What are Employers Looking for in Internship and Job Candidates?

As a college student applying for internships and potential future careers, you may find yourself asking, “What are employers really looking for?” Often with no professional experience, it can be hard to figure out how to prove yourself to be a worthy candidate. However, employers and interviewers understand this, and are looking to see how a student develops a solid skillset.

So, what are these crucial skills? Kara Primrose, director of career services at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, emphasizes the importance of harnessing the “unteachable skills” that are exemplified in a variety of ways and can be applied to any kind of work or experiential learning. Provided are some examples from the Career Services Center:

  • Have an informed point of view, speak up, know your value and your values
  • Take initiative and ask for work
  • Be a storyteller: explain what you do and what others do; put together a cohesive message—across all areas
  • Customer service/centric mindset
  • Group project experience—the ability to work effectively with a team
  • Agility and flexibility
  • Being able to deal with ambiguity and curveballs
  • Time management skills
  • Being open
  • Display true passion and have knowledge
  • Show eagerness, inquisitiveness and willingness to learn
  • Be a sponge
  • Be humble and seek feedback
  • Analytical skills—the thought process behind data
  • Being able to see potential
  • Negotiation skills
  • Professionalism
  • Presentation skills 

While these mainly pertain to soft skills, which are most significant in hiring for entry-level positions, it is also important to have some “hard” skills in your back pocket as well, such as proficiency in Excel. “Excel was emphasized repeatedly across companies, roles and industries,” explains Primrose, “and not just being certified, but having comfort and fluency of use.”

Hard skills, along with enhancement of soft skills, can be learned and built upon by seeking out skill-training opportunities. Here is some advice on what to negotiate, as well we what skills are most sought after:

  • Employers provide sessions on moving to NYC (realtors included)
  • Balance creativity with analytical thinking
  • Identify problems, fix them and get back on track
  • Be fluent across different areas; be able to speak the language of the areas you work with
  • Code academy: Python, coding
  • Know what is possible, even if you don’t know how to do it
  • Be able to look at the bigger view
  • Always be learning and training to be better
  • Stay updated with technology without losing sight of the desired results
  • Soft skills are most important when hiring for internships and entry-level positions
  • Willing to train on more technical tasks
  • Effective multitasking
  • Willing to take on all levels and types of responsibilities outside of traditional job scope (not ‘too good’ for anything)
  • Potential non-traditional work hours/working during company PTO and weekends (some fields)
  • Know who you are

This feedback comes from companies including: Michael Kors, Scholastic, OXO, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ross Stores, Tommy Hilfiger, Deloitte Consulting, Food Network/Discovery, GroupM, NBCUniversal, CNN, Salesforce, Horizon Media, FCBHealth, BlackRock, Citi, Bank of America, EY, S&P and Goldman Sachs, J. Goldman.

Are you looking for more information for your internship or job search? Visit our resource page and connect with our Whitman Career Service team.

Julia Fiedler
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