During co-op's flurry of deadlines, resume building, structured applications and formal interviews, it's important to remember that the most important strategy for building your personal brand is staying true to who you are — quirks and all. You'll be spending a lot of time in the company of that new company of yours. So, going into interviews, you'll want to ask the questions you need in order to find out if the Co-op is going to be conducive to your learning needs. By considering your emotional well-being in relation to the values of your prospective new company, you can evaluate your culture fit, and be well on your way to building longer-lasting networking connections.
Some questions I've used to assess culture fit for new employers are:
- Will I be working with a mentor, and how independently will I be expected to solve problems?
- Under what conditions does the team tend to work late?
- Are their hours flexible, or rigid?
- Often companies with flexible hours might have times where a majority of the team are at work, and it's good to identify how those times align with your productivity patterns. Will you be on-call outside of the office?
- Technical systems of communication in the office can give you clues about the practices of the new group; do they use Slack, email, BBM, or primarily phone or fax?
I ended up choosing to turn down one position because they would have required me to remain on-call via text and work at late hours to meet marketing deadlines.
You'll want to learn how you'll be expected to integrate into the team. Each co-op team is unique, and some industries have very standardized (or regulated) office policies; conversely many others - like many of the arts positions I've recently worked in - do not. Getting some sense of the office hierarchical structure can help you learn about how they do business:
- Who do you report to?
- How many teams are there?
- How much of management is locally-based or international?
Some companies, including a few start-ups and video game companies, might not use hierarchies, employing 'flat' (non-hierarchical) systems. Does the team prefer to collaborate in structured meeting environments or do they more casually work together to solve problems throughout the day? Do people work from home? If there's an office, do they prefer a more formal, or casual attire?
See if you can identify what your company's bottom line is; is it service, generating profit, quality work, rapid work, people, creativity, or perhaps humanitarian work? It can be useful to ask about health care policies if details aren't included in the application details; does their health package cover birth control, prenatal or parental leave? Regardless of if you need these benefits for yourself, you can learn about their organization’s approach to gender equality. When I was interviewing for my associate producer position at Silverstring media, my now-current-boss and I connected over a shared interest in feminism in the business of storytelling.
Illustrations by Anna Wolfe for her work as an Associate Producer for Silverstring Media.
© 2017 Silverstring Media.
If you happen to identify shared values, interests and hobbies with your new co-workers during your interview, it can suggest you might connect better with your future team.
Because you'll only get to ask one or two questions of an employer at the end of an interview, I personally like to formulate some ideas ahead of time while researching my potential employer online, and then adapt them to any additional data I receive during the interview. If there's something that comes through in attitudes of the interview or the employer's profile feels like it might make your engagement uncomfortable, consider bringing it to your co-op coordinator. But ultimately, trust your own judgment! Finding a work environment that will allow you to express yourself in the ways you need to get your job done will help you set the stage for growing to your full professional potential