As most of you know, I completed my 1B term in spring 2014, and currently on my second work term. I worked for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada my previous work term, and I decided to return to the same organization. I mainly do front end web development, but because this is a not-for-profit organization, I end up taking on multiple roles within the organization, allowing me to understand how the society functions as a whole. Recently, I was given the opportunity to participate in the co-op hiring process at the University of Waterloo for the Winter 2015 work term, and that was a great experience. Co-op students normally don’t know how things work on the employer end of the spectrum, which is exactly where this blog post is going: to explain how employers select applicants, and rank students (without breaching the¬†confidentiality policy that my organization have in place).

Selecting Applicants

Filtering Applicants

So, Jobmine closes, and employers now have the opportunity to log into Jobmine to see how many applicants applied. One would think that the hiring manager would read through all the resumes: not necessarily. If a posting has over two hundred¬†applicants, I don’t think that is going to happen. One way my supervisor decided to weed out candidates was simply by filtering on their academic level, program, and number of work terms completed. My supervisor tries to aim for 2nd year students to join the team, so all the potential 2A and 2B students gets filtered to the top, while other applicants gets placed down on the list. Next, due to confidentiality reasons, I was asked not to participate in this portion of the interview process, as it had some sensitive information pertaining to how the organization further filters the applicants. Once this was done, I was re-invited back to read the resumes left from the filtering and it was amazing to see how the employer managed to filter out majority of the applicants without having to read a single resume. I wish I got to know more about this, but oh well. ūüôĀ

Reading Resumes

So with the handful of applicants left, we started reading resumes who are qualified. Key things to point out here is that an amazing and attractive resume really helps you stand out initially, then backed by all the technical skills and work experience you may have (with an emphasis on technical skills). We tend to choose applicants who have similar knowledge to the ones required to be successful in this role. For those who have work term(s)¬†completed, the work term evaluation plays a role to see how well you performed with other companies. Notice that I did not say anything about marks: they do not matter much (for now) because let’s face it: getting a 50 in Linear Algebra, Chemistry, or Physics means little to nothing to the employer. Heck, we even selected an applicant who got a 32 in programming even when you are required to code in this role! This applicant complimented that with a decent work term evaluation and a stellar resume.

We then began discussing and deciding which applicants to interview, when to conduct the interview, and we inputted our choices into Jobmine. The CECA then emails the students who received an interview and to select their interview slot. I think we had about 40 applicants, and only 7 got interviews. The finance department, however, had well over 200 applicants for their position, and they probably only chose the same number of students to interview.

Aside: Business Trip to Waterloo

For the first time, I was allowed to go on my first business trip! Sure, it wasn’t a trip to a place like California or Vegas, but hey, it was pretty awesome for a co-op student to get to do something like this, with all expenses covered by the organization (meaning, I pay for anything required for this trip up front, then the organization reimburse my expenses). I left for Waterloo the day before the actual interview so I can hang out with friends within the vicinity, then rest up for the interviews the next day.

Interviews

On the interview day, my boss and I met up at the Tatham Centre, and once there, a CECA representative was there to check us in, and take us to our room. Perks of being an employer hiring at Waterloo: you get complimentary drinks and snacks from the Caf√© area in the co-op building. Normally I would pay for my drinks because I am a student, but because this time I was an employer, I got all my drinks free of charge! I don’t know, I found that pretty awesome. I was also lacking sleep that day, surviving on a little less than three hours of sleep, which was terrible. But anyways…

So interviews began, and as usual, the employer would begin by talking about their company (or in this case, the organization) and then we would review their resumes and allow them to ask us questions. Some people asked me why we did not ask any technical questions. Even when I had my interview with my boss there were no technical questions, and here is why: there was no need to do so. As stated earlier, we only expect applicants to have some sort of transferable knowledge that would help in this position. In terms of coding practices, you will still be trained when you start your co-op placement here. So regardless if you know that you should not use bubble sort to sort a million 32-bit integers¬†(or maybe you think you should, I don’t judge), or¬†knowing how to use assembly language for low-level programming, none of that really matters. And besides, you knowing all of these is pretty overkill for the job, since this job is mostly front end development¬†(so using JavaScript and other web development tools).¬†Furthermore, my supervisor would rather hire a student with a lower academic term since they most likely don’t have a work term completed, and so he wants to help students get the first step into whatever they want to do in the future. Pretty nice of him, I must say.

Besides asking the questions, we also made some other observations that we took into consideration. Clear communication, punctual, and attitude played a big role when deciding on which candidate to give an offer to, as we need applicants to be professional. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada constantly gets visitors who are diagnosed with MS or board members coming in to visit the office to discuss about the various strategic initiatives for the organization, and hence being professional is a must. In between interviews, we quickly discuss about the applicants performance during the interview and review the resume of the next applicant.

Post Interviews

Now that interviews are over, we re-evaluated each candidate, and each of them a “final evaluation” in terms of how they performed during the interview. Earlier on in the co-op process, I said that marks don’t matter. That is true, only if you have an amazing interview, resume, and skills¬†for the role. There were two applicants who had an amazing resume and interview, and had very similar skill set with each other. What can we use as a tie breaker? Well, the last resort was their marks. One applicant had a 5% higher average than the other based on their most recent term average (they had a similar average in previous terms, so we disregarded those), and hence the offer went to that person. As you can see, its not entirely true that marks don’t matter: they do, but only as a very last resort. The choices was then inputted into Jobmine and is then released to students when rankings open.

Final Comments

Well, here it is: the¬†co-op hiring process from an employer’s perspective. I know that every company hiring co-op students have a different way of selecting their applicants: some may ask more technical questions, some not so much, but this is just an example of how employers tend to screen their applicants. Hopefully this gives you an insight as to what is happening on the employer’s end of the co-op hiring process and how applicants are selected. ūüôā

David Vuong