Everything You Need to Know about Interviews with Kate Cooper

Monday, January 28 - Shehroze Saharan 

Today I had the lovely opportunity to interview one of our Career Service Advisors at the Experiential Learning Hub at the University of Guelph (she’s the person who know the Ins and Outs of everything to do with job searching, in other words, the person you want to talk to). I learned a lot of great things about what I can do to better prepare myself for interviews and how to approach certain questions. If you want to get the job of your dreams, be sure to read this interview!


Q: First and foremost, what can I do to make sure I get an interview?

A: I think the key would be to have a very targeted cover letter and resume that shows you have done your research on the company and displays who you are and what you know to be your strengths. So, a well targeted application would be the short answer to that question.


Q: How important is the interview anyways?

A: I would say the interview is KEY. The resume and cover letter are really just about getting an interview. The interview is your opportunity you showcase your strengths, your experiences, give detailed stories and share unique aspects about your personality so that the employer can see if you are a fit for the company and the position.


Q: What are some of the things that you look for during an interview?

A: I look for someone who is well prepared who can speak articulately about themselves and is self-aware. Someone who knows themselves and knows why they want this opportunity.


Q: Does it matter how I sit and conduct myself? And what should I wear to an interview?

A: It matters! Your non-verbal communication is sometimes even more important than the words that you are using. Maintaining eye contact, smiling when you meet someone and shaking their hand firmly without being the bone crusher, that is, if you do shake hands. Some people don’t shake hands and that’s okay. If you don’t shake hands, even just a hand to chest and a slight bow is something that is socially acceptable.

I would be professionally dressed. General rule of thumb is dress a step above what their regular day-to-day attire in that setting would be. For example, anything in business means go in a suit and play it safe. It’s always better to be a step overdressed than a step underdressed.


Q: How do I answer the infamous question, tell me about yourself?


A: I would say the best way to answer it is to have at least minute, if not 2 minutes of information to share about your greatest strengths, your personality, what you bring to the role, a little bit about your past experiences that are relevant to the employer and highlights your strengths to the role. You do not want to go into too much detail because you want to save your stories but

a good overall summary of what you think your key attributes are and that the employer is going to care about.


Q: Is this a good time to talk about your degree and what year you are in?


A: Yes, but I would try and take it beyond the basics of what they already know about you in your resume or cover letter. I would say talk about your greatest strengths, things about your personality that are unique to you and what type of person you are. I would defiantly go beyond telling them your name and what program you are in and tell them some more unique things about you that they haven’t already read about you in your application material. Think of this question like a time to tell the interviewer what sets you apart from others who are in your program? I'd look at this question as an opportunity to let the interviewer know the key things about you that are important to the position.


Q: How do I answer the question, tell me about your greatest weakness?

A: That’s one of my favourites! I think the point behind this question is to show that you are self-aware. I would try not to pick something that’s a core function of the job you’re applying to. Do some self-reflection and be honest. Everyone has a weakness and remember that you’re human, that’s expected.

So, have something that you can talk about that shows that you are aware that you have a weakness. State it, but then focus most of your response on what you’re doing about addressing that or how you are working to overcome it. So, I always say that I am a bit of a procrastinator, which you know isn’t a horrible thing, but it can affect people that I work with who maybe don’t trust that I’m going to get things done on times or that they work in a different way. For me it might work, but when I’m in a team, I have to be very aware of being receptive to my co-workers’ styles and to stay flexible.

One way that I sort of overcome this is by forcing myself to plan my schedule. I keep communication open with my coworkers so that they know I’m on top of it and just because I work well with that pressure on me, I make sure it will not impact my colleagues’ work or what they might need.


Q: You have sort of answered the next question. When this question does show up, can you just say my weakness is procrastination and then end it right there?

A: That’s a big thing! The other one I often use is my attention to detail. I wouldn’t use that one in a job that required a great deal of detail. But I would again take it back to what it is I am doing to overcome that weakness so the employer can see that I am self-aware and that I have a plan.


Q: Yes of course! That shows that are doing something about it. Another question, how do I answer the scenario-based question, someone in your team is not doing their share of the work, how would you address this situation?

