Seven Characteristics of Sought After Interns

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by Steven Rothberg

Gen Y Career Guru Steven Rothberg provides critical advice for college students regarding characteristics of sought after interns.

1. Education is important. A far higher percentage of today’s college students than those from previous generations either stay in or go back to school to obtain a graduate degree, and almost all relish — and even insist on — substantial training and mentoring from their employers. If you want a great internship, find one while you’re in school and don’t drop out before you complete your degree.

2. Prefer to IM and text. Today’s students multi-task and regularly use new communication tools like instant messaging and cell-phone text messaging in their daily lives far better than Gen X’ers or baby boomers. Remember that you’ll likely be working for one or more people from those older generations and they won’t be as comfortable communicating through text messaging as are you. Don’t be tempted to think that they just need to learn. They know how to sign your paycheck, and that gives them the right to expect you to conform to their preferred methods of communication

3. Helicopter parents. The parents of today’s college students are often career-focused baby boomers who have sacrificed their personal lives in return for your school and professional careers, and all too often have been discarded by organizations far more concerned about their short-term profitability than in retaining their most important long-term asset: their top producing employees. Like it or not, the parents of your generation are incredibly involved in the lives of you and your friends and seemingly never lose an opportunity to drill into their kids the lessons learned through layoffs and other corporate misdeeds. Listen to them. They have valuable advice. But also know when to listen yet disregard. It is your life and your job, not theirs. You deserve an opportunity to make your own successes and overcome your own failures.

4. Meaningful work. Today’s students want meaningful work and deserve it. We all do. I’ve never met a Gen Y’er who considers a work week to be anything other than the time it takes to get the job done. Employers who give you menial work and deny you the opportunity to develop your skills don’t deserve you. Cordially and diplomatically insist on receiving the opportunity to contribute with meaningful work with training and mentoring and then return the favor by working far more hours and being far more productive. You and your boss will both be happier for it.

5. Be yourself. Many Gen X and especially baby-boomer managers are shocked and dismayed to see Gen Y’ers showing up to professional positions in casual clothes, including flip flops. Yet those same managers also struggle to draw boundaries between their personal and professional lives and often expect you to also blur those lines. They’ll give you a BlackBerry so you can answer their emails 24/7, but they won’t allow you to check Facebook for five minutes on your lunch break. Teach these managers that they can’t and shouldn’t want to have it both ways. If they want you to give up your personal time, fine, but then they should allow you to give up some of your work time in order to do something personal.

6. Network but not like Boomers. It is very common for Gen Y’ers to have multiple, quality employment offers from which to choose. So, is it any wonder that you don’t post their resume to job boards and wait for the phone to ring? Your generation doesn’t go to job fairs as you know you don’t need to put up with being treated like cattle, but you do network — and boy do you network. But unlike the phone calls to family friends that Boomers make when they’re out of work, Gen Y’ers network with their friends. So how do you tap into that network of friends? Remember the most popular site for your generation — Facebook — is a social-networking site and therefore when you’re on Facebook, you are networking. If you disagree and think that Facebook is fun, then you don’t understand what networking is all about. It should be fun, and it should rarely be about what you want from someone else. Instead, it should almost always be about what you can do for others. Sometimes that means sharing information with them, sometimes it means sending them a photo of you at a great new bar, and sometimes it means you sharing a career-related tip with them. Eventually, it will mean you asking them to help you with a career-related matter, and that’s fine because they’ll be anxious to help you out after all you’ve done for them.

7. Brand conscious. Like most young adults from most generations, Gen Y’ers care about what they wear but they also care about where they work. Perhaps the biggest factor separating the successful from unsuccessful targeted email campaigns and cell-phone text-messaging campaigns that we deploy on behalf of our employer clients is the brand of the employer. When it comes to recruiting highly qualified employees, it is no longer enough that the employer is hiring and the people reading their job posting ad are qualified. They have multiple offers and they need to understand why they should choose to work for that employer rather than the employer across the street who is offering the same opportunity. And the easiest way for an employer to communicate that is through its brand: what does their organization stand for and, by extension, what will the candidate stand for should they choose to join your team?

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Quintessential Careers Career Mastermind Steven Rothberg Steven Rothberg, one of our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds, is the president and founder of, the leading job board for college students searching for internships and recent graduates hunting for entry-level jobs and other career opportunities. offers hundreds of thousands of internship and entry-level job posting ads and tens of thousands of pages of employment-related articles, videos, Ask the Experts questions and answers, and other content.

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