Written by Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski, Kira Talent co-founder and a former student at the University of Waterloo.
Home of the largest co-op program in the world, University of Waterloo is a perfect hub for hiring some of the best young technical talent in the country.
Having submitted my rankings a few days ago for co-op students at the University of Waterloo for the summer term, I’ve had a few people ask me how they can get started with hiring students through Waterloo co-op. Most of the specific details on how the process work can be found online (https://uwaterloo.ca/hire/), but I wanted to share 3 core points that aren’t communicated.
1) You’re interviewing the students as much as they’re interviewing you.
If you’re looking to hire the top students in their class or year, it’s not enough to simply identify the top students. I structure my interviews in a way that I can determine as fast as possible if someone is not up to the standard I’m looking for (asking about their side-projects for example), with the remaining portion of the interview spent on selling Kira Talent to them. Depending on the number of jobs they apply for, a top student can easily get interviews in the double digits, and a handful of offers by the time the first round has ended. If you do not have a unique value proposition for them (whether it be location, the type of work they’d be doing), it’s easy to be forgotten.
2) You are competing against Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, etc. Especially for 3rd/4th year students.
Waterloo co-op does a great job of explaining all the benefits of co-op students, and that many great companies hire through it. What they purposely don’t tell you is that if you’re looking to hire older students, then you’re competing for the exact same students that companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and more are going after. What they have on their side, is location and high salaries. It’s pretty common to see a top student work in the US by their third or fourth co-op term. What this means, is that during the weekdays they’re snacking on free food provided by the company, getting paid anywhere between $30 to $45/hour (on average), and on the weekends, exploring cities like San Francisco, Seattle or New York.
Unfortunately, most companies can’t compete with this. So you have to compete on factors that you know you can win. Sometimes a student has spent a few terms at large companies, and now wants to spend a few months within a 10-person company. Other times, they want to see their code pushed to production within a few hours of being approved. There’s little things you need to identify as the employer, that you need to be selling within the interview to the student. And every student is different, so you’ll have to learn to adapt from one to another.
3) They expect full responsibility, and/or to be treated as full-time employees.
Replace the word “intern” in your vocabulary with “full-time employee.” Waterloo students expect to be treated, and be given the same responsibility in some ways, as full-time employees. We hired three for the Winter 2013 term, and they each wrote meaningful code within their first day. They don’t work on “intern projects” — they work on things that a full-time employee would otherwise have to do. And make it clear to them in the job description, that they’ll be working on projects with high-impact. The last thing they want is to do work that never sees the light of daylight.
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These aren’t the only three points, nor are they necessarily the most important three points. But they are the first ones that come to my mind, and are ones that can’t be found online (to an extent of course).
Lastly, one little thing I’ve learned is to always ask in an interview: “name one thing you liked about your previous company’s culture/environment, and one thing you disliked.” If you ask this early on in the interview, you’ll be able to get a good sense of what they’re looking for in their next co-op term, and you can cater the “sales” part of your interview accordingly.