10 Important Qualities of an Effective Intern

Nikki Vivian
Nikki Vivian

Careers Coach and Writer

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

qualities of an effective intern being shown through an intern working on a laptop while someone guides them

If you’re looking for an internship, whether as a short experience over the summer or a longer placement as part of your course, it’s useful for you to know the kind of qualities that employers are looking for.

These qualities are generally the same qualities that recruiters seek for entry-level positions and graduate placements, so identifying and developing them now and knowing how to present them on your résumé will come in handy during your internship — and beyond.

Let’s take a look at the 10 qualities employers look for when selecting an intern.

1. Adaptability

Part of being an intern is trying out different areas of a business to see what you enjoy and where you fit. This requires a certain amount of adaptability and getting stuck in to whatever area you’re given to work on, even if it isn’t what you were expecting.

Indeed, while you might have an interest in a particular area, a willingness to become familiar with other areas of the business you’re interning with will be viewed as an asset.

2. Open-mindedness

With adaptability comes an open mind. A willingness to understand different perspectives, try new methods and to accept that sometimes your way isn’t the best way. Someone with an open mind is willing to learn new things, which is a desirable quality among interns who are there to learn and grow as well as contribute.

Open-mindedness is an essential ingredient to innovation. It is through trying new things, experimenting and making mistakes that we learn. Taking to an internship with this approach will get you far.

3. Personability

In most roles, you will work with people, whether it’s colleagues, customers, stakeholders or suppliers. Having a personable quality, with the innate ability to understand and connect with people is, therefore, important.

Establishing professional relationships, building rapport, networking, making sales and managing teams are all effected by how personable you are and understanding what makes people tick, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and how to make people feel valued.

4. Self-direction

While you’re going to need some guidance in an internship and you’re there to learn, an employer wants to know that you can use your initiative and that you won’t need constant direction. Being autonomous and able to self-direct is a great quality.

Managing your own time, meeting deadlines, showing a strong work ethic and asking for help when needed are the kind of things you need to be able to demonstrate.

5. Discipline

Being self-disciplined, with defined goals, demonstrates a level of motivation. If an employer knows that you can be disciplined enough to get your tasks done, they don’t need to use up valuable resources micromanaging you.

Knowing that an employee is able to self-motivate, as well as motivate others in the process, and bring initiative and energy to the table is highly sought-after.

6. Commitment

With being disciplined comes a certain level of commitment. Putting your everything into a task or project and being committed to see it through to the best of your ability is a strong quality.

You can demonstrate this on your application by thinking of a time you didn’t give up on something, even if you wanted to. This could be a sporting event or something that you found particularly difficult in another area of your life but that you saw through regardless.

7. Trustworthiness

Being trustworthy may not seem like something you have to highlight, but it is very important. Employers want people in their team who they can trust to do a job with minimal supervision, and who they know is dedicated to the role and can be depended on.

Showing integrity can lead to more responsibility and a better relationship with your team and superiors. This can be demonstrated through any position where you’ve been trusted with something, be it in a part-time job, a volunteer role, or even to do a specific task at school over the rest of the class.

8. Curiosity

Wanting to learn and being inquisitive shows motivation and genuine interest, which is an excellent quality. Asking questions is a way to learn more and, in doing so, you will develop within your role. You can show your curiosity to support your internship application by researching the company, asking questions in the interview, and understanding their mission and values.

Sometimes asking questions is misconstrued as a weakness but the opposite is true. Knowing when to ask for help is a skill in itself.

9. Enthusiasm

Being positive, excited and enthusiastic are qualities you can show no matter your background. Make it clear how much you want the internship you’re applying for, what you can bring to the role, and what positive impact it will have on your career.

Make sure you throw yourself into whatever is offered and get the most out of your experiences. Being positive is an indicator that you will relish opportunities, work hard and add value to the organisation you work for.

10. Punctuality

Simple things like being on time for work, return from lunch breaks promptly and attending meetings without being late are all very important qualities that aren’t to be overlooked. Being on time shows that you are committed, can be relied on and can manage your own time.

If you can manage your own time and meet deadlines, this benefits the whole team you work for and allows your manager to focus attention elsewhere, knowing that you have your time management in check.

Final thoughts

Internships are a great way to kickstart your career, with a whole host of benefits such as gaining relevant experience, references and to decide whether a job is right for you.

An internship is the first step in your career, but you won’t be expected to have a wealth of professional experience to draw on. That said, all the qualities mentioned in this article can be demonstrated through other areas of your life, such as part-time jobs, studies, sporting achievements, personal projects and extracurricular activities.

It’s important that you draw on all sorts of experiences to highlight your skills and qualities in order to be in the running for a competitive internship. The qualities you need for an internship are essential for your career, as they are likely to be needed for future roles as well, so learning how to demonstrate them and then building on them further through an internship will put you in a great position to progress in your career.

The importance of skills is frequently highlighted, but qualities can be overlooked, even though they’re equally as important. Skills can be learnt, but qualities are often part of our personality, and while they can definitely be developed and improved, having certain qualities innately is a bonus that you should consider working into your applications.

Got a question, or want to suggest some other important qualities of a good intern? Let us know in the comments section below.


This article was originally published on August 21, 2015.