Qualities That Get You Hired: Employers Tell All

Updated: September 9, 2020

In these challenging times, it’s important to use every tool in your candidate toolbox to stand out. After all, you already know that the internship game isn’t 100% fair. Even on a good day, you can have every “required skill” listed in an internship posting, as well as every “preferred qualification,” and you still might not even land an interview. “What was the employer thinking?” you wonder. “What am I missing?”

While we can’t read each and every employer’s mind, we can provide some helpful insights. Today, we’re turning to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University, which asked a whole lot of employers (3,370 to be precise) to share their intern wish-list. CERI published the results in their 2017-18 Recruiting Trends report.

It turns out, most hiring managers are pretty clear about what they want in an intern. In the survey, employers were asked to rank candidate attributes from most to least important. Now, we’re sharing this handy guide to the top 10 traits that get you hired. As you search for internships and jobs in this competitive market, try to highlight these attributes to up your chances of success.

1. Enthusiasm

Above all else, employers want you to want to be there. Particularly in this competitive market, you need to prove that this is your dream internship. You can’t fake genuine interest, so ensure that your enthusiasm shines through in your resume, cover letter, and any other interactions, including video interviews. While hard skills are vital, employers want to know that you truly care. They also want to know that you’re a team player, who will happily step in when needed. You can use examples from your classes, sports, or volunteering to demonstrate that you’re self-motivated and always up for a new project.

2. Fit

Most bankers don’t wear ripped jeans to work. Creative professionals tend to value innovation. Some teams have virtual happy hours once a week; others keep things strictly professional. Before kicking off that interview, do your research and know the company’s core values and culture. Then, make it super-easy for them to see that your behaviors and beliefs will allow you to mesh seamlessly with the current team.

3. Hardworking

The report emphasizes “effort and persistence” as crucial attributes for interns. Even if something’s tough, employers want you to forge ahead and not be discouraged. Look to challenging coursework, summer jobs, and competitions (sports, grants, etc.) to prove that you’ll give every assignment your best shot.

4. High-quality work

We encourage students to highlight their awards and accomplishments on their resume, and there’s a good reason for that. Employers want to know that you can produce excellent work, and your awards, accolades, and other achievements are tangible evidence of this.

5. Professionalism

Similar to “fit,” “professionalism” means that you behave in an appropriate manner. Be respectful, take accountability for your actions, dress appropriately, and manage your time well. The way you conduct yourself speaks volumes about your attitude and character—and employers are listening.

6. Flexibility

In the working world, things move quickly, and employers need interns who can adapt to changing circumstances with creativity and composure. This is particularly important now, when COVID is changing the way we work by the day (and sometimes by the hour). Employers need to know that you’re willing, and able, to adapt. You need to be the person colleagues look to when they’re stuck or in need of a helping hand. In your interview, make sure your attitude conveys your can-do attitude.

7. Maturity

You’re in the professional world now, and employers want you to act like an adult. Take responsibility for your actions, be self-aware, and put others’ needs ahead of your own.

8. Independence

Working remotely means that you won’t have a supervisor looking over your shoulder all day long. So, you need to be able to work independently. Demonstrate that employers can trust you by sharing an example of how you worked through a problem solo to achieve a successful outcome.

9. High quantity of work

Quality over quantity is the name of the game, but employers still want interns who stay focused and produce a high volume of work when needed. Highlight your multi-tasking skills and ability to meet deadlines to show potential employers that you’ve got this in the bag.

10. Relevant work experience

Last, but still important, is hiring interns with applicable experience. If you have relevant skills, that’s fantastic. If not, highlight your transferable skills to assure employers that you’ll learn quickly.


Now that you know what employers really want, it’s time to start applying!

Source credit:

“Recruiting Trends 2017-18, 47th Edition.” Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Michigan State University, www.ceri.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Recruiting-Trends-2017-Brief-5-Internships-Co-ops.pdf