Taylor Patton has completed two marketing co-ops, one with TRU World and another with Career and Experiential Learning (CEL). As she embarks on her third and final co-op term at TRU this summer — again with CEL — she reflects on the employment opportunities that brought her to this point. In this blog, Taylor shares best practices on navigating the interview process, writing resumes and cover letters, cultivating an online presence and nailing the job interview.
Update and customize your resume
Before you even start applying for jobs, prepare a resume and cover letter. When you’re a burgeoning professional, you might not have a lot of work experience yet — that’s OK! Seek opportunities to develop your transferable skills: volunteer in the community, join a club or student leadership group or apply for co-op or WorkStudy. Connect with CEL to build your resume, develop a personal statement, explore job options and discover experiential learning opportunities. Be sure to add each new experience to your resume as you go along, but try to contain your resume to two pages and use verbs as much as possible when describing actions and details.
Review the job description and customize your resume and cover letter so it’s tailor-made for the position. While you’re at it, set up or update your LinkedIn profile to ensure consistency and clarity (and then you can add multi-tasker and strategic thinker to your list of skills).
Amid the flurry of LinkedIn updates, also take stock of your digital shadow. Assess which accounts are private and which are public, and when posting pictures on social media, ask yourself: “Is this something I want my future boss to see?” Employers are likely to look at your social media before hiring you, so make sure your posts are reflective of the personality you are presenting in interviews.
Did you know?
The key difference between a cover letter and a resume is the purpose. Business Co-op Co-ordinator Jamie Noakes says, “A resume is more detailed, and a cover letter is a tie between the job description and resume but on a higher level. It also explains why you are a good fit for the role.”
Preparing for the interview
Whether you’ve interviewed before, or if this is your first time — dress rehearsing for a job interview is always a good idea. Book a mock interview with a peer or with Career Services. Consider how some of your experiences can be shared in story form so that instead of saying that you’re organized, you can provide a narrative to showcase your talents. When I applied for a tourism position, I shared scenarios from my experiences in the restaurant industry. When discussing my co-op terms, I described the technical and interpersonal components of those positions.
Review the company’s website to assess its mission, goals and vision. Read any articles, features or news items written by or about members of the organization and review any social media platforms. Consider what it is about their style or mandates that interest you or align with your values. Mention this deep dive during the interview to show that you’ve done your research. This will help you prepare questions for the end of your interview. (You definitely want to be prepared for the “Do you have any questions for us?” The answer is: you do.)
The mock interview
During my virtual mock interview, Career Ambassador Cecilia Gauche asked 10 questions, many of which included variations of “tell me about a time when you…” I provided real-life examples to describe where and how I fulfilled a task or navigated a situation. Cecilia encouraged me to share stories of growth and learning. “Employers like to hear about times when you showed improvement and resolved conflict with real-life examples by using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result),” Cecilia says.
An example of the STAR method is overcoming my fear of public speaking. I would do everything in my power to avoid it, but as my studies progressed, I ran out of excuses and had to face my fears. To practise, I started raising my hand and speaking up more in class and the office. Then, as I grew more comfortable and confident, I overcame pre-presentation nervousness by grounding myself with a deep breath to fill my lungs and then taking a deep breath out to fill my belly.
The night before the interview
Pulling an outfit together on the morning of the interview is a recipe for disaster. I laid mine out the night before, ensuring my leather pants and fancy top were clean and without loose strings. I polished my boots, organized my bag and put everything in one place. For a more leisurely morning, I washed my hair that night and left out the straightener. I went to bed early to get a good night’s sleep and felt rested for the next day.
Taylor’s tip: Dress appropriately for the position you are applying for and if you’re not sure, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. CEL can help you plan your outfit and access the Career Closet if there’s anything you need.
Day of the interview
When you arrange the interview with the recruiter, confirm the location and write down any specific details. If you’re not familiar with the location, check Google Maps to get a sense of travel time. Once you’ve got the destination sorted, re-review the company’s website and job application to prepare those post-interview questions. Above all, the key is to stay calm and relaxed, breathe deeply, repeat positive affirmations and maybe rethink that second cup of coffee if caffeine makes you jittery.
Taylor’s tip: If you are applying for positions elsewhere, make sure you’re clear on which company aligns with which goals. You don’t want to mix one company with another or think the company does something they don’t actually do.
Before the interview
If you are in a waiting room prior and feel the need to be on your phone, take that time for one last website review. Personally, I do not like to be on my phone before an interview since it’s easy to fall down an internet rabbit hole. You don’t want to be deep into your friend’s roommate’s brother’s friend’s social media archives when the interviewer arrives. Instead, centre yourself and reflect on your skills and experiences so they’re fresh in your mind for the interview.
Remember that it’s normal to feel nervous before or during an interview. I had a wave of anxiety before my most recent one and even tripped over a chair when entering the meeting room. The interviewer may or may not have seen it, so I just pretended it didn’t happen.
In the post-pandemic era, customary handshakes are in a bit of a gray area. Noakes says, “It depends on personal preferences but lead from your own intuition. If you don’t like handshakes, then don’t extend your hand. Be receptive to the body language of the other individual; if they extend a hand, say you’d rather bump elbows.”
Taylor’s tip: The interview starts as soon as you enter the building. Be kind to every person you encounter and be on your best behaviour. Don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t in an interview.
During the interview
Be descriptive and provide as much information as possible, but don’t overshare. For every response, use an example to better explain the concept. I referred to past experiences in relation to this position and explained how those skills would help me succeed in this job.
If the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” expand on anything that wasn’t provided already, such as dress code, expectations or shift times. Ideally, you want to ask a meaningful question. When in doubt, say something like: “I was looking at your website this morning and I saw this, can you expand on it.” Finally, if the interviewer does not indicate when they’ll follow up, it’s ok to ask when they anticipate reaching their decision.
After the interview
Before leaving the building, drop off thank you cards at the front desk or pop them in the mail afterwards. You could also send a follow-up email to thank them, ask any final questions or include any information you did not mention in the interview. If you don’t get the job, thank the interviewers for the update, then ask if there was any feedback you could learn from. If you receive the job, then update your resume and LinkedIn as needed.
As you continue to move up in the ranks or expand your horizons in different sectors, follow this cycle to help you succeed with resume writing and the interview process.
Career and Experiential Learning enhances your education with career-related experience in the classroom or in the community. Connect with CEL to learn more about Career Services, Co-operative Education and Experiential Learning. Learn more at tru.ca/cel