If you are just beginning their career journey or looking to break into the tech industry, an internship at a top tech company can be a pivotal stepping stone. As the saying goes, “Your career is a journey,” and this journey can be a wild one, especially in the tech industry.

If you’re looking to break into tech, taking an internship at a tech startup can be an opportunity to get your foot in the door. So, how do you break into this exciting sphere and land an internship that sets you on the path to success? 

We asked hiring managers in the tech and startup community what qualities they look for when hiring interns. Keep reading to learn what qualities can help you snag a coveted internship at a startup.

1. Learning Aptitude

I look for learning aptitude. Great learners ask great questions, even in casual conversations. And great questions indicate an orientation toward curiosity.

Karen Mangia, President & Chief Strategy Officer at The Engineered Innovation Group

2. Ability to Take Initiative 

During intern recruitment, I always ask the candidates to describe a time they took initiative. Initiative is key to understanding when to reach out to their manager or other employees for guidance, especially for remote jobs. Whether their answer is about leading a group project to success with difficult team members or proactively assisting a manager in their part-time job, I have found that candidates with strong examples of initiative tend to be highly successful during their internships.

Abbey Szentes, HR Leader at Trava

3. Eagerness to Learn

One quality that I look for is a genuine eagerness to learn. In addition to strong communication and time management skills, candidates who express an eagerness to learn and a willingness to take on new challenges tend to excel during their internships. During the interview process, I look for candidates who ask thoughtful questions about the company and its industry, display a positive attitude towards feedback and constructive criticism, and demonstrate a willingness to take on new tasks.

Emily Finkelstein, Founder and CEO at VentureXpert Advisors 

4. Growth Mindset

I value a growth-mindset. This perspective holds that with effort and dedication, abilities and intelligence can evolve. It embodies resilience and a passion for learning. 

During interviews, I probe candidates on the challenges they’ve faced and their responses to them. Candidates who demonstrate learning from setbacks and display persistence often have the makings of a successful intern. Using this method, we’ve found interns who transitioned into key full-time roles.

Vladislav Podolyako, Founder and CEO, Folderly

5. Self-Organization 

When your startup hasn’t yet fully developed into a mature company, you tend to work in a more unstructured environment. While that flexibility is what leads to great innovation and growth, it also requires interns who can organize themselves and thrive in some level of the unknown. 

Look for interns who can take all the tasks, information, and goals given and organize themselves to achieve them. Of course, they’ll have guidance, but those who can manage their own time wisely will rise to the top in a startup. And if they can sit in the unknown without letting it stress them and face those unknown challenges with a positive attitude, they’ll be a real asset to your team.

Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr

6. Entrepreneurial Spirit 

When hiring interns, we look for candidates who exhibit a fiercely entrepreneurial spirit. We believe that this quality is crucial for success in a startup environment, where adaptability and initiative are key. 

To identify these candidates, we ask pointed questions during the interview process that probe for this trait. For instance, we might ask about a project or initiative they started on their own, or how they’ve overcome challenges in past roles. We’ve found that candidates who can demonstrate this entrepreneurial spirit often have the drive and determination to make the most of their internship and contribute significantly to our team.

David Kemmerer, Co-Founder and CEO, CoinLedger

7. Tech Proficiency 

One of the most important skills needed when hiring a tech intern is that they know their way around technology. They do not have to have specific experience or expertise in the software and tools we use, but they need to display an interest in technology and be a fast learner who will quickly comprehend and learn how to navigate and use technological tools. 

As a tech company, we require many tools, and it is important that the intern can adapt quickly. This is shown by the tools they’re already familiar with, their eagerness to learn as demonstrated by the courses they’ve taken, or the tasks or projects they’ve already worked on.

Max Wesman, Chief Operating Officer, GoodHire

8. Proven Work Delivery

There are two things I always look for with intern candidates. One is a proven ability to deliver actual work, not just do errands and observe, but really produce things and give it their best. 

Second, I look for curiosity. At the early stage of a career, curiosity is what propels a lot of great specialization forward. The curious ones tend to learn and do the most on the job.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench

9. Passion for Innovation 

A passion for innovation is a key attribute I look for in interns for startups or tech companies. Success in the tech sector, in my opinion, is heavily influenced by a sincere desire to push boundaries and consider fresh ideas. 

I look for indicators like personal projects, hackathons, or contributions to open-source communities that demonstrate their passion for innovation to spot applicants with this potential. I inquire during interviews about candidates’ prior experience solving complex issues and their readiness to consider novel solutions. 

Candidates who show a true passion for technology and a willingness to innovate meaningfully are more likely to succeed during their internship, bringing new concepts and inventive solutions to the organization.

Neal Topf, President, Callzilla

Ready to explore some of the fastest-growing tech startups? Look for companies in hot industries with room to grow. Take the time to research each company by reviewing their website, product reviews, and online profiles.

You can browse all of Powderkeg’s Best Tech Companies to Work for, follow them for insights, or request an introduction to plug into your next big opportunity.