Co-op Best Practices > Confidence - The Key to Approaching a Co-op Interview

Confidence - The Key to Approaching a Co-op Interview

posted on April 1, 2000

You’ve read every book and every article you can find on interview skills and techniques.You have done your homework on the company. You are dressed in your most professional outfit and you have rehearsed answers to the top ten questions you might be asked. You have attended pre-employment seminars put on by your Co-op Office. In short, you have done all the right things to get ready. Congratulations.Why then are your hands sweating, your knees shaking and your mind filled with a feeling of dread?

Every term thousands of co-op students compete for positions with companies across the country. Just like you, these students have done all the right things to ensure they are prepared for the interview. Why then are some applicants cool calm and collected in the waiting room while others are nervous and fretful? The answer is directly related to the student’s level of interview confidence – a combination of knowledge, skill and realistic and appropriate practice. Additionally, it lies in the student’s ability to think on her feet and draw on seemingly unrelated experiences to successfully answer the interviewer’s questions.
This article does not go into detail on all of the things you should do to prepare for the job interview. Many writers have covered this topic very well and you have read at least one, if not many of these. In addition to the many books and articles, there are excellent web sites that you can access.These cover everything from how to dress professionally to how to prepare for the harshest of questions. 

What this article will do is give you some advice on increasing your level of interview confidence. It will describe a way to develop your ability to think on the spot – to quickly analyze a question and answer it in the context of your past experiences, and not just those in the workplace.

Did you ever get nervous prior to writing an important exam?  If you are like most students the answer is yes. A job interview is no different from that big final. Your resume and cover letter have put you in a position to get a desired co-op position.  If you do well on the interview your job search will be over and you will be on your way to your co-op experience. Read any book on reducing test anxiety and you will be advised to prepare, prepare and prepare some more. There is no mystery in this. If you have prepared completely your anxiety will be lessened if not you should expect to feel nervous. This applies to job interviews just as it does to exams. You must prepare and you must be fully prepared. 

Most co-op students do all the right things: research the company; read experts’ answers to all of the tough questions; talk to your co-operative education coordinators or other faculty about good strategies to ensure success. Perhaps you watch videos demonstrating good interview techniques. These are all the things you should do. But it is not enough. To be completely prepared you need more than knowledge. You need to be able to apply this knowledge with ease and confidence. You can only achieve this through realistic and appropriate practice. How do you go about doing this?

There are a number of ways you can do this but the key is to make the practice as real as possible. To simply rehearse in front of a mirror or get a friend to ask you some questions is helpful, but there are ways to more effectively practice interviewing techniques.

Deborah Sauer, an instructor in the Business Faculty at Capilano College, provides first year business and computer co-op students with a great chance to practice. How? By having them interviewed by senior business students. Students in her third year Human Resources Management course are being taught how to interview. Deborah in conjunction with the co-operative education coordinator prepares a job description that co-op students then interview for. Usually the human resources student doing the interview does not know the co-op interviewee. Questions are tough and the interviewer can be even tougher.

The student conducting the interview is marked on her performance as an interviewer with the grade counting towards the final course grade. The co-operative education coordinator observes the interviewee and provides feedback immediately following the interview. 
How well does this work? Michael, a student in the computer co-op program, was surprised that “ the interview seemed so real even though I knew it was for a non-existent job.”  Linda, another computer co-op student, described it as “ the best thing I had ever done to prepare for interviews.” Co-op students consistently say that this, more than any other activity, helps them to improve their interview performance.  As for the human resource management students who conduct the interviews, Deborah states, “It has proven to be an excellent skill based instructional technique because it focuses on the application of the specific material taught in the course.”  Talk to your co-operative education coordinator to explore the possibility of arranging this type of simulation within your institution. 

At Camosun College, students are interviewed by faculty members who teach courses outside their program area. These faculty members volunteer their time to help the co-op students prepare. Again, the student seldom knows the person who is interviewing them, making for a more realistic experience. You could ask your co-operative education coordinator to set this up at your institution. If this kind of arrangement is difficult to arrange, then perhaps you might ask a senior co-op student to run a simulation with you. They will be able to draw on their experiences in co-operative education to provide a solid – and realistic-- role-play.

Whatever your means, you must find a way to practice interviews which closely reflect the realities of an actual interview for a co-op position. Succeeding at this will help you feel much more confident and relaxed as you wait outside the interview room. Once you get in there you will be familiar with the process. Now you will be able to focus on the interviewer, the questions and formulating good answers that demonstrate your interest in the position and your ability to do the job.

The ability to think on your feet, quickly analyze the question and develop a good answer is critical to winning an interview. This can be difficult to do if you have no work experience that directly relates to the question. Handling this situation is easy if you understand the idea of transferable skills. 

Donna Carswell, co-operative education coordinator at Camosun College, tells the story of asking her new co-op students how they would prepare for an interview. When they did not respond right away Donna asked them, instead, how they might make arrangements to attend a movie with a group of friends.The students quickly answered that they would first research the movies and agree on one. Next, they would make transportation arrangements, get dressed up and meet at the theatre, arriving early so they could all sit together. It didn’t take long for these students to see the similarity. Understanding the process of organizing a group to go to a movie was transferable to preparing for an interview. 

Donna is a strong believer in the power of transferable skills. She, along with Nancy Johnston at Simon Fraser University, has developed a program for co-op students called the Bridging Curriculum. By analyzing past life activities, jobs, and course assignments, the co-op student comes to see how each of these can form a basis for an answer to just about any behavioural or scenario question that could be asked.  It works by breaking down activities into tasks, tasks into skills, and skills into foundation skills that can be transferred to any number of situations.

Once you learn how to do this, you can listen carefully to a question from an interviewer and develop an answer quickly that draws on your many transferable skills. Here is an example. The position you are interviewing for requires exceptional communication skills (what one doesn’t?). The interviewer likes behavioural questions so asks you for an example of a time when you used your communication skills to solve a problem.  If you don’t have a lot of work experience to draw on this could be a tough question. Since you now know that communication skills are a foundation of many activities, you quickly answer based on the time you resolved a billing error from your credit card company. You describe how you wrote a polite yet professional letter, followed up with a telephone call, forwarded copies of all transactions, and finally mailed off a thank you letter, copying the head of customer service, once the problem was resolved.  With this answer you have not only demonstrated your good communication skills, but also your professionalism, organization skills and good manners.  This will win you points in an interview.

If you take the time to look at life experiences and break them down into foundation skills you will have a strong base from which to answer many of the tougher interview questions.  Combine this with realistic practice and a good understanding of interview techniques and strategies. You will then feel confident in the waiting room and ready to ace any interview.
To improve your interview skills you need to take it past simply knowing how an interview is conducted.   You need to practice the things you know.  In your simulations use that firm, confident handshake and have your practice interviewer give you honest feedback. Take the time to sit down and list your many accomplishments, big and small. Analyze these to identify all of the transferable skills you have.  Do this and you will increase your interview confidence and be well on your way to securing your next co-op position.