The 5 Best and Worst Traits of Tech Intern Candidates

By June 20, 2013

Your intern hires may be the future of your company. This is precisely why hiring “good” interns just doesn’t cut it. An internship survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed on average nearly 60 percent of interns turn into full-time hires. That’s right–your intern class today may be the movers and shakers of your company tomorrow. So, why settle for a fair or average future employee?

Your company deserves an outstanding, youthful addition to the team. Before you hire your next tech intern, consider the following best and worst traits:

The Best Traits of Tech Interns

1. They’re innovative. Due to the fast-paced, ever-changing climate of the tech sector, your company requires interns with a fresh perspective, new ideas, and a strong vision for the future. If you’re wondering where all of these intern candidates are hiding, it may be time to step up your intern recruiting tactics. Innovation doesn’t always come through in resumes and cover letters.

Host a hackathon specifically catering to students, hold a networking event and invite students from local universities, or create a social media challenge to engage potential intern candidates to solve a problem and showcase their innovative know-how.

2. They’re immersed in the industry. Amazing tech interns aren’t the kind of students who relegate themselves to school-related projects. They’re probably already trying to leave their mark on the tech industry in their own way. This may be through their own projects, previous internships, or even the creation of their own side business. Reach these interns by asking leaders in your space which students are contacting them or by scanning top blogs in your space and finding which students are actively commenting.

3. They’re active online. One simple search of a potential intern candidate’s name in Google should direct you to a variety of places where you can examine their work. If you’re looking to nab the most outstanding intern, it’s time to set your standards high. Only consider candidates who have personal websites, online displays of their work, and activity on social platforms like Quora, GitHub, and Stack Overflow. Wherever your best employees are hanging out online, that’s where your interns should be as well. Choose interns who are showing the world what they’re capable of.

4. They’re unwaveringly passionate. You need to be able to tell the difference between an intern candidate who’s just passionate about landing an internship and one who’s psyched on gaining experience at your company and in the industry they love. Above average interns are confident in their abilities and ooze passion for their future career. Discover truly passionate interns by looking at their experiences. Do they have a number of past internships or extracurriculars dedicated to their major? What about their own personal projects? It might sound basic but it’s always wise to ask students why they choose their major and why they choose to apply to your company.  Snatch up these students before your competitors do.

5. They’re self-starters. Great interns are those who don’t need to be nudged to accomplish things. When you sit them down at their desk and give them valuable projects, they typically get moving without any motivation. Supervision of interns requires excellent management skills, but remarkable tech interns are likely the type of people who require little guidance. Land self-starting tech interns by seeking out candidates who have taken the time to educate themselves and propel their own initiatives.

The Worst Traits for Tech Interns

1. They regularly “wing it.” These are the intern candidates who throw together their resumes at the last minute, forget to do their company research, and likely rely on sheer luck to land an internship altogether. While “winging it” isn’t an innately awful quality in certain situations, this isn’t something you should ever encounter from your intern candidates during the hiring process. Let this thorough unpreparedness be a warning sign to your company. Hiring this type of intern could leave you with poor work, an unmet bottom line, and low motivation.

2. They’ve got unrealistic expectations. Fresh new ideas are great, but some tech interns come in with an expectation to run the company by the end of their internship. Some interns forget that internships are for learning. Seek out interns who have the expertise to impact your company while also displaying an interest in learning. Use your interview process to get to the bottom of your potential intern’s expectations.

3. They’re too focused on money. The lucrative compensation of tech interns isn’t a secret. To employers, this should be an indication of how fierce the competition is for tech talent. But great interns aren’t going to be searching for where they can make the most money. Sure, getting paid well is a fantastic perk to a job-well-done, but tech interns who are too focused on money probably aren’t going to be the best hire. At the end of the day, it’s about the experience, not what’s in your wallet.

4. They don’t think outside of the box. Your one-of-a-kind company culture deserves far more than a run-of-the-mill employee. Nothing’s worse than posting an internship listing only to receive standard, boring materials from potential hires. These kinds of interns don’t have any plans to go above and beyond and “wow” you with what they can accomplish. Once again, this may come down to what you’re doing when you recruit. Transform your internship application in such a way that it forces candidates to come out of their shells and prove to you they aren’t mediocre.

5. They’re arrogant. Confidence is certainly an important factor when it comes to landing an internship, but your potential interns ego can’t be bigger than his experience. Don’t let your interns be all talk. Make them prove to you that they have what it takes to excel at your company. You can do this through creating tests and challenges for them to take after their interview or even allowing them to do some sample work prior to sending them an offer letter.

Uncovering great tech intern talent is crucial to the future of your company. Hire great talent early and hold onto them for years to come.

What are some of the best and worst traits of tech interns that you’ve witnessed?

 About the Author: 

Nathan Parcells is co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Nathan and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.