aspect of an industry, a willingness to become familiar with the different parts of an organisation is definitely viewed as an asset (and also increases your exposure within the company).

6. Critical thinking

Critical thinking refers to your ability to analyse and evaluate a situation or issue and make an informed judgment or decision. The tendency to think critically can be demonstrated by a willingness to ask questions in order to understand an issue from all possible angles, and to pose creative solutions to challenges. It’s something many of your professors have likely emphasised and it is highly valued by employers.

7. Research and analysis

If you’ve completed any research papers or projects for your coursework (and you likely have), you already have experience with research and analysis. Don’t be shy during your interview for an internship; make it a point to bring up the research you performed for your psychology thesis, for example, and the conclusions you came to. As a new member of the organisation, you’ll be hit with a lot of new information, and your ability to process that information is a key indicator as to your ability to fulfil whatever role you’re assigned.

8. Initiative

You’ve applied for an internship to gain knowledge of an industry and professional experience, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer. During your interview, highlight instances where you’ve taken it upon yourself to contribute or positively effect change. Your potential employer will appreciate the chance to bring someone on board who doesn’t have to wait to receive direction for every task, and who’s willing to assist others with their work.

9. Learning lessons and accepting correction

You’ve applied for an internship to gain knowledge of an industry and professional experience, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer. During your interview, highlight instances where you’ve taken it upon yourself to contribute or positively effect change. Your potential employer will appreciate the chance to bring someone on board who doesn’t have to wait to receive direction for every task, and who’s willing to assist others with their work.

10. Technical skills

You certainly won’t be expected to be an expert in whatever platform the company you’re applying to uses, particularly if you’re hoping to intern for a company within a highly specialised industry. But you should know your way around a computer, and your ability to navigate basic productivity software will likely be assumed by your employer. Be sure to research your particular industry and familiarise yourself with other skills or character traits that may be desirable in your field. Of course, it’s not just you who needs to do things right in the course of your internship. Your employer needs to also. Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases, the days of the unpaid internship are gone, with 98% of employers paying their interns according to the gradireland graduate salary & graduate recruitment trends survey.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.