Employers Expect Interns to Show Up with Skills

Nearly 75 percent of internships ask for specific industry skillsets

By Roy Maurer Feb 23, 2017
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Employers are looking to hire interns ready for work on Day 1, with specific job skills already in hand, according to new data from Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm. The Boston-based research company visits more than 40,000 websites a day to collect employers' internship postings. The latest Burning Glass report includes the top fields for internships according to the number of online postings from September 2015 to October 2016, as well as the five most in-demand skills for each field.

Business operations is the largest single category of posted internships, cited in 58,949 (27 percent) of postings. The most in-demand skills for those postings were project management, business administration, scheduling, customer service and economics.

Nearly three-quarters of postings ask for skills related to a specific industry such as marketing, engineering or IT. But the top crossover skill is project management, the data show.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Interns]

"Employers are being a lot more specific about the skills they expect from interns," said Scott Bittle, director of communications at Burning Glass. "A trend that continues from previous reports is that internships offer experience, not training. Employers expect interns to show up with specific software skills already in hand, such as SAP in business operations, AutoCAD in engineering, or Adobe Photoshop in arts and design."

Many internships demand both a general set of business skills and specialized knowledge of a particular domain in areas such as marketing, engineering and sales. "A marketing internship will typically demand skills in social media and marketing research, while a sales internship will ask for business development or sales management," Bittle said.

The research also found that the window for securing a summer internship is narrowing. "Recruiting for internships begins in January and peaks in March," Bittle said, whereas previously more students could land one as summer closed in. "[After March] demand begins to taper off sharply. There is a small second bump in September for term-time internships as the school year begins."

The concentration of postings in March has increased steadily over the past five years, according to Burning Glass. In March 2016, there were 29,360 internships posted, an 11 percent increase over the 2011-2015 average, and a 2 percent increase over the 28,796 postings in March 2015.

The total number of internships posted in 2016 was actually lower than in the previous two years; an 8 percent decrease compared to 2015 and 2 percent below the 2014 tally.

Most internship postings (71 percent) are designed for students with a bachelor's degree or less. Graduate internships are concentrated in a few fields, most prominently in the fast-growing area of data analytics.

The following round out the top 10 fields for internships after business operations:

  • Marketing (35,498)
  • Engineering (33,116)
  • Sales and business development (28,227)
  • Media, communications and public relations (28,140)
  • Data analytics (26,438)
  • Finance (26,257)
  • IT development (26,227)
  • Arts and design (20,275)
  • Project and program management (20,186)

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