This summer, thousands of students will take the first step in their career and undertake a summer internship in order to develop marketable skills and build their professional network. Internships have become an invaluable step on the journey to career success for many, and while most employers know not to assume a wealth of professional experience from their interns, they will expect their interns to have the soft skills necessary to get along in a professional work environment.

“Soft skills” are associated with a person’s emotional intelligence quotient and generally characterize how a person relates to others—essentially, people skills. In the workplace, this amalgamation of various skills is generally called “professionalism.” For student interns who want to start their career off on the right note, demonstrating certain soft skills at different stages will greatly improve their chances for success.

On the Resume: Reveal Accomplishments

  • Leadership skills
    • Briefly discuss any leadership experience such as student government positions, memberships to clubs, entrepreneurial activities, or even events you’ve planned or academic projects you’ve managed.
  • Communication skills
    • Write succinctly and clearly and try to show off accomplishments rather than simply list experiences. Have multiple people proofread it in order to make sure it’s free of errors and typos and comes across the way you want it to.

In the Interview: Show Experience

  • Critical thinking/problem-solving skills
    • Use the interview as an opportunity to discuss a time you’ve had to solve a complex problem. This could be an incident that occurred at a part-time job, a family situation that required some finesse, or an entrepreneurial endeavor that presented more difficulties than originally expected. This is an opportunity to think outside the box and impress your prospective employer, so don’t assume it has to be academic.
  • Teamwork
    • The interview is a great time to demonstrate your ability to work with others on a team. Discuss group projects you’ve worked on, non-profit organizations you’ve volunteered for, and sports teams you’ve played on to show how your effort contributed to the team’s overall success.

On the Job: Be Professional

  • Enthusiasm/Attitude
    • Now that you have the job, show them they made the right decision. Show up to work early, be willing to stay late, and maintain a positive attitude. It’s important to remember that others in the organization are depending on you, no matter how menial you believe your role to be, so don’t allow negative thinking to impact your work ethic.
  • Networking
    • Internships are great opportunities for networking with other professionals in order to make contacts and get ahead in your career. Look for business and social gatherings to meet people in and out of your office, and collect and hand out business cards to the people you meet.
    • If you’re nervous about networking with people you don’t know well, author Jeff Butterfield outlines some tips: “Plan what you can talk about when you meet someone you know or are introduced to someone new…Be prepared to talk about yourself and ask questions to encourage others to talk about themselves.”
  • Professionalism
    • While “professionalism” is a combination of the skills listed above, basic office etiquette is also large part of projecting a professional image. Here are the basic tenets you should follow:
      • Dress appropriately (“business casual” does not equate to “t-shirt and jeans”).
      • Keep your workstation clean.
      • Watch how you use your work email (many organizations flag inappropriate messages).
      • Be polite to your coworkers. Stand up and smile when you greet somebody, offer to shake hands, don’t gossip (but do listen to what is said around you), and use appropriate greetings and send-offs in your emails.
      • Finally, don’t bring your personal life into the workplace. If you’re going through a bad breakup or dealing with a family issue, leave your problems at home and focus on work at work. If it’s a serious issue, such as a death or severe illness in the family, then speak to your manager or HR about what you’re going through so they can help.

References: Butterfield, Jeff. 2011. Illustrated Course Guides: Professionalism—Soft Skills for a Digital Workplace. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. VitalShelf BookSource Online.