A: It might be a good opportunity to take it back to a behaviour-based scenario. Bring it back to a situation where you’ve had to deal with. So, to talk about a situation that you went

through and the kind of the actions that you took. If it was a group project, what did you do to overcome the issue, and then speak about the result and relevance. Always use STAR.

The key to this is to always be very mindful that you’re never putting another person down. Keep it about you and your actions. The situation is what it is. It’s more about what did you did about to overcome the challenge and remember to focus on that part of it without saying anything negative about any of the other people on the team.


Q: Can I ask for a minute to think before answering a question?

A: On your side of the table, one second can feel like 10 years. Try and take that into perspective. Even counting 5 seconds in your head might seem long but it’s really not, (pauses) that was 5 seconds. So, it’s okay to take a breath and maybe even ask for clarification on the question if it’s throwing you off or ask them to repeat the question just to give yourself a moment. Remember it’s totally fine to say that I’m just going to think about that for a second.


Q: I bet it’s better to take a pause them to ramble and go nowhere.

A: Definitely. I know that I tend to start taking before I know what I’m going to say. I would say to counter that, take that pause to calm yourself down and think more clearly. As a stall tactic, ask for the question to be repeated or ask for clarification.


Q: What is the STAR method and is it the best way to answer interview questions?

A: STAR: Situation, so what was going on. The Task, what you were challenged with. Actions, your contributions and what you did instead of the team as a whole. And the most important part of STAR and what a lot of people tend to forget are the Results and the Relevance. So, what happened in the end? If it was a group project, did you get an A+, but beyond that, what did you actually learn? Again, I go back to that question, why do they care? Relate it back to the question, relate it back to what you’d be doing in that particular role or the learning you got in that particular scenario is how you want to answer.

STAR is the best way to answer behaviour-based interview questions. Any of the questions that are “Tell me about a time when…” or “Have you ever experienced this scenario?” They’re asking you to refer back to your past to talk about something that happened because your past behaviours are the best indicators of how you’re going to perform on the job.

STAR is the best way to do that and will provide you with a pathway because if you’re a rambler like me, you could go on for days and days and days. It gives you some structure and it’s a good way to prepare in advance. Have those stories beforehand and no matter what your stories are, there are a number of different questions that they could connect to. And then at the interview after you get the question, instead of thinking up the story on your feet, you can just recall it and connect it to what they’re asking about.


Q: How do I demonstrate that I really want the job?

A: Try to avoid saying I really want the job. Focus on giving them evidence to support that statement. And that’s through your past examples that highlight your qualifications. And not only that but demonstrate that you are also very eager to learn because that’s what most summer

opportunities, co-op positions and new grad opportunities will have a lot of learning involved. Demonstrate that you are very eager and interested in taking that on. Also, make sure to sell your skills and strengths confidently. Even if there is something that you have not done before, tell them that you would love to learn it!


Q: What is the biggest mistake I could make during an interview?

A: Selling yourself short and not using the opportunity to really articulate all the great things about yourself that you want the interviewer to know.


Q: Can you describe a time where someone went above and beyond during an interview?

A: I would say authenticity. This relates back to knowing your strengths and being able to talk about them confidently and focusing on what you bring to the position rather than trying to guess what it is they want to hear.


Q: Do you have any other tips and tricks?

A: Get into the habit of saying your stories out loud, in front of a mirror or in front of a friend, roommate or family member just to get into the flow of delivering your stories out loud. You’ll feel that much more confident going into the interview saying the story again and not on the fly.

Another tip, if nerves are an issue at all during an interview and I know that I tend to ramble when I’m nervous. What I like to do is always come in with a pen and paper in my portfolio and as they are delivering their question to me, “Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team?” I’ll just jot down the word “team”. And then I launch into my story, get through it, get to the result and then I glance down and see “team”. I see that key word and know immediately the base of what they are getting at. I don’t usually write down the entire question, just a little note to keep me focused.

Try getting there 10 mins early. It gives you a moment to calm your nerves and get comfortable before the interview.

Try the power pose! It’s just a short thing you can do to boost yourself up before an interview. It’s basically the superwoman pose. If you do this for 2 minutes before you go in, it will help because there is actually research behind this being a great confidence booster. Here is the link to the power pose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4ACeoqEjeA

And there you have it! Some amazing pointers about interviews! A great big thank you to Kate Cooper for providing us with all this fantastic knowledge that will help everyone on campus!