Finding a good co-op job requires three things: figuring out the kind of job you want, crafting a flawless resume, and nailing the interview.
To determine the kind of job you want, think about the type of work you like doing. What are some of the projects you’ve enjoyed in your classes? How do those assignments reflect the kind of jobs available in the world? Do you have a part-time job you really liked? What made you enjoy working there?
Computer engineering student Devon Miller-Junk knew he wanted a variety of jobs over the course of his six co-op terms – from working in web development to working with robots. He applied for a range of jobs each term and used his interviews to help narrow down his options to find the right fit.
You might also want to ask yourself some questions about how your ideal day is structured: are you a fan of sitting at a desk for eight hours or do you prefer moving around more? Do you want to work on group projects or would you rather be alone?
Especially when it comes to your first co-op term, a good work environment can transform your experience and ensure you feel comfortable and confident throughout the term. Do you want to work in a huge company with a lot of resources and multiple ongoing projects or would you rather be a part of a small team where everyone knows each other well and works together on the same thing? What about the location? Do you want to stay in Waterloo, return to your hometown or visit somewhere entirely new?
Victoria Lumax, a rhetoric and peace and conflict studies double major, noted that interviewers themselves can tell you a lot about the place you’ll be working.
“What drew me to the job [I chose] was one of those who interviewed me. They seemed so passionate about the work they do. The comfortability made me feel like the job was a good fit for me,” Lumax said.
You can even ask your interviewers about the workplace with questions regarding the size of the office, the number of co-op students they hire each term, how flexible the work hours are, and even whether or not people tend to spend lunches together doing something social. While the actual work you’ll be doing is the most important thing to consider, a good work environment is a fundamental part of a great work term.
For advice on what to include on your resume, talking to upper-year students is most helpful. Reach out to your friends or student leaders to see what they recommend. Beyond any spelling or grammar mistakes – and make sure there are none – avoid any irrelevant information in your application.
Miller-Junk, whose first work term was with a start-up in Toronto, and second was as a full-stack developer for the LCBO, says that it’s better to have less information that’s “focused on what you want people to see about you,” rather than more information that’s less relevant to the job you want.
Make sure to avoid mentioning anything about your high school – unless you have important skills from something clearly connected to the position you’re applying for, it’s best to highlight more recent activities and successes. For your first co-op term, some high school information is expected. Even still, make sure to remove your high school from your education section and emphasize the most recent information when you can.
For your interview, make sure you’re well-prepared – look through the company’s website and job description, and brainstorm a couple questions to ask your interviewer. You can always come up with more questions during the interview, but it’s a good idea to have at least one question going in.
Lumax, who’s working at the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement says that she likes to end the interview on a high note. “As I’m leaving the interview, or right after the formal conversation ends, I try to make a light-hearted comment to humanize myself and make a relational connection. For example, you can compliment them [or] ask if they have any plans for the evening,” Lumax said.
If you’re nervous about how to answer questions on the spot, Miller-Junk recommends practicing as much as you can. Find a friend, preferably one who has some interview experience, and get them to ask you the kind of questions you can expect from a real interviewer.
“You want to know what questions to expect, you want to have a somewhat prepared answer, and you want to know how to approach answering questions [in general],” Miller-Junk said. Make sure your answer isn’t too prepared though, or you risk sounding robotic or getting thrown off if you forget your practiced response.