Top Skills Employers Want from an Intern in 2023

Peter Ballagh

What do employers look for in an employee? In this question we are not considering the employee’s knowledge and training but the soft skills – the positive professional demeanor which a person might bring to a place of work.


There are numerous online discussions on this topic. The University of Eastern Kentucky asked these questions to various employers and they compiled:

The 10 Positive Themes

  • Communication – oral, speaking capability, written, presenting, listening.
  • Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
  • Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
  • Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
    Interpersonal Skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
  • Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
  • Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
  • Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
  • Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
  • Work Ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

The Single Most Appealing Trait


These traits are basically universal, from career fields that offer Event Planning internships to Architecture Internships. An organization would consider itself lucky to have an employee who not only claimed to have but also demonstrated an aptitude for 10 of the above. However, as a list of desirable attributes, the list is long and it is likely that organizations would weight some themes more than others.

An environmental solar research team might have preference for a candidate for an environmental internship with strengths in Responsibility and Teamwork; the communications manager of a health NGO placement is likely to be looking for someone who is strong in Communication and Flexibility. And still, at the end of the day, are you really getting the right candidate. Or to ask the question differently:

What motivates people to give of their best?

Motivated and unmotivated intern

A recent survey for the UK’s Financial Times set itself a challenge to identify a concept which might speak to all the above. Asking employers from career fields across the economy – NGO, business, science, health services, social sciences, arts and public services – what do you really look for in a candidate…. The quality which they valued most and most impressed them was… Curiosity.

Why curiosity?

For starters, curiosity lead the candidate to their organization! A candidate’s curiosity will have made them complete research about the organization before the interview. Curiosity makes the candidate a strong advocate for the organization’s core values (check out ours here!) and goals and the curious want to familiarize themselves with the varying tasks and projects of the organization.

The curious look for projects where they can follow their passion, apply their confidence and strengths. The curious are open to new opportunities and responsibilities, not out of recklessness or boredom, but from a position of understanding the environment and what risks might be involved. Like the cat, the curious employee acts with deliberation, has a sense of playfulness and also is acutely aware of the ground on which it stands. Not to forget, of course, that the curious have the curiosity to look beyond the organization to other fields!

Curiosity for your Internship

Curious Intern

As someone looking to complete an internship, either abroad or virtually, you are curious to experience real life applications of your chosen field of study.

When you enroll with Global Experiences, we want to know what you are curious about. What it is you’d like to experience: what you like about your studies, which courses interest you the most, what experience you have working with others or on projects and what career field you’d like to explore. The more information and consideration you give to what type of placement area would appeal to you – in conversations with the admissions counselor and then with your program advisor – the more likely it is that we can direct you to a placement which will align with your goals and current experience and skills.

Factors behind an organization’s decision to host an intern

Productive Workplace

Organizations think long and hard about hosting an intern. Whether they be in the career fields that would offer a video production internship, a communications internship, an engineering internship, a law internship, a marketing internship, or a psychology internship, an organization needs to plan before hosting an intern abroad. In order for the experience to benefit the intern – gaining worthwhile hands-on learning – and benefit the organization, the organization needs to know in advance that the resources are available for the intern to feel supported.

Among the factors which would influence the decision to host an intern would include: Can we provide the support and training for an intern? Is the project which we have identified and set up for an intern ready to go? Does the timing work with our calendar? And perhaps, most important of all, do we have the confidence that the intern will settle in well and show a commitment to the tasks? If so, the employer is all in to provide an international internship experience. 

What do organizations look for in an intern?

Intern Interview

Organizations look for interns who are first of all punctual and willing to work. They value people who make the effort to fit in with the team, while mindful that it is not in everyone’s nature to want to befriend the entire office. Recognizing that the workplace is a place of social communication and interaction, a willingness to be civil, respectful and show interest in others is a necessary component of a functioning work environment.

They appreciate patience and a level of understanding on the part of the intern that the first day of the internship will always be different from the twenty first day. They appreciate the ability to show initiative and be flexible and open-minded to how schedules, work demands and deadlines will mean the intern might have to put aside the current task and switch to something more urgent; that organizations (like life) can be thrown off course by the unexpected and those who learn to adapt are open to other learning.

Organizations, like their interns to ask questions and look for clarification if things are not clear. The more they see that the intern is motivated and has a real interest in what the organization does, the more they will trust that the intern can take on additional responsibilities and be a representative of the organization. One of the greatest compliments an intern can receive, is that after only 4 weeks their supervisor treats them as a member of the team. They should not expect you to be an expert; your lack of exposure to a software, editing or design program, a market research model, writing press releases, dealing with a particular population will not be a surprise to them. You are there to learn and gain real work experience in your internship abroad.

And finally

Interns and supervisor

Employers who host interns do so because your course of study falls within their professional field; your curiosity for the field will be of interest to them. They want to host you because of the new perspective you might bring; someone from a different cultural and educational background will see the organizational culture – the environment in which it exists, its population, concepts, products and services – from another perspective.

And finally, organizations host interns because they see the advantages of offering opportunities to young committed people to accomplish valuable life learning tasks and assume responsibilities. Our advice? Be that intern and see what your future can hold.

Find a career you will love



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