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12 May 2015
Interviewing tips for landing your first coop job

Jobmine season is the worst time at the University of Waterloo. Not only do you have classes and assignments, you now have to worry about getting a job for the next term, lest you end up jobless at home for four months while your friends are out making bank. This is for computer science/software engineering interviews, I don’t know how well this will transfer to other roles.


Getting the interviews - the resume

The key to this is obviously your resume. I strongly recommend using LaTeX or html/css to design your resume. It is usually impressive to the programmers reading your resume that you used programming to build your resume, and if they are an HR person, it probably looks better anyways. DO NOT USE THE PD TEMPLATE. It is the most generic resume and employers are getting 5 of those clones for every unique resume.

Your resume should highlight your experience, and even though you might not have any real employment, you should have lots of side projects on Github that you can showcase. Keep it to one page if you can, 2 if necessary. Any more and people will start laughing at it. Avoid putting your gradeschool and highschool achievements unless you are really reaching for content. You are a grown up now.

Cover letters are not necessary for the tech sector, only put them if you really really want a specific job, and even then it is pretty useless. Employers will see right through generic ones. There are jobs that will require cover letters, but in my experience there is such a large amount of jobs its worth it to just ignore any that require them. You probably didn’t want to work there anyway.

You should apply for 50+ jobs on your first term. I ended up applying to 80 before I got a job. During the first weekend listing, apply to 40-50, and the next weekend replace any that rejected you, to bring you up to 50 again. Interviews start after that second weekend. Don’t limit yourself to Toronto or Waterloo or your home town, as you are limiting yourself in life, holding yourself back. But don’t apply to jobs you don’t want to, unless you are in continuous. Working a crap job is not fun.

The interview

Once you get interviews, make sure you read the descriptions thoroughly, check out their website, do a decent amount of research. Think of some genuine questions about the job, the company. Look on www.ratemycoopjob.com for some info on the company/salary. Reading Cracking the coding interview is a great way to prepare yourself for some of the tricky questions.

You should show up 5-10 minutes early, wear business casual (or not, you are in tech). Please don’t wear a suit, you will get laughed at (outside of finance). Don’t bring anything other than a copy or two of your resume. If they want a laptop they will tell you to bring it. In my opinion an earlier slot is best, though not the first. If you go for a later one, they may have already decided on a candidate.

Once you are in the interview, your resume is useless. It’s goal is to get you in, and maybe provide some talking points. It’s up to you to prove yourself now. Go into the interview with this in mind; The interviewer is looking not just for someone who knows what they are doing, but also someone they get along with. Treat them like you would a friend.

Depending on the interview length, they may or may not ask technical questions. The goal of these in your mind is not to solve the question! It is to show how you think. If you spit out the answer you aren’t going to impress anything, walk them through your process of figuring it out.

Questions - Ask some of the following

  • Working hours
  • Location
  • Work environment
  • Past co-op projects/ things that co-ops do
  • Specific questions about the job/company !!!!
  • Salary ~ MAKE SURE YOU ASK THIS EVERY TIME (unless you really, really messed up)

The interview might be the only time you will have the opportunity to find out the pay. The interviewer is used to this question, and it is not offensive. If they give vague answers try to press for a number. You might end up with “above average”, which probably refers to the hourly coop pay on the Waterloo website. “Market rate” means they probably pay less than the average (think $11-16/h). Also never say you don’t have questions, it will make you appear to have no interest in the position.

Ranking

When deciding on offers and ranks, don’t let location stop you. Pick the job that will allow you the most growth. Pay is 2nd to experience, as experience will lead to better pay in later coops, at a much better rate. Startups are great, and provide tons of hands on experience.

The actual ranking strategy is a bit silly. If you don’t want a job rank it 9, but you might still get it. If you do want a job, rank it 1. If you get an offer and rank it 1, you will get it. If you rank it 2 and the person they ranked 2 ranks it 1, you get a 50/50 chance of getting the job.

Don’t do tech support/IT work unless forced to when you are stuck in continuous. If offered in first round, I would not recommend taking it unless you have no side projects. Especially don’t do it two terms in a row, you are just shooting yourself in the foot.


Thanks,
Adam Kenneweg

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