5 Skills You Need for Every Internship (& How to Get Them)

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Applying for internships is scary; that’s just a fact. You worry about your resume, how qualified you are and how much the employer is going to care about your GPA. While reading over the job description, you mentally check off all the requirements you meet, but you still worry if you’re the right fit for the position.

Well, Her Campus is here to help you become the perfect internship candidate, no matter what your major is! Whether you’re studying communications or engineering, there are certain skills that are good to have for any internship. Employers will expect you to have some of these skills, while others will leave them impressed and calling you back. Check out which skills will give you a competitive edge and ultimately lead you to internship success!

1. Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)


You’ve written essays, organized data in a table and created slideshows for group projects—probably more than once. It’s safe to say you’ve got Microsoft Office down pat. Which is good, because almost every internship requires this knowledge! According to Vicki Salemi, career coach and author of Big Career in the Big City, “knowledge of Microsoft Office is mandatory for first jobs. Without basic computer skills, it’s ‘game over’ before it begins.”

Depending on your major, you may have used some of these programs more than others. If you’re a business major, you probably know Excel inside and out, while those of you in liberal arts programs have had tons of practice with Word and PowerPoint. But sufficient knowledge of all three is critically important. “I think that everything comes back to one of these programs,” says Nancy Dudak, director of Villanova University’s career center. “They help you manage data and present it. Every job today is more data-driven, and the ability to manage, organize and synthesize data is crucial.”

Most employers don’t only expect you to be familiar with these programs; they assume that you’re proficient in them. The good news is you’ve been gaining these skills during college without even realizing it!

How to Get It

While you may feel confident in your basic computer skills, there’s always room for improvement! When you’re not sure of how to do something, use the “Help” menu in any of these programs for step-by-step instructions. You may find formatting shortcuts or a new tool you didn’t know existed.

While typing up a Word document is easy enough, making it look pretty is harder than it looks. For more advanced designing, check out this article for easy document styling or download free templates from Microsoft. This way, your work will be informative and look great!

PowerPoint can either make your break your presentation. Pick a simple yet visually pleasing theme to keep your slideshow cohesive and interesting. If you can’t find a default template in PowerPoint that you like, try some of these free designs from Microsoft.

When organizing large amounts of data, Excel can either be a tedious nightmare or an efficient time-saver. The program comes with countless shortcuts that most beginners aren’t aware of. Check out these Excel shortcuts to make your life easier. Spreadsheet looking a little boring? It doesn’t have to! Microsoft also has free design templates for Excel.

For more detailed instructions, check out these online tutorials for all Microsoft Office programs.

2. Leadership Experience


Even though you might be an intern at the bottom of the professional totem pole, leadership skills show employers that you have the ability and drive to move up in the workplace someday. According to a 2012 U.S. News & World Report article, about half of surveyed employers stated that they were more likely to hire candidates who hold leadership positions on campus.

How to Get It

“Leadership skills are always a bonus,” says Darlene London Johnson, director of external relations at Hofstra University’s career center. “They can be gained by participation in extracurricular activities, part-time work, volunteer opportunities or community service. A student should always take advantage of any opportunity to gain this experience.”

By participating in activities you love, you’re more likely to put more time and effort into them, which can help develop your leadership skills. As a member of a campus organization, participate in discussions, volunteer to help at events or go the extra mile when completing a task. Even if you don’t have a specific leadership role in a club, these things will help you stand out to the club president or adviser. People remember hard work and dedication, which can only help you when you apply to become the new leader of your organization!

3. Concise Writing


Not everyone is a strong writer, but being able to write concisely is valued in any field, even the more technical or scientific ones. In a survey done by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the ability to create and/or edit written reports was one of the top 10 skills employers sought out in applicants.

“Verbal and written communication skills are necessary,” Johnson says. “As an employer, I would look at any written correspondence to make sure they were well-written.”

Writing well helps you actually get the job, because most internship opportunities require resumes and cover letters. Once you actually have the internship, it’ll help you stand out to your boss. “Concise writing is important, even if you’re just writing memos or emails,” Dudak says. “It says a lot about your sophistication when you’re a good writer, and it complements the other technical or job-specific skills.”

