It's co-op job season: How to ace an interview

Almost everyone I know in my university is currently searching for a co-op job (including me!). Whether you are looking for an internship, a summer job, or an unpaid learning opportunity, it is important to have good interviewing skills to make the right impression.

Now, I don't want to proclaim that I know the ins-and-outs of every single interview. But as a senior co-op student at the University of Waterloo, I have probably been interviewed at least one hundred times. I also usually work multiple part-time jobs outside of my classes and my co-op terms, so I have had experience in many different places. Here are a few pointers I have for you embarking on the interview process!

Confidence

There have been times where I am so nervous for an interview that I consider not even showing up. For one, that would be extremely rude, but for two it wouldn't help me get anywhere. The most important thing to remember is to fake it until you make it. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the idea is that if you exude confidence, you will feel confident.

A few ways in which you can appear more confident than you feel are by making eye contact (but don't forget to blink or you'll look creepy), sit up tall with good posture and to speak loudly and with purpose. Making eye contact and having good posture will make you look awake and ready - even though you probably have a million assignments and tests to do right now. I have found that when people are nervous, they will speak quietly and cover parts of their face. Combat this by speaking clearly and loudly enough that your interviewer can hear you, and leave you hand gestures to a minimum.

Look the part

You know how people say "dress for the job you want, not the job you have"? To be honest, I'm not going to show up to an interview in a princess costume. All jokes aside, find a balance between dressing professionally, but also for your age. As a twenty-something, I want to dress appropriately for my age, but still look presentable for an interview. 

My outfit for my first term of co-op interviews in Winter 2016. Shirt and blazer from H&M, dress pants from Suzy Shier. I felt confident, which made me more confident in my interviews.

My outfit for my first term of co-op interviews in Winter 2016. Shirt and blazer from H&M, dress pants from Suzy Shier. I felt confident, which made me more confident in my interviews.

The reason I mention this is because I have seen countless interviewees looking uncomfortable in what they're wearing when preparing for an interview. Their wide-legged pants and over-sized suit jackets and blazers make them look bulky and uncomfortable. The way I try to make my interview outfit look more appropriate for my age is by wearing what I am comfortable in. A few staples that I have in my professional wardrobe are the following:

  • A (not too) fitted blazer
  • Button-up shirt
  • Black skinny dress pants
  • Statement necklace
  • A simple watch

Of course, these will change with your preference, but I like these articles of clothing for these reasons: First, I have a blazer that fits me well. I got mine from H&M on sale for about $30.00. Having a well-fitting staple piece of clothing will help you feel confident and ready. To pair, I have different button-up shirts that always make you look put together. I prefer black skinny dress pants. This is because I find that flair dress pants don't make me feel my age. I still want to look young and fresh, but ready to work. I also think that statement necklaces can make you look much fancier than you are, for a small price. I have one from Forever 21 that was $16.00, and it always makes me feel fancy without a lot of work. The same idea applies with my watch. I have a very simple watch with a white clock face, roman numerals and a black band. I think we can all agree we look smarter when wearing a watch.

At the end of the day, you can get an interview look for a good price. Don't worry about buying something high-end and expensive. Make yourself look good and you will feel good! You will then have the confidence you need to ace that interview.

Pro-tip: Wear something a little different than the typical black blazer, black pants, white shirt - it will help you stand out. I wore stripes in my first term of co-op interviews.

Think like an interviewer

Have you ever been a part of a club or an organization? In these areas, have you had to interview future members? This is a good way to get into the mind of an interviewer. You start to think about what are the most important qualities you want in an interviewee, and then can find ways to tailor your interview appropriately. If you have never been in a position of being the interviewer before, try to imagine yourself as one.

An interviewer write up a job description to find the right candidate to fit all of those needs. Therefore, touching on all of the points mentioned in the job description is probably a good idea! Be sure to reference all of your related job and volunteer experience in your interview.

One time, I was interviewed at an educational institution who wanted to foster continuous learning development. They asked if they could give me feedback on my interviewing skills after the interview. Instant panic, right? Nerves set aside, at the end of the interview they couldn't remember what my previous experiences were (besides my most recent) because I kept focusing on my most recent job experience, instead of all of them. You can take something important from every job you have every had. Make sure you highlight that!

Final tips

There are a few simple tips that you can also keep in mind when interviewing. Try these out at your next round of interviews and I can assure you, you will have a better interviewing experience:

  • Always shake hands with every interviewer. Have a firm handshake.
  • Use open body language.
  • Research the company or job position beforehand.
  • Don't be overly confident - arrogance is not a good look!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a minute to think of your response - you will appear more thoughtful and have a minute to gather your thoughts.
  • Ask questions to clarify what the interviewer is looking for.
  • Always try to think of at least one question to save until the end of the interview for when the interviewer asks "do you have any additional questions?" This will make you seem engaged, as opposed to seeming like you want the interview to end.
  • Don't use cliches such as "my weaknesses are that I'm a perfectionist/I work too hard/I am too committed to my work." Interviewers want to see where you actually think you can grow. A level of self-reflection is needed for this. My response is usually that I am organized and understand priorities, but that I need to stop prioritizing the "fun" work, ahead of the day-to-day work, because although it may not be the most exciting, it is still important. 
  • Try to be at least 10 minutes early.
  • Try to mention aspects of your life that make you "more human". Build rapport by being relatable. An example of this is that when an interviewer asks me to tell them about myself, I will mention my work, academic and volunteer opportunities but at the end mention something about having pets or being close to my family. This way, you get all of your important information out, but don't seem like you're just reciting your resume.

That's what I can think of! After several terms of co-op interviews, interviewing for volunteer and part-time positions, taking interview workshops and running communication workshops, I think these are the most important ideas to share. Good luck this interview season, and don't get discouraged if you don't get a job on the first try. Change something, learn more about yourself, and try something different. An opportunity will come your way, you just have to keep working at it!