Author: Sean Qi
Year course was taken: 2014W
Final mark obtained in course: 97
I took COMM 202 in first year, and it was admittedly one of the most useful courses I remember completing. Don’t get me wrong, COMM 202 has a hefty workload for a one credit course. However, 202 students will develop some important tangible skills that honestly makes everything worthwhile. This blog post will preview and guide you through the five major assignments in COMM 202.
Along with smaller weekly assignments, COMM 202 has five major assignments:
- Networking Reflection
Students will attend a networking event in CPA Hall featuring upper-year students and faculty members. When the event concludes, students are responsible for writing a two-page report that explains how they approached the event and what they learned from the conversations they had with networking delegates.
- Skills Matrix
Students will outline 10 success stories and 2 failure stories using the STARL (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Link) format. Stories are based on the student’s real-life experiences.
- Resume and Cover Letter
Students submit a resume and cover letter applying for a job posting they find online. This is easily the most important assignment in the entire course.
- Job Interview
Using the job posting from the Resume and Cover Letter assignment, students will complete a behavioral interview conducted by a COMM 202 TA (or someone from the BCC).
- Informational Interview
Students are required to schedule and conduct an informational interview with a professional, and write a report summarizing the meeting. Other students and faculty members CANNOT be interviewed for this assignment.
Now that you have an understanding of what to expect in the coming months, you’re probably thinking about how to approach each assignment. Without further ado, consider the following tips:
1. NAILING THE NETWORKING REFLECTION
Writing the networking reflection isn’t complicated, but I get the impression that students overthink when they network with others in a more formal setting. I certainly did when I attended the COMM 202 networking event one year ago.
My biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple! You’re just having a couple of conversations in a few hours… that’s basically it.
- Don’t rely too much on the provided delegate list. In a space with 200+ people, actively searching for individual delegates you want to talk to is an unproductive use of your time. Instead, mingle with the people around you and join random conversations. Step out of your comfort zone guys!
- In terms of asking questions, preparing a list of general questions beforehand applicable to any conversation might be helpful. However, I think it’s better to wing it and ask questions you are genuinely curious about after getting to know a bit more about a delegate’s background.
- If you are a bit shy, don’t worry! It’s pretty difficult to engage in a back and forth dialogue with a specific delegate because there are tons of students networking at once, so don’t get discouraged. Active listening is just as important, and taking note of interesting comments and insights that you hear from delegates will give you plenty of content for your written reflection.
- You can totally talk to other 202 students and mention these conversations in your reflection.
2. CREATING A SUCCESSFUL SKILLS MATRIX
This assignment is difficult because (1) it is difficult to think of meaningful life events that can be expressed in STARL stories and (2) it is hard to determine the amount of detail expected for each story when you first receive the assignment.
More often than not, students believe that only certain experiences are valid for this particular assignment. This is definitely not the case. TAs will accept most stories as long as they are described correctly. Experiences from high school, and personal experiences not directly related to a past job or extracurricular activity are all acceptable. Ultimately, the TAs want to see if you can frame each experience using STARL. In particular, each story should clearly demonstrate the steps you took to handle each situation, the final outcome and what you learned as a result.
In terms of how much you need to write for each story, my general rule of thumb is to focus more on details rather than length. If you can write a great story and keep it concise, that’s great. However, looking back at my Skills Matrix, each of my stories averaged between 200 – 300 words and I still received a high mark on the assignment. In the end, writing a more verbose story (400+ words might be a bit much though) is okay because you can more convincingly highlight the importance of your ACTIONS by including a variety of examples and fleshing them out. If you are unsure about the format of your stories, I highly recommend going to office hours before the due date and reviewing your Skills Matrix with a TA.
3. CRAFTING THE PERFECT RESUME AND COVER LETTER
First of all, the actual job posting isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. I’ve seen students who have never held a full-time job in their life choose an investment banking job opening for this assignment. I think it’s great if you pick a job that aligns with your actual interests and career aspirations. You can definitely talk about your interest and passion for the position more genuinely in your cover letter and interview, which is a huge plus. The point of the assignment is to get you thinking about transferrable skills that would make you employable.
