Learn from Both Sides of Your Internship… Hard and Soft Skills

by Rich DeMatteo on January 14, 2014 · 1 comment

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daveDave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team where serves as the Content and Community Manager, and enjoys his role as the company’s “Man Behind the Curtain”. In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!

 

Congratulations! You were hired for that internship you worked hard to get. This is important because as you may know, internships are becoming essentially a required first step for young professionals toward starting a career.

How important is your internship? A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) of almost 16,000 undergrads showed that 60% of paid interns received a job offer.

Each internship presents two sides to your potential learning… the tangibles and the intangibles. These are commonly referred to as “hard skills” and “soft skills”. To increase your chance to get hired, you’ll need to learn from both of these sides of your internship.

Many interns make the mistake of only focusing on the hard skills. They don’t realize that both skill types are equally important to career development.

Your Internship… Side One – Hard Skills

For many young professionals, an internship is your first exposure to a “real” job. You’re eager to learn everything you can about your chosen industry. And this is great! Because before hiring you for any job throughout your career, employers will want to know that you have the tangible skills to fulfill their needs.

This side of your internship involves “hard skills”. These are the day-to-day duties of your internship. At this level, be ready to get your hands dirty with social media, code, spreadsheets, press releases, financial analysis… whatever your assignments involve.

  • On this level of your internship, do your absolute best to impress every day. Complete your assignments on time and as perfectly as you can. Remember that your internship is not a job… yet. Every day, remind yourself that your internship is essentially as an extended job interview.
  • Learn as much as you can in the limited amount of time that your internship extends. Ask questions, go beyond your assignments and present your own project and assignment ideas to your boss. Develop your job-related skills and learn about the industry as a whole. Think of your internship as on-the-job training and get everything out of it that you can.
  • Develop some mentoring relationships. Many of the people around you have developed skills beyond your current ability. Speed up your learning curve by developing a relationship with others who are willing to teach you what they know.

Your Internship… Side Two – Soft Skills

Thoughtful young business man looking at laptop.The ability to complete assignments and tasks is one side of the hiring equation, and an important side to your internship. However, employers also want to hire employees who have the interpersonal, or soft skills, to fit with their company’s culture and help you work well with others. These skills are just as important to develop as hard skills. They may even have an advantage over their harder counterparts because they’re transferrable from job to job, industry to industry. Your soft skills include confidence, coachability, personality, likeability, professionalism.

Soft skills can’t necessarily be “taught” in the same “read the directions” manner that a lot of hard skills can. This doesn’t mean though, that they can’t be easily learned.

  • Become an observer. This may be one of your first experiences in a professional environment. Observe how people dress and speak in an office setting, and how they interact with one another. It’s often different than in the “outside world”.
  • Each company has its own culture. Especially if your internship is with a company you hope to obtain a permanent position, learn the protocols and behavior nuances of that company. For example, is there a casual, friendly atmosphere? Or perhaps it’s more formal and hierarchical. Of course be yourself… but act accordingly.
  • Network, network, network. The more people you get to know on more than just a first name basis, the better. It’s an un-written rule in business that people hire people they like. Sure, it’s a professional environment but you can still make friends… be likeable!

Remember, your internship offers two separate but interdependent sides to what you can learn. Employers want to hire employees who not only can complete assignments but who also have the personal skills to “play well with others”. In each of your internships, look for ways to develop both sides and you’ll dramatically increase your career development, and improve your chances to get hired.

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