Virtual Internships Step 2 - Recruitment & Selection

Virtual Internships Step 2 - Recruitment & Selection

Given many organisations saw internships as a key means of developing a graduate pipeline, it is unsurprising that there was a significant focus on the recruitment and selection of candidates. Thus, in many organisations the selection process for interns was similar to, or an abridged version of, the selection process for their graduate programmes. That said, there was variation based on the size of the programme with less formality in programmes with smaller number of placements. Larger programmes were faced with the challenge of thousands of applicants for their programmes.

Recruiting A Strong Pool

Higher profile programmes especially in larger technology companies and professional service firms generally generated strong applicant pools. These organisations benefited from broader brand awareness as well as partnerships with educational institutions and wider employer branding initiatives. They also often advertised on major jobs platforms to raise awareness of the programmes. Those with smaller programmes often relied on partnerships with educational institutions or participation in access programmes or similar initiatives to generate candidates.

A number of organisations emphasised the importance of generating a diverse pipeline through their recruitment efforts. Almost all mentioned the importance of gender balance. This was reported to be more challenging in areas such as technology and engineering, where student groups were disproportionately male. A number of technology companies ran initiatives to support the awareness of technology amongst females and to build brand awareness amongst female candidates. For example, women in technology internships specifically for female interns.

The diversity of the background of applicants was also raised as a key focus for some organisations. This was often aligned with their wider diversity and inclusion (D&I) or wider CSR initiatives. Partnerships with Access Programmes in educational institutions was one means of building such diversity. A small number of organisations recognised the importance of early engagement with underrepresented groups. These worked with second level schools in disadvantaged areas of the county (schools designated as DEIS) to support placements on their work experience programmes with the hope that some of these placements would translate into intern applications. In two organisations in the telecoms sector, we heard about efforts to engage with ability services.  Another organisation engages with LGBTI societies in universities to encourage a truly diverse applicant pool.




Building a diverse and inclusive intern programme

One telecoms company placed a core emphasis on building a diverse intern programme. This was very much aligned with organisational values. Building a diverse applicant pipeline began for them with engagement with transition year students in schools designated as disadvantaged. In these schools they supported programmes such as Code Like a Girl to help open opportunities for girls in technology. A secondary objective was that those students may apply for the internship programme down the line. The organisation also partnered with formal access programmes such as the DCU Access to the Workplace programme to provide opportunities for a boarder mix of students. They also actively engaged with LGBTI+ societies and ability services offices in third level institutions to encourage the broadest possible applicant pool.


As noted above, the selection process varied depending on the size of the internship programme. Selection in the smaller programmes was generally based on a review of CVs and interviews.  However, larger programmes generally had much more formalised and elaborate selection systems.

As with graduate programmes, many organisations had cut-offs in terms of degree performance (2.1 honours for example) or leaving certificate points attainment (450 points) as initial screening criteria. Some programmes only recruited interns from very specific degree programmes while others had no such limitations. Cultural fit was a key criterion that organisations emphasised during the selection process.

In larger programmes, assessment centres played a key role in the selection process. These assessment centres were designed around organisational values and other priorities. Almost all were operating on a virtual basis. They generally consisted of a series of psychometrics, individual presentations, and interviews, designed around key competencies. One organisation focused on learning agility in this regard as a means of differentiating in a high-quality applicant pool and identifying candidates with the greatest potential.




Learning agility

One organisation in the food and beverage sector introduced learning agility, a key competency to aid in selecting interns. This was in part driven by the challenge of differentiating between high performing candidates in the selection process. All candidates had excellent academic pedigrees so learning agility was a competency identified to differentiate those with greater potential. The competency was measured through an instrument developed by an external provider. The measure emphasises potential to grow, develop and adapt. It measures mental, results, change and people agility and self-awareness. This was linked to graduate recruitment priorities.

The shift to virtual did result in an increasing focus on the competencies required to be effective in a virtual environment. There was increasing consideration of the individual behaviours and skills required to operate effectively in the virtual context.  From theoretical and empirical findings from virtual work research, the concept of virtual intelligence is one example of a competency reflecting a cognitive mechanism underlying the individual adaptation to virtual work[1]. Behavioural examples which could be applied to the selection of interns, are evidence of a propensity and skill in self-directed learning and media competence and demonstrating ability and adaptability in a range of technologies. Including the assessment of such behavioural competencies could further enhance the process.



Sharing Business and Organisational Culture


  1. Build relationships with educational institutions to raise awareness of programme and generate applicants.
  2. Consider advertising on jobs platforms to increase applicants.
  3. Build diverse applicant pools through engagement with clubs and societies and advocacy and networking groups.
  4. Consider running targeted internship programmes for under-represented groups, for example women in technology.
  5. Align selection criteria to graduate selection criteria where aim is to translate to graduate pipeline.
  6. Use multiple selection tools (assessment centres, psychometrics, interviews, panels), interviews alone are poor predictors[2].
  7. Consider virtual competencies in the context of performing in a virtual context.


[1] Makarius E.E. &  Larson B.Z. (2017). Changing the perspective of virtual work: Building virtual intelligence at the individual level. Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 31, No. 2, 159–178.

[2] Marchese, MC, & Muchinsky, PM (1993). The validity of the employment interview:
A meta-analysis. International Journal of Selection and Assessment , 1, 18–26.