Before the Interview
There are a few types of interviews that you may get called into, and you should prepare for them all differently. Remember to check on WaterlooWorks what type of interview you are called in for each position. Check out the list of additional resources for more interview strategies!
For all interview types, it’s a good idea to look up your interviewer on LinkedIn. When in doubt, assume that you will be asked both behavioural and technical interview questions.
1) HR/behavioural interview—this is the most common type of interview, where you are asked a series of questions to understand you as a person and assess your fit for the company. This is where you are asked a lot of the “Tell me about a time when…” and “how would you deal with…” types of questions. They might throw in one or two technical questions if you are applying for a technical job, so make sure to look over the technical requirements in the job description. You should prepare answers to common HR interview questions, and have a good knowledge of the company and the role. Make sure to prepare 3-4 good questions.
2) Introductory Group Interview—this is usually a method that employers use to provide information about the position and company to all their candidates. Make sure to be engaged and professional, and try to ask a question. These interviews can often be a good opportunity for networking. Introduce yourself to the facilitators!
3) Technical Group Interview—some employers put all of their candidates through an assessment before conducting individual interviews. They could be anything from physics tests to producing a sample of your writing. The best thing you can do to prepare is to try to find out what they ask and review the content. Alternatively, employers may email coding problems for you to work through individually on an online compiler. This helps employers narrow down candidates to interview from the initial applicant batch.
4) Technical Interview—technical interviews range from writing code on a computer while on the phone with your interviewer to working through a design on a whiteboard. In both cases, make sure to do as many practice questions as possible. If you know that you are going to be writing code on paper, make sure that you practice on paper. Writing code on a computer is completely different than writing it by hand.
Through WaterlooWorks, there are a few ways interviews are conducted.
2) Webcam—remember to make eye contact with the webcam instead of constantly staring at the interviewer’s image on your monitor.
3) Phone—dress up as you would for an in-person interview. This professional image subconsciously modifies your behaviour and self-image, enabling you to interview better.
Review the job description as posted on WaterlooWorks to refresh yourself on key skills to highlight during the interview.
Look up the position on Glassdoor, and see what previous applicants have been asked during their interview with the employer.
A quick Google search of “common interview questions” provides dozens of interview questions that are fair game.
For company-specific knowledge, spend the time to review the corporate website, and remember key players within the organization (e.g. CEO/president, chairman, department manager of your position, etc.); news and recent events about the employer; the company’s culture, mission, and values; and clients, products, and services.
Finally, do a quick LinkedIn search of the employee who will interview you. This gives you an edge because you increase your chances of connecting with them and striking meaningful conversation points.
When you are preparing for a coding interview, most of your preparation should be focused on solving as many practice questions as you can. Make sure you are paying attention to code quality, and you are very comfortable with Big O.
In addition to reviewing practice questions, make sure to brush up on any technology that is on your résumé, and be prepared to talk about 1-2 of your technical projects in detail.
Gather your list of common interview questions, and answer each question out loud. You can even record yourself with a webcam, video camera, or phone to self-critique your answers afterwards and assess your body language.
If you prefer practicing with others, gather a group of co-op friends or roommates, and take turns asking each other questions and providing feedback.
Attend mock interview events and networking events to become more comfortable with discussing your professional qualifications with strangers.
A group interview is typically just an information session or a way to facilitate an assessment that they want all candidates to do. You should come prepared for what they are going to be testing you on if there is going to be an assessment, as well as a question or two about the position or the company.
A good rule of thumb is anything that can’t be found with a quick web search.
A poor example is “What do you and your company value in a candidate?” because you can easily obtain this information from the job description and corporate mission and values section of the company’s website.
To improve this question, try “Which traits and skills have helped you succeed in this company and throughout your career?” Not only does this question highlight your drive for success, but it also brings the focus back on your interviewer—most people love talking about themselves!
Plan to arrive for your interview at least 10-15 minutes before your scheduled slot. Breathe deeply, listen to some music, and envision yourself having a pleasant interview experience.
During the Interview
If you did not hear the question fully, politely ask the interviewer to repeat the question.
Otherwise, just ask. Try to ask specific questions about where you need clarification instead of just saying that you don’t understand the question.
Do keep it real.
Do not give a cliched answer (e.g. “I work too hard”), disguise a strength as a weakness (e.g. “I’m a perfectionist. Everything has to be perfect and in place. It’s super annoying”), or respond with a personal weakness that is irrelevant to your work ethic (e.g. “I really hate animals even though most people find them cute”).
Remember that the interviewer is assessing your response, as well as your ability to self-reflect and commit to improving yourself. Thus, an effective strategy is to be honest about a weakness, but explain the steps that you have taken to remedy it. For example: “Although I am a very fast worker, sometimes I miss small details in my work. Since I am aware of this, I often try to slow down my work, and I always get someone to check over my work whenever possible.”
A final tip is to respond with a weakness that will not interfere with the main duties of the job you applied to. For example, if you’re interviewing for a project manager position, a no-no weakness is working in teams because the position involves a lot of coordination and teamwork, whereas a more strategic response is “I have limited artistic ability”—but do remember to be honest.
This is when you give them your minute-long elevator pitch about yourself! Make sure to have an answer to this question prepared. Assuming you’ve reviewed the job description extensively, structure your response to highlight the key skills to be successful at the role.
Reflect on your greatest accomplishments and situations where you received praise from peers, former employers, or former colleagues.
While exemplifying the skills that you’ve narrowed down, use the STAR method. Explain a situation that required you to solve a problem, the task(s) or action that you must take in this type of situation, the action that you took, and the results (numbers and details best illustrate success here).
If it is an outlier, you can say that it was not the best fit for you, but you have shown that you can be successful in a different environment.
If you have all satisfactory evaluations, then you will need to convince your employer that you will be a good co-op by drawing on other experiences that you have.
If you have absolutely no idea, just say that you are unsure, and talk about steps you would take to find the answer.
If you have an idea, try to logic your way through it, and do your best. Interviewers are typically more interested in your thought process than whether or not you get the right answer.
This is a completely fair question to ask at the end of your interview.
At this point of your interview, you may politely ask, “What is the compensation for this position?”
Employers will typically provide this information to you, and it is somewhat of a red flag if they refuse to.
You can ask about hours and overtime pay in the same way you would ask about your salary. It’s often a really good follow-up question after asking about salary.
If you are not comfortable doing this, you can always ask “What does a typical day in this position look like?” or “What are typical working hours for this position?”
If you are bored in the interview, or the interviewer looks bored in the interview, then this job probably isn’t the most suitable fit for you. You should also pay attention to how you are connecting with the interviewer and whether or not the conversation is going well—trust your gut instincts.
In general, if you don’t like the sound of the job or you aren’t having a good conversation with your interviewer, you probably won’t like the job.
If your employer looks bored during an interview, try to switch gears from what you are doing now. If your answers are too drawn out, make them more concise and to the point. If you are not giving enough information, try to elaborate, but while still making sure you are keeping it relevant.
After the Interview
Firstly, the employer is not supposed to do this. Politely remind them that WaterlooWorks exists to secure employment for both employers and students, and if the employer is serious about offering employment, they may do so through the website.
But if you really want the job, you can “take it” unofficially. However, this leaves you open to the possibility of unexpected changes at the employer’s discretion.
This can be caused by any number of reasons. A previous co-op student could have decided to go back, there could be budget cuts at the company, or maybe they just decided that they no longer need a co-op student. Don’t take it personally!
Treat it exactly like a normal interview; you could get scheduled at any time leading up to the interview. Make sure you are checking WaterlooWorks as much as you can to see if your status has changed.
First, try to switch your interview slot with someone else. You are expected to work your school schedule around interviews. Professors are aware of this and are required to work with you. In any situation,—exams included—accommodations must be made.
If you absolutely cannot make an interview, make sure to contact Co-operative Education through the WaterlooWorks dashboard as soon as possible to see if alternate arrangements can be made.
The Balance features information on interview types and provides tips on interview strategies, appropriate attire, and answering sensitive questions.
The Muse features interview tips and tricks, as well as career advice, dealing with career changes, management strategies, and more.
Glassdoor lets you review questions that applicants were asked at their interviews for specific positions with various companies.
Cracking the Coding Interview contains hundreds of programming questions and solutions, strategies for solving questions, dos and don’ts, and a look into the interviewer’s perspective.
LeetCode contains hundreds of practice coding questions for you to work through.
Techie Delight features hundreds of sample questions, organized by topic/concept.