Overall, concise writing can round out your skill set, which can lead to your internship success!

How to Get It

Practice, practice, practice. The more you write, the better you’ll get at it! Don’t be afraid to have professors edit your cover letters and resume and really consider their feedback. If you become aware of the mistakes you tend to make, it’ll be easier to fix them in the future. Look into your career center’s services; most schools offer resume or cover-letter writing workshops. Additionally, check out Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab for tips and writing exercises, or consider buying The Elements of Style if your major is particularly writing-heavy.

4. Positive Attitude


More and more employers are looking for candidates whose skills go beyond the job description. Specifically, they’re looking for candidates with positive attitudes. Being optimistic doesn’t mean smiling all the time (although being a happy intern is always a plus!); it’s a mentality that can affect all aspects of your job, from improving your work ethic to being open to new opportunities and responsibilities.

A positive attitude is considered a “soft skill” because it represents a character trait and an interpersonal skill. “Soft skills are the ones that will carry you through a career,” Dudak says. “While they’re hard to put on a resume, they can help you during your interviews and separate you from the pack during your internship.”

Other experts also encourage collegiettes to exude positivity. “Employers can train bright, motivated, ambitious employees on technical skills,” Salemi says. “You can shape someone’s hard skills, but if they don’t have a positive attitude, it’ll be hard for them to succeed.” Similarly, Johnson says, “I know that I can teach a new hire how to use my computer system, but I know that I can’t really teach someone how to have a good attitude.”

Usually collegiettes are focused on the technical “hard” skills that will qualify them for a job. While those skills are important, being positive can go a long way; you’ll be a well-rounded intern whom employers will want to teach and help succeed.

How to Get It

Sometimes positivity is hard to muster, especially if you’re frustrated, nervous or just having a bad day, but a good attitude can make all the difference during your internship.

Start off each day by thinking positive thoughts. If you’re focused on how difficult something is or keep convincing yourself that you can’t do it, your whole day is going to turn out negatively. Instead, focus on your strengths and have confidence in them. Practice being open to new experiences on campus, like trying out a new club or stepping outside your comfort zone by talking to someone new. An employer will be more likely to give you new responsibilities if you’re open and willing to learn.

5. Photoshop


This skill is more field-specific than the rest on this list, but any knowledge of Photoshop could be considered a perk. In fact, according to a 2013 survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, more than four out of five employers find it helpful if applicants provide a digital portfolio in addition to their resumes.

“It would really depend on the internship, especially if it involves marketing or PR,” Dudak says. “For more inner-office or technically-driven jobs, it may be less important.” However, as our culture becomes more technology-driven, this skill might become more helpful!

With Photoshop knowledge, you can create business cards, eye-catching flyers or intricate web graphics. It’s easy to transform photos however you want them, whether it’s your personal photography or images for the company you’re interning for. Plus, you can edit text and other online graphics. Almost every business has a website, blog or social media page that you might have to contribute to. If you know Photoshop, you can make your contributions super creative and visually interesting.

A job description might not specifically require Photoshop knowledge, but think of how impressed your boss would be if you knew some of the basics!

How to Get It

Because our culture is so dependent on technology, gaining access to these programs and tutorials is easier than ever. You can download a free trial of Photoshop and read up on the most important Photoshop skills to learn. Have absolutely no idea what you’re doing? Check out these Photoshop tutorials and then test your skills with these step-by-step design projects!


No matter what your field or major is, there are some skills that are always good to have. Keep these skills in mind when you’re applying for your next internship, and we have no doubt you’ll land it!  

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About The Author

Kasia (pronounced "Kasha") recently graduated from Villanova University where she studied Communication. She's a self-proclaimed Pinterest enthusiast, aspiring writer, avid reader, and constant smiler. Besides writing for HC, you can find her practicing yoga or curling up with a book at a coffee shop. She plans to pursue a career in public relations or journalism, where she can live in a city and decorate her own apartment. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog!