Each semester, Hootsuite Engineering hires five to ten cooperative education university students (co-ops). We treat them as full-time software engineers and give them real problems to solve. In the past two years, 34 co-ops joined our Engineering department at Hootsuite. Of those 34, ten of them (29%) joined us as full-time employees after graduation. We hope to increase this ratio as more of our co-op alumni graduate.
I have attended multiple co-op hiring events, and I am frequently asked “what does Hootsuite look for in a co-op?”. I personally hire co-ops onto my team, and review hundreds of applications every semester. I see many outstanding job applications, and want to share what I look for when reviewing them.
Keep in mind that different hiring managers look for different things, but this post should give students a good idea of how we read applications.
In general, we look for the following traits in everybody we hire into Product Engineering at Hootsuite:
- Ability to learn
- Driven by passion
- Technical skill
- Ability to deliver
- Humility and respect for others
It is crucial to highlight how you demonstrate these traits in your co-op application.
What Stands Out to Us?
Personal Technical Projects
When reviewing a resume, personal technical projects leap off the page. They demonstrate that you have the passion and drive to teach yourself something new and execute on an idea. One of the best ways to learn about a new technology is to apply it in a real project, especially if the project is something you care about.
The following are examples that we love to see:
- Personal Website: Universities often teach computer science concepts before practical web knowledge. A personal website shows that you have taken the initiative to explore the practical application of computer science on the web in your own time.
- GitHub Account: A GitHub account well-stocked with technical projects demonstrates a passion for software engineering. It is also a good opportunity for us to look at your code, so make sure your account is tidy and organized.
- Hackathon Participation: Hackathon participation shows a passion for engineering and a willingness to take chances, challenge yourself, and, ideally, execute on new ideas in a short period of time. Building on the above, if you have a working prototype hosted on your personal website, or code hosted on your GitHub account, all the better.
- Live Code: Code in production and running on the web is wonderful to see, especially if real users are interacting with it. Building and maintaining a service, site, or app shows tremendous initiative and commitment to seeing a project through.
- Open Source Contributions: The internet is increasingly built on open source software. Consequently, there are more and more opportunities to contribute to the open source community. If you have made open source contributions, by all means reference them on your resume. These demonstrate not only technical ability but also community involvement.
- Working Out Loud: At Hootsuite, we value working out loud. To us, working out loud means opening your work up to feedback in order to improve, and helping others by sharing helpful information. Personal blogs and social media accounts that focus on technology demonstrate your commitment to working out loud.
At Hootsuite, we do hire students that have no work experience, especially if they embody the traits outlined above and have pursued technical passions outside of school. However, all things being equal, we value prior technical work experience. We do not expect you to know everything you need to do the job, but prior technical work experience is a great indicator of future success. It shows that you can work in an office environment and get things done.
A portfolio of successful technical work terms will make you a very desirable candidate, so seize any opportunity to gain technical work experience. If you are looking for your first co-op job, part-time work during school and summer jobs show us that you are responsible enough to join the professional workforce.
Grades are important, especially if you want to pursue an academic career, and we do look at them. We are not looking for straight A’s or a perfect 4.0 GPA , but we are looking for solid academic achievement (especially in Computer Science courses). Grades are often used as a tiebreaker between candidates with similar experience, but grades are no substitute for experience. As detailed above, to work as a software engineer you need to put the theory you learn in school into practice. Practical technical experience counts for a 0.5 GPA bump in my books.
We review hundreds of resumes. As such, we value concise, readable, and grammatically sound submissions. For university students, one page is enough to capture the salient points of your academic and career history.
What We DON’T Focus On
The takeaway here is that there is more value in demonstrating your skills via their practical application. If you have to have a skills section, make sure to backup your assertions with tangible application in the work you have delivered.
A special case of skill listing is leadership. There is little value in listing that you have “leadership skills” on your resume. Again, it is much more important to demonstrate leadership skills by highlighting what you have done, versus making a personal statement.
We love to see and hear about your diverse set of skills. Keep in mind that extracurricular accomplishments supplement, rather than stand alone. In the workplace these skills are valued but secondary to a passion for technology and an ability to get things done.
Generic Cover Letters
To impress us with your cover letter, throw out the stock template and start writing as if you were writing a personal email. If writing is a strength, put your skills to use by convincing us why you would make a great hire. The best cover letters are simple, personal and authentic. Creativity can work, but can also backfire. We recently received a cover letter in the form of a Github readme.md file, which got our attention – in a good way. We have also seen cover letters written in code that did not work at all.
Amazing high school grades and winning scholarships are fantastic achievements that likely contributed a great deal to getting you where you are today. As you enter the workforce, particularly noteworthy high school accomplishments make nice supplements to your resume, but again, our focus is on evaluating co-op applications based on work experience, technical projects, and post-secondary academic achievement – not just what got you to university.
If you read through the above and thought to yourself, “nailed it!”, awesome. Companies will be lining up to hire you, including us here at Hootsuite.
If not, never fear. Put the work in, invest in the skills you want to have, and pursue projects you are passionate about. The reason I wrote this post was to give you an idea of what we are looking for. The easiest way to improve is to enjoy it, and that means following the path that makes you happiest.
Most importantly, do not give up. Get your application together and look for areas you can improve, then improve those areas. Keep at it, apply, interview, gain experience, and learn from the process. You have bright futures ahead of you, and hopefully we will be working with some of you soon.
Learn more about co-op opportunities at Hootsuite on our co-op page.
About the Author: Chris Richardson is an Engineering Lead on the Internal Tools team. He manages the group of engineers responsible for building the tools internal stakeholders use to serve our millions of users. Follow him on Twitter at @carichardson.