January 25, 2023, by Manny Pahwa
Coming into university is daunting. Your workload increases exponentially compared to high school and you’re really left to fend for your own. To add to your already astronomical amounts of stress comes the pressure of, of course, extracurriculars – every student knows extracurriculars are key. Whether just to pad your resume (we’ve all joined some extracurriculars for this sole purpose, don’t lie to yourself), or more importantly, gain valuable leadership and teamwork experience, extracurriculars are essential to set yourself up for success. However, getting into clubs in university is even more competitive than it already was in high school. To put this into perspective, Western welcome over 6,000 first years alone per year. If even 5% of those students apply to the same position as you, you’re going up against 320 other candidates. Now, this is not to scare off anyone from applying to clubs – you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. However, it is crucial that you perfect your skills to make sure you have the best shot at grabbing that position. Arguably, the most essential part of the application process is the interview. So let’s talk about how you can ace them.
Note: Misconception About Preparation:
I want to address the question of how much to prepare explicitly, because this is an incredibly misunderstood part of preparation. People always say practice makes perfect – except sometimes it doesn’t. One of the most common mistakes students make is over-preparing. Going through all the possible interview questions and practicing answers is commonly seen as a good strategy, but I would strongly disagree. Knowing generally what you’re going to say is one thing, but thinking too much into the answer to a question leads you to start preparing scripted answers, sometimes even unconsciously. As an interviewer, one of the biggest red flags I see is a clearly scripted answer. Don’t recite your answers! Think beforehand what you generally want to point out, and let it come out on the spot, even if you have to ask for a second to formulate your thoughts. This comes across as much more natural and really lets your personality shine. The key takeaway here is that too much preparation is possible, and is a very common mistake.
What to Prepare:
It’s important to note that ‘don’t over prepare’ is not synonymous with ‘don’t prepare’. There are certain things that you can do ahead of your interview to really enhance your performance, so let’s take a look at a few of those things.
Firstly, read your application over. That’s it. There is nothing more to add to this point other than know your application.
Now to move on to some of the more specifics. To figure out what to prepare, we need to take a look at what interviewers are looking for. The interview portion of a club application is almost always just a personality check. You’ve already proved your credibility within your written application, so now it’s time to let the interviewers see that you can fit within their team. What I’m trying to get at here is that it’s not extremely important to try to prepare the correct answer for every question. 99% of the time, this takes away from your personality in the interview. So instead of preparing for hundreds of questions, prepare for a few and spend the remaining time on preparing for other aspects of the interview.
Common Interview Questions:
This is an extremely common interview tip, so I’ll be brief. If you’ve interviews in the past, you’ll be aware that there are a few questions that almost every interviewer asks. Knowing what you want to get across in these questions is extremely important. Instead of memorizing a set answer, make jot notes of key points you want to mention and leave it at that, don’t practice saying them over and over again. You’ll notice that as you go through more and more interviews, you’ll learn how to shape your answers to be more natural. Make sure you know your key points for when an interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself. Brainstorm some ideas for your biggest strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be basic (I’m looking at you, ‘perfectionists’). You can find a list of some of the common questions on Google, so I’ll leave you to that.
Curveball & “Fun” Questions:
Curveball questions are becoming more and more common in interviews. Curveball questions are questions that don’t necessarily have a right answer, or ask about your personality in a fun way. An example would be, what are your thoughts on pigeons? This is a question that I was asked in an interview for a very competitive position, and at first glance you’d wonder why someone would ever ask you that. As I mentioned earlier, a large component of the interview is often just a personality check. When tackling questions like these, try to have fun with the interviewer. You can’t prepare for curveball questions beforehand, so just let loose and joke around – no one hates a good laugh. For more critical questions that are less about you and more about solving a problem, focus more on showing that you have critical thinking skills and less on getting the exact answer you think the interviewer is looking for. For example, if someone asked you how many windows there are in the world, nobody is expecting you to know the number or even come remotely close. Instead, take them through a critical thought process to show how you would get the answer. Maybe throw in how many windows you think are in an average house, and how many houses you would guess are in the world. Then, think about apartment buildings that have hundreds of windows and take that into consideration. The point is, you don’t have to be right, just take them through the process as if you are.
Questions for the Interviewer:
Always have questions for the interviewer. In every single interview you do, you will be asked if you have any questions. Even asking a seemingly irrelevant question is better than replying with “no”. You should be able to formulate meaningful questions based on the research you’ve done on the company, prior to the interview. Always try to prepare at least one or two questions tailored towards the club you are applying to.
Looking into the Place You’re Applying To:
This part of the preparation process varies significantly depending on the nature of the club you are applying to, but should have occurred prior to your interview date. For general business clubs, look into what events are hosted, what demographic they target, and what side of business is most prevalent. For finance clubs, look into what the club does, how it invests, and what it invests in. The general takeaway is that you need to do your research. This will help you create meaningful and actually relevant questions, and you can show the interviewer that you are serious about the club.
Other Side Notes:
There are a few other notes that don’t necessarily relate the preparation but are still incredibly important for performing in interviews.
Firstly, read the interviewer. Every interviewer is going to be different, and tailoring your style to them is key to building a good relationship with them during the interview. What I mean by this is if the interviewer is more laid back, try to crack a few jokes and present yourself as more laid back. With interviewers like these, making them laugh is a major plus. For more formal interviewers, again, try to make them laugh, but maintain a formal composure when answering most questions. You can usually tell if the interviewer is more formal or more laid back within the first question or two, usually from their tone of voice and body language.
Another key thing to note is achievements do not always correlate to success in club applications. Notice that in all of my tips, boasting achievements was never mentioned. It is extremely possible to get a position without pages of experience on your resume. Compared to job applications, club applications are more focused on finding committed people that will fit within the team dynamic. You can always learn most of the things needed for the job relatively quickly, so experience is not always necessary nor a massive advantage.
All in all, performing well in interviews really comes down to mastering your technique and understanding what the interviewer is looking for. Tailoring your interviews to the things you are applying to is important for succeeding. Hopefully the tips mentioned above help you take your interviews to the next level and ease off some of that stress that's piling on your shoulders.