Formatting impacts your assignment grade more than content. In the real world, careless formatting mistakes on your resume (typos, inconsistency between different parts of the resume like font size and spacing) is one reason why your application might not be considered. This is reflected in this assignment, where students are HEAVILY PENALIZED for making 2+ formatting mistakes. Many of my friends failed to identify and correct these preventable mistakes in time, and suffered as a result. To avoid these mistakes:
- Stick to the resume/cover letter format taught in class. There are videos that teach you how to format these documents using Microsoft Word, which is helpful.
- Peer editing is crucial. Get a TA to evaluate your documents in office hours. They might spot individual errors, and will offer you personalized advice that will help you improve. Having multiple TAs review your documents is advisable because a random TA will grade your assignment and it helps to get a broader idea of what the TAs are generally looking for. If office hours are full, you can still have your classmates (preferably someone who already took 202) review and edit your resume, or sign up for a CLC career coaching session.
Finally, try not to worry too much about the experience section of your resume. In the end, having less professional working experience than one of your peers will not disadvantage you at all for this assignment. Primarily, the TAs are looking to see how you describe each experience and relate it back to the job you are applying for. Focus on the transferrable skills I mentioned earlier, and what you actually learned from each experience – they are likely to ask you about this during the interview as well. Speaking of the interview…
4. THE (DREADED) JOB INTERVIEW
If you aren’t confident about your interview skills or don’t know what to expect, please take a look at the seven tips below. Of note, the questions asked are mainly behavioral and you are highly unlikely to receive technical, “brain teaser” questions.
- For each interview, there are three questions that are ALWAYS asked by the interviewer – (1) tell me about yourself, (2) describe your strengths and (3) describe a weakness. It is a good idea to devote some preparation time for the three questions listed above.
- Review your Skills Matrix! The stories that you submitted for this assignment are directly applicable to the interview, where behavioral questions force you to mention experiences that happened to you in the past. The Skills Matrix divides each story into STARL format, which is the recommended way to organize your answer for these types of questions.
- More often than not, we are unaware of the body movements that we display while speaking. Over the top body movements can be very distracting to the interviewer. Practice speaking in front of a friend or a TA at office hours, who can identify these movements and help you correct them.
- Don’t rush into each question! This is a bad habit that has hurt me in past interviews. Take a few seconds to collect your thoughts, as it will help you deliver a more organized answer. For questions that really stump you, don’t be afraid to spend some time thinking about the question before speaking.
- Prepare at least three questions to ask the interviewer. This is something that you have control over, so make sure that your questions really display your interest for the role. Writing them down in your padfolio also helps, as it shows the interviewer that you took the time to prepare them in advance.
- Try not to sound too rehearsed. Preparing too much is sometimes just as bad as not preparing at all. Overpreparation ultimately makes your responses sound unnatural, which is super obvious to the TA interviewing you. To ensure that your answers sound authentic, try to avoid preparing or reciting scripted answers for common interview questions. If you want to remind yourself of important points that you would like to mention during the interview, it might help to write down a brief set of notes to keep yourself on track. In short, be flexible with how you approach these interview questions!
- RELAX AND HAVE FUN!
5. ACING THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW ASSIGNMENT
Like the Networking Reflection, the write-up for this assignment is straightforward. The difficult part of this assignment comes from scheduling the interview and meeting with a professional in-person. Sometimes, an interview gets delayed or simply doesn’t happen because the professional you are interested in speaking with doesn’t reply to your invitation, states that they are busy, or cancels last minute. The unpredictability associated with the scheduling process means that procrastination is definitely your worst enemy for this assignment. To address the issues I previously mentioned:
- Start looking for people to interview at least one month before the assignment is due, or complete the assignment during the reading week when you aren’t busy.
- Contact multiple people simultaneously to increase your odds of finding someone that can meet you.
- Don’t be afraid to contact someone that you have never met before – just make sure to introduce yourself properly and describe the purpose of the interview in your initial email. Business professionals are usually super friendly and love to share their experiences!
Hopefully my advice will help you get the most out of this course. Enjoy COMM 202!