Preparing for co-op

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By Biyanka Datta

On the case of interview inquiry

As a first year, I remember feeling clueless and border-line terrified about my first co-op term. I had no prior work experience and competing against upper-years sounded terrifying. 

Now that I’m more than three-fourths done with undegrad, I am more confident in my abilities and experience. I worked as a web-developer in my first year, and then worked in the retirement consulting and life insurance industries in my following co-op terms as an Actuarial Analyst.

Here are a few important things I learned about the co-op system here at the University of Waterloo that I wish I knew when I was preparing for my first co-op term. 

Get familiar with WaterlooWorks, co-op terminology, rules and important dates

At the beginning of your co-op term, you will recieve an email from Co-operative  Education and Career Action (CECA) with important dates and key details about WaterlooWorks. Make sure through read through this email carefully ­­— it will tell you how to set your intention, update your skill profile and many other important instructions.

Start working on your resume and/or cover letters ahead of application due dates

When you apply on WaterlooWorks, you submit application packages to each employer. Each package contains a cover letter (this is required by some companies), resume, transcript and prior work term evaluations (this won’t be a part of your package for your first co-op). 

Start working on your resume early.

Working on your resumes before due dates will give you time to get it critiqued by CECA and at your faculty/major club’s resume critiquing sessