Nearly every student coming in to the Casual Work Experience program thinks their host company interview will be easy. And nearly every student is surprised at how incredibly hard they can be after they've actually done one.
Casual interviews are hard. Harder than internship interviews. There are a few reasons for this:
- For most students it's a major career change. A lot of students in the CWE program are lawyers, engineers, and other professional office staff. Most have little to no hospitality or retail experience. Additionally, host companies are always worried that people from an office environment will find retail and hospitality jobs boring, or that they'll very quickly grow tired with them.
- Students, especially those from office and technical backgrounds, tend not to prepare for a retail or hospitality interview. Some students think because the job is more casual, they can be more casual about their interview. Students will come in torn jeans, they will not have researched the company, they will have skipped interview practice. And when they arrive at the company, they fail the interview.
- The lower skilled the position, the more screening is required. If you are applying for a job which requires a lower skill set, you will have a tougher interview than if you were applying for a job with a much higher skill set. If you are hiring an accountant, you can sort people out before the interview just by looking at their education and work experience. For a job as a dishwasher, almost any one can be considered a serious applicant, so all the sorting will need to be done at the interview.
BEFORE YOU START
When your interview is arranged, Vancouver Internships will send you an email giving you details of the casual work term position you are interviewing for, the date, the time, the name of the interviewer, directions – and finally the web address. Example:
Hello Sam Pul,
How are you?
Good news! You will have an interview this Friday, May 14th at 2:30pm. The interview will be with a gastro-pub called O'Malley's. O'Malley's is located in downtown Vancouver on 190 Granville Street. Your interviewer’s name is Charlie – he is the chef.
You will be interviewing for a position as a busser. As a busser you will help clear and set up tables, assist guests with basic items like water and condiments, and assist the waiters and serving food.
Before the interview, we want you to research the pub very carefully. Please visit www.omalleys.fx . Make sure you understand the menu, style of food, and how long they have been operating.
Someone from our office will go to the interview with you. Please come to our office at 2:00pm and we will walk to the company together. Remember to dress formally – no jeans or running shoes.
Good luck. See you Friday.
You will probably get this email 2 or 3 days before the actual interview, though if you have failed interviews in the past, it is possible that you can get your notice 1 day before your interview. Please use what time you have to research the host company website. It will be important for you later. A lot of the interview questions require that you know something about the company. These websites are written for native speakers, so the English can be complex. That means you can’t research the company at the last minute and hope to succeed – you need to research at least 1 day in advance in order to give yourself enough time to translate parts of the website, and to understand in detail what the company does.
Next – dress nicely. Notice that in the email, it says – “dress formally, no jeans or running shoes”. Here’s what that means – these are the kind of clothes you should wear – while some are more formal than others, almost any of these styles would be suitable (though you can usually leave the tie at home):
Even if the company seems casual and relaxed on their website, even if your interviewer is in jeans, even if it only has 4 or 5 workers, dress nicely. Not doing so, shows carelessness and a lack of respect and the company will notice it.
FYI – if you didn’t bring nice clothes with you, try:
- Joe Fresh Style – This is the cheapest place to buy nice clothes. There’s a Joe outlet 50 metres from our office.
- H&M. Same as in your country, cheap, affordable clothes – there’s one at Pacific Centre.
- Value Village. Second hand (used clothes and shoes). If you want to be super cheap, you can find a suit here for as low as $10. You can find the best Value Village here. To get there, take the number 20 bus from directly in front of our office.
Here are the questions that are asked 90% of the time:
Tell me about yourself - this is an icebreaker. It’s meant to make you feel at ease, and it’s a good way to gauge how the rest of the interview will go. You have a lot of control at this point and it’s a good moment to sell yourself. Try using this as a model for your answer (but don’t copy this word for word):
My name is John and I am from Italy. I have a degree in accounting and I decided to come to Vancouver to improve my English and experience living abroad. Vancouver is a beautiful and friendly place and also it’s possible to meet people from all over the world. I’m a determined, hardworking person, and I would like to have experience working in Canada.
Why did you decide to come to Vancouver? – the employer wants to know your opinion about Vancouver. It could also be asked as ‘What do you think of Vancouver?. Be positive. Even if you have grown to hate the city with a burning intensity – keep it to yourself and only talk about the positive parts of being here. Model answer:
I love Vancouver. It’s such a beautiful city, I love the nature. I’ve been kayaking and I visited Lynn Canyon and Stanley Park. In my city we don’t have a lot of nature, so it’s amazing to be able to visit it each weekend here. The people are very friendly and helpful too.
Do you have any previous customer service experience? – This question is to find out if you are used to and capable of dealing with people. If you have the experience, it will be a good opportunity to explain your duties at your last job. Otherwise, in case you don’t have any experience in this field, just be confident. Model answer:
I haven’t had previous work experience yet, but I would like to have this opportunity. I have had to work in a team on many occasions during school and have also volunteered and worked with the public.
Tell me about your last job – This is a great opportunity to talk about your past experience. Try to highlight past experience related to the position you are applying for. Be positive and never say bad things about your last job. Model answer:
I worked in a bank as a cashier and it was a good experience because I learned how to deal with different customers. I learned to be organized, patient and flexible. Based on this, I think that it would be great to work in a restaurant and increase my customer service skills.
Why did you leave your last job? - Pay attention to the answer that you will give the employer. In this case, the manager wants to understand the reason why you quit the job. Your answer will determine whether or not he/she feels you would be a good person to hire or not hire. So, try to be direct and don’t play “the victim”. Model answer:
I was working in a Bank, but I decided to quit the job in order to do an exchange and improve my English. I talked with my manager and he said that it was fine. I hope I will return to their company when I go back home.
