How to Find a Qualified IT Intern Among Candidates

IT organizations offering intern programs often find themselves swamped with applicants. Here's how to find the most knowledgeable and prepared candidates.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

July 10, 2024

6 Min Read
Interview, recruitment and workers waiting for we are hiring office team writing and on a computer. Corporate potential workforce, staff and business
Yuri Arcurs via Alamy Stock Photo

IT internships are becoming increasingly popular among individuals looking to enter the job market. Both students and graduates view internships as an effective way to acquire skills and enhance their resumes. 

An IT internship can also be lucrative. Stripe, which offers a software platform for starting and running Internet businesses, tops Glassdoor’s annual list of the 25 highest-paying internships, with interns bringing home an average monthly salary of $9,064 based on a 40-hour work week, according to the report. 

Essential Attributes 

The best interns have a strong passion for technology, great communication skills, and an eagerness to learn, says Brad Smith, CIO at human resources software provider Paycom. "They have curious minds and love pushing boundaries to explore the unknown."  

Prior experience in their target IT area is a plus, Smith observes in an email interview. Yet internships are meant to be a learning experience, and hard skills can often be taught on the job. "We want [applicants] who are ready to work hard with integrity and a positive attitude." 

Rosario Saud, talent practice head, North America, at communications technology and services firm Ericsson, says she's always on the lookout for innovators with a solid technical acumen, but also an uncompromising adaptability and a hearty appetite for learning. "In the fast-evolving tech landscape, we value interns who are prepared to ride the wave of continuous improvement and who are agile enough to switch gears between diverse projects and teams," she explains in an email interview. "These qualities will allow an intern at Ericsson to make a real impact in groundbreaking projects from the get-go." 

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Amy Ferreira, early talent acquisition manager at Liberty Mutual Insurance, says she prioritizes candidates who enjoy working in technology, can deliver working code, and have strong problem-solving capabilities. "We also look for continuous learners who embrace a growth mindset, are creative, and adaptable," Ferreira notes via email. "We generally recruit rising sophomores and juniors in the process of obtaining relevant educational degrees, as well as sourcing through code schools, partnerships, and apprenticeship programs." 

Ferreira believes that a growth mindset, adaptability, and creativity are all critical factors in an intern candidate, since they indicate resiliency and a focus on improving things. "A growth mindset shows you're open to new things and view failures as a learning opportunity rather than a setback." 

Related:IT Careers: Does Skills-Based Hiring Really Work?

Key Questions 

Saud says she's eager to hear a candidate’s tech adventures. "Like the time they had to master a new tool for a project, or how they managed differing opinions when working with others," Saud explains. "We want to hear about the roles they've embraced in team settings and how they see an internship positively impacting their career." 

Saud suggests asking candidates questions on five basic topics: 

  1. Can you share an experience where you took the lead on a project or initiative, even if informally? What inspired you to take on that role? 

  2. Tell me about a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. What was the challenge, and what was the outcome? 

  3. Have you ever found a better way to do something that was not working well? How did you identify the issue and what solution did you propose?  

  4. Describe a team project you really enjoyed. What was your role, and what did you contribute to the team’s success? 

  5. How have you helped create a work environment that builds trust, encourages belonging, openness, and respect? What were the outcomes? 

Ferreira recommends asking questions that align with company values. She notes that it's a good idea to include a mix of technical and behavioral based questions to assess technical capabilities as well as critical skills, such as communication and collaboration. "Our goal is to recruit once, hire twice -- ultimately extending an internship offer into to a full-time position." 

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Smith says his firm's recruiters like to ask candidates about the things that excite them most about technology. "It's a simple 'get to know you' question, but it establishes a baseline for the candidate’s biggest motivators," he explains. "It also helps recruiters determine which area of IT could be the best fit for the candidate." 

Warning Signs 

Ferreira says she seeks applicants who are eager to continue their learning journey after their formal education ends. "If a candidate doesn't demonstrate an eagerness to collaborate and continuously learn, they may not be a good fit." 

Smith states that he avoids hiring candidates who focus entirely on technical issues. He believes that interns should be flexible, open to feedback, and willing to pivot when needed. "Interns lacking collaboration or communication skills aren’t a fit for our program, and typically don't end up with an offer for a full-time position," Smith says. "We look for fresh talent with fresh ideas who can make a meaningful difference for our company." 

Inquisitiveness 

Curiosity and tenacity are the most important attributes to look for in an IT intern, says Ola Chowning, a partner at technology research and advisory firm ISG. "Curiosity will help an intern solve their own problems, anticipating the next step without having to be told, and staying interested even when they are given boring tasks, as interns often are," she notes in an email interview. "Those with tenacity tend to learn from failure, stay with a problem until it’s resolved, and better handle the unexpected."

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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