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Looking for an Internship or First Job? Here’s the secret sauce to getting hired

Illustrated man standing in front of a desk with blog title on the right.

A great candidate needs to come to the table with something to offer, and unique skills will get attention.

By Liz Gelb-O’Connor, Global Head of Employer Brand & Marketing

Here’s some good news for people without an advanced degree. Just because you have a higher education doesn’t necessarily give you more marketable hard skills or soft skills than someone without a bachelor’s degree.

Why? You can’t learn some soft skills in school. Money can’t buy them, and books can’t teach them. But if you have them, they can set you apart. Same for hard skills you’ve developed on your own, like learning a design tool, taking a free Google Analytics course, or nurturing your love of photography. When creating a resume for your first job or an internship, dig deep and mine your hidden treasure of transferrable skills and interests to help differentiate yourself.

ADP Interns at Roseland Headquarter
ADP Interns at Roseland Headquarter

A true story for you. When I hired my first marketing intern in 2014, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So, I approached the experience with an open mind and discovered something valuable—not all critical skills were found on a resume. Sadly, despite the high cost of college and university education, not all students emerge with marketable business skills. I guess that’s kind of the point of internships and first jobs, right? To gain marketable business skills. Still, a marketing class on the 4 P’s (business majors, you know what I mean!) is almost meaningless when competing for a marketing internship, while working knowledge of InDesign will likely increase your chances.

Here’s what happened. My recruiter sent me 5-6 potential candidates for our marketing internship. During the candidate interviews, I felt like a dentist pulling teeth. Or worse yet, the aunt no one wanted to talk to at the annual holiday party. Seriously, some candidates gave one-word answers and had such low energy during the interview that I wanted to check their pulse. Pro tip: Don’t be like them.

At the end of the process, only one candidate seemed viable. He accepted a juicy Wall Street internship before receiving our offer. I wanted to give up and hire an experienced temp, but my recruiter called and begged me to meet one last candidate.

Enter Mia*, a rising college senior and transfer student. A few things stood out on her resume, neither of which she learned as part of her pricey college education: she owned an Etsy store for custom-designed party invitations and had experience using Adobe Creative Suite. Not only were these skills directly relevant, but they indicated three things:

  1. An entrepreneurial spirit 
  2. Ambition to learn 
  3. An eye for design 

When we met for an interview, she came prepared with great questions and displayed an authentically positive attitude. She also sent a “Thank You” note, which some people might consider “old school,” but it shows gratitude and respect to me. All things being equal, I will choose the candidate who says “thank you” over someone who doesn’t.

Two weeks into her summer internship, I was so impressed that I offered Mia a full-time position when she graduated.

Here’s the additional secret sauce Mia brought to the table:

  1. Initiative – She volunteered to take on tasks that I didn’t even dream of asking her to do. I’d throw out an idea, and the conversation would go something like this, “Oh! I’ll do that. I’m not sure how to do it yet, but let me figure it out, and I’ll get back to you with some recommendations.” 
  2. Creativity – “I have this idea for If your cool with it, I’d like to design something and show it to you.”
  3. Collaborative – “Do you need help with that? I can help you.” 
  4. Organically Take on More –“I’m done with that. Do you have something else for me to work on?”
  5. Reliable – As a leader, I’m flexible and very supportive with time-off and vacation requests. No last-minute, unexplained absences for Mia. She always requested time-off in writing and with notice. 
  6. Respectful – She always treated people with respect and acted with integrity.  

When I build my teams, I look for these traits and skills whether someone has a degree or not.

After Mia, I hired two more interns that became full-time employees after graduation. Both went on to have successful careers at ADP.

ADP associates
ADP associates

Some questions you may have:

What do I do if an internship requires a specific degree?

Hard skills aren’t necessary for some internships because on-the-job training is provided. That said, some internships may require you to be a matriculated college/university student to qualify. Even so, this is where your soft skills can make a difference: collaboration, creativity, reliability, being a team player, etc. If the internship program offered is unaffiliated with current college/university attendance, you may only need the skills to do the job.

So, look at the actual internship requirements and gather your arsenal of soft and hard skills that can be transferrable to that role—then showcase them on a version of your resume.

What if the job required 2 years of relevant experience and I only have 1.5 years?

Again, examine your transferrable skills and highlight them. You may have less than two years of experience in that exact role, but what else do you bring to the table? Showing you are an avid learner and taking the initiative to develop other skills will demonstrate traits that could make you even more valuable than someone with those two years of experience.

So, when you interview for an internship or your first job, think beyond your resume. Think about how to showcase the skills you have that make you an asset, a functional part of a team, and uniquely you in a way that adds something to a role. Please, don’t be the candidate with a low pulse rate. Be the one who shines with positivity and shows how you will make the existing team even better and stronger.

How did it all turn out for Mia? She stayed with our company for over 3.5X longer than the average new grad. We even featured her in one of our employer brand campaigns for our campus channel. It was indeed a pleasure to watch her learn, grow, and thrive in our company, where she moved from marketing to a tech UX Design position. We are still in touch on Instagram as she travels the world and navigates the next chapter of her career.

For more, listen to Life @ ADP Podcast Episode 3: Tips for Interviewing, How to Make Lasting Impressions, and Helpful Hints.

*Name changed for anonymity

Interested in Internships, Marketing, Sales, or Technology positions at ADP? 

Click here to search for technology positions, here for internships, and here for marketing & sales positions.

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