Why did you decide to apply with us? - Be honest. Companies don’t want insincere flattery. Your English may be good, but it probably isn’t good enough (yet) to lie convincingly at a job interview. Tell the interviewer that your counsellor at Vancouver Internships presented the company to you. They want to know that you’re not applying to them randomly, but have some interest in their line of work. Also, we hope you’ve done your research, because it will matter here. There is a 100% chance your host company will ask this question. Model answer:
My agency, Vancouver Internships, told me about your company. I did some research and I know that It’s a traditional restaurant focussed on Malaysian Cuisine. It’s one of the most popular restaurants of this kind of ethnic food and I’ve already had the experience to eat here before.
What kinds of skills are necessary for a (restaurant worker)? – This question is to know how familiar you are with this kind of environment. Model answer:
I believe that employees need to be hardworking, flexible and have the ability to work under pressure. They need to be organized, multi-tasking and have the ability to work in a team. Also, they need to be in a good mood and always with a big smile upon their face.
Do you prefer to work independently or with a team? Give some examples of past jobs that involved team work. – This question is just to evaluate what kind of person you are and understand a little bit more about your last experience. Model answer:
I have the ability to work independently and on a team. I am able to do my tasks without supervision. Also, I like to work in a team. I think that employees need to be able to work together. Once I was working in restaurant as a hostess and I was responsible for making customers feel comfortable and answering any questions or concerns that they had. I was also had to liaise with servers. Everybody needed to work in a group.
How would you describe yourself ? - This is where you should emphasize some skills that you’ve already had. Model answer:
I am a determined, responsible and punctual person. I consider myself an organized and hardworking person too. Also, I always try to do my best whenever I start a new activity.
If I spoke to one of your past co-workers, how would they describe you? – Employers ask this question to find out whether or not you had a good rapport with your previous coworkers. Model answer:
People usually say that I am a happy and fun person. They say that I am energetic, dynamic and also am a good team player.
How do you handle stress? – This is a typical question and employers ask it in order find out how you deal with different kinds of situations. Model answer:
It’s very common to work under pressure and stress. It’s not a thing that we like to work with, but I always try to keep my priorities in order so that I can do the best job. I always try to keep focused.
What motivates you? Be positive and say what things make you want to work hard. Model answer:
I am motivated by an environment that I can learn and been part of a group. I like to help others and meet new people.
Have you ever been involved in a conflict with customers or co-workers? If so, how did you handle the situation? – This question is asked in order to find out how you would act/react in the case of a problem. Model answer:
When I have a problem with someone, I try to talk with the person about the situation and solve the issue the best way that I can. I try to explain my point of view and listen to what the other person has to say. I try to figure out the best option so that both parties’ grievances are seen to.
What are you looking for in a job? - They want to know if you are applying for a specific position. Model answer:
I really want Canadian work experience and also hope to improve my English. I believe that this position will help me to achieve my goals.
What is your greatest strength? - This is a classic question. And very straightforward – talk about what you are best at and give examples. Avoid things which aren’t closely related to your working life. Model answer:
I am very organized and I am good at multi-tasking. In my last job, I was the team project leader, so my job was to take the project and break it down into smaller jobs for my team. I coordinated all of their work and checked up on them to make sure that everything was ready on time for our client.
What is your greatest weakness? What are you doing to improve your weakness? - Another classic question. Discuss something you don’t do well, and then explain how you are dealing with it. In some cases, you may need to give an example of when that weakness caused problems for you and how you overcame those problems. Don’t say you’re a ‘perfectionist’ – that’s not considered to be a valid answer. If you want to discuss language problems here, that will be ok. Model answer:
I have had trouble with English writing. I think I don’t know a lot of important vocabulary. In my old job, I had to write business letters to our New York office and it was difficult. That’s why I came to Canada. I’ve been learning English for 6 months, and it has helped a lot. I still have some difficulties, but I have a tutor 2 times per week in the evenings and they help me to improve my writing.
Why should I hire you? – It is a typical question and a good moment to show the employer that you are the right person for the position. It’s time to sell yourself. Be confident. Model answer:
I believe that I have the skills that you are looking for in this position. I like to deal with different types of public and I have great customer service skills. I am flexible and hardworking which is very important for this job. I also have the willingness to learn.
How many hours a week do you expect to work, full or part time? – You need to give your true availability. If you are able to work 8 hours per day (full time) or just between 4 and 6 hours per day (part time) be honest.
Are you flexible? Are you able to work … (mornings / afternoons / evenings)? - Most places are looking for a flexible person in order to accommodate necessary changes on the schedule. You need to be honest about your availability and remember that as long as you have flexibility, your chances of getting the job increase.
Do you have your own transportation? Employers ask this question to find out if it’s possible for you to work late or if you depend on public transportation, so be honest.
How much do you expect to make an hour? This is a difficult question to answer. You don’t want to lose the employer’s interest, so It’s better to be flexible. Model answer:
My main interest is to improve my English, so I am fine with minimum wage. Anything above that of course would be fantastic.
Do you have any questions for me? Here you can ask about dress code, company expectations, you can ask if they’ve ever had an intern before. Whatever you ask though, please prepare your questions before the interview, and discuss them with a Vancouver Internships counsellor in advance. Sample questions:
- What kind of person are you looking for in this position?
- What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?
- What personality do you think fits best with your company?
- When is the soonest I could start to work?
*Make sure that the questions you ask have not already been answered during the interview.
All these questions should give you an idea about typical interview questions and the types of answers most employers are looking for. Always remember to give answers that emphasize your skills and experience and that will be useful to the job you are applying for.
Don’t try to memorize your answers because you need to sound natural. This guide is to help you practice and prepare for your interview.
If you have any questions about how you can answer these questions, please write them down and bring them with you to your interview practice session at Vancouver Internships.