A Look Inside ESI: The Importance of Soft Skills for Interns

Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI) hires interns year-round. These students bring with them enthusiasm, new skills, the perspectives of a younger generation, and a hard work ethic. I interview many of our intern candidates. Those who are prepared with questions, as they should be, ask about what skills we seek in our candidates. We require distinct quantitative hard skills. However, being proficient in analytic and econometric hard skills does not necessarily mean that a student will be a good intern. My response of “communication, organization, and collaboration,” probably surprises many students when they ask, “What skills make an intern successful?”

Soft skills can weigh heavily in hiring decisions since students are still developing their hard skills and typically have little to no work experience. The recognition and mastery of certain soft skills are key to the overall success of an intern, and also, of their enjoyment with their internship at ESI. These soft skills are not unique to ESI, but when applying for an internship at an economics consulting firm, many students only acknowledge hard skills, such as data analysis, econometrics, and mapping. They do not recognize the importance of soft skills.

So what exactly are soft skills? Google provides a very concise definition of soft skills; Wikipedia offers a more detailed definition.

The recognition, importance, and cultivation of soft skills are not often taught in schools, and it is up to our firm to make sure our interns recognize soft skills and understand the value they have to our business and to their future careers. Interns who identify their soft skills are better at understanding the importance they have in their skills sets, to our firm, and for future jobs.

Evaluating potential interns for soft skills can be difficult. Some students are better at conveying the transferability of soft skills from experiences, even if not related to economics and to the internship at ESI. For students who struggle to convey what soft skills they possess, I look to their previous experience. In a very, over generalized manner, I typically find the following:

  • Students with experience in customer service better understand the need for unprompted friendly and respectful communication
  • Students with prior office experience are better at frequent communication and reporting to other staff and their supervisors

For those students without prior work experience, I look at their school activities. I typically find:

  • Student athletes value teamwork
  • Students in leadership positions in school organizations value collaboration
  • Students who create and coordinate events understand the importance of organization

The list goes on. Conscientious students recognize these skills in themselves and during interviews are then able to communicate how these skills will make them successful interns at an economics consulting firm.

At ESI, soft skills of collaboration, communication, and organization are very important. When new interns start, I explain this. However, some interns don’t understand how to recognize these soft skills, their value, or how to execute them. Therefore, it is important to reiterate this and give concrete examples in the context of their work.

I hope that when interns leave ESI, they recognize the soft skills they have developed and improved upon and are able to communicate these to future employers. The transferability of soft skills is very important, and since most interns have limited work experience, soft skills are important skills they can highlight when applying for their next job.

LinkedIn completed a survey in 2016 and ranked soft skills by their level of importance and by seniority level. The top five for entry-level employees – communication, organization, teamwork, creativity, and social skill – align with those soft skills we seek in our ESI interns. In addition, critical thinking, number six in the list, is of high importance to our firm within the context of the data collection, analyses, and econometrics we perform across a wide range of industries and for a wide variety of customers.

Source: Guy Berger for Linked In Talent Solutions Blog (2016)[1]

My discussion here of soft skills development for interns has been internal facing. For a consulting firm, soft skills are essential for successful client engagement and relationships. I will save that discussion for a future Present Value post. Until then, guide the next generation of employees in recognizing, cultivating, and communicating their mastery of soft skills and their importance in all work places.


[1] Berger, Guy, “Data Reveals The Most In-demand Soft Skills Among Candidates,” Linked In Talent Solutions Blog, August 30, 2016. https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/trends-and-research/2016/most-indemand-soft-skills


Andrea Mannino is a Director at ESI where she leads projects on economic development and market studies for both market rate developments and affordable housing. Prior to joining ESI, Ms. Mannino worked at the Department of Revenue, City of Philadelphia, as the Special Assistant to the Revenue Commissioner.

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