Applying to the co-op program is becoming more integral to a full-bodied university experience, as more employers have started to require previous experience in the field of study. Some students are put off from applying to the program either due to stories of bad experiences from fellow peers or sometimes simply because it seems to be too much work. So, overall you might be on the fence about joining or continuing with the program.
If that’s so, then you might have clicked on this article wondering what tips or advice I, a co-op graduate with three full terms completed, might be able to offer you about the program in order to learn more about it to make your final decision. Or you might have already joined the program and are feeling a little lost about what to do next.
If that’s you then you might find my notes and advice on regularly asked questions about co-op!
So, you’ve gotten into the co-op program after completing these steps. What now?
It’s time to begin applying for jobs. From my personal experience, and from the experiences of people I know that also completed the program, I highly recommend that you begin by picking out a few jobs, maybe 4-6, that are within your field of interest or related to what you are studying, and adding these position listings to your favourites section. This will help you keep track of the positions that you are interested in and you will be able to narrow down the pool of jobs that you want to apply to. It never hurts to have that extra level of organization as you will be able to quickly check for application deadlines and interview times.
Next make sure you meet all eligibility requirements for the position you are interested in. Then, do some research on the company offering the position for each job. Sometimes you can find articles written about the company or profile listings on the company site. Often the personal profiles of company employees can give you clues about the kind of working environment; if the profile is casual then the company is likely to have a more casual environment. These steps help you learn more about the companies you might work with in two ways: one, you can envision yourself in the position and if it would be the best fit for you. For example, you might see a customer service position is available but you don’t believe that customer service is a field that you would enjoy or excel in. Don’t apply for the position just because it’s available. Find positions that you would do your best in or that you would look forward to going to every day, since you are making a four month or longer commitment to the company/business.
The second way that helps you is giving you key information in preparation for an interview. More frequently than not, at the end of interviews the employer may ask you if you have any questions for them. With your research you can ask about a specific element that you noticed from their website in order to show your interest and create a good impression. If you ask interesting questions or show that you have some previous knowledge on the company you are more likely to be remembered. Just make sure that your questions are appropriate and professional. For example: what kind of dress code is currently in place? What kind of working environment do you have? Is it a casual or professional environment? Can you describe a typical work day, or week, for this job? Often the job description will have some key points of information such as general tasks or what you will be focusing on while in the position. Try to stay away from those kinds of questions as it might give the impression that you did not fully read the job description and don’t have attention to detail.
Another key thing to consider when choosing positions to apply for, is the co-op fees you must pay while you are in the position. Make sure you will be able to afford your living expenses and also pay the fees! This is, unless you have a form of supplementary income. Just remember to put yourself first throughout the process and move towards a position you would be happy to be in!
One more tip to be aware of: Properly review each document before applying for each position to check for any errors. Correct spelling and grammar can take you a long way.
What are the benefits of completing the co-op program?
Not only will you get the mark of completion of the program on your diploma, but you might also find that you end up making long term connections and gaining some valuable information in a particular industry.
I had two co-op placements. The first one I had for a summer term, and then left to return to school. I actually ended up applying to another co-op program during the first semester of that school year for the second semester of that year. I took the semester off from education for the co-op term. Before that co-op, I found myself feeling burnt-out and was thinking about whether or not I wanted to continue with my degree. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made for myself!
I took a chance and applied for a position that was outside of my field of study but I thought “hey why not?” I felt like I would be a good fit for the position, I met all of the eligibility requirements, and it seemed like it would match my personality. I was initially only meant to be at the position for the second semester, but I was invited to stay for the summer semester as well; which I did. After that position, I found that I had a whole new range of experience in a field that I had never even thought of working in before, and I learnt a lot more than I initially expected to. I was also recommended for a student internship in a similar field with a different organization after having finished my two terms at the position.
A single co-op position can also turn into a long-standing job. For example, a close friend of mine entered the co-op program, and though he was initially intended to be a the position for two terms (eight months) he has now been working with the company for two years. He completed three co-op terms with the same company, and began working for them part-time as he continued with his degree. Even when he decided to move back to Vietnam when schooling went online, he was able to continue working for the company online and has continued to work part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer.
What are some long term effects of the co-op program?
A co-op position might lead you to a career path or to a long-term position that you might not have previously thought that you would be interested in. Co-op is an excellent way of discovering whether or not you want to pursue a certain career path or field of study. I recommend that if you have the option to, try to choose a different area for each co-op term. For my first term, I chose tourism and customer service, while for my second and third term, I went in a completely different direction, choosing the field of marketing and events. Through this I learned two vastly different skill sets, and some skills that I never expected to learn – such as finding out that I am good at working with my hands to repair and re-assemble machines. You never know what you’re going to learn, and you never know what you’re capable of until you try.
You might even find out that what you’re studying is not actually the career path you want to follow through your co-op position. For example I added a second major, History, after my first co-op placement because I found myself drawn to the subject throughout my work term. Co-op can give you a chance to experience your field of study first hand, and you might learn that there is a position that you never knew existed so you can direct your studies towards making sure you can get that position in the future.
The best advice for the co-op program I have is: apply for a job that you can imagine yourself being happy in! Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that might not be directly related to your field of study! You might just fall in love with an industry that you never thought of going into.
How to make the best out of your co-op experience?
Open communication with your employers! If you don’t know how to do something, always ask for help. Also, make sure that you are clear on your personal and professional availability, such as whether you have other commitments like volunteer shifts on Sundays that you cannot compromise on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions even if you think it might be something obvious or that you should know already. It’s better to ask a question than to do something wrong and have to re-do it all over again.
Remember that your advisors are there to help you! Make sure to reach out to talk about any concerns or issues that you may have, even if it is just asking questions about what would be the best kind of resume or cover letter to apply for a particular position. Some companies offer the same position through the online program for many years. Your advisors might know exactly what kind of resume or cover letter would attract their attention, or better yet, what kind of application you should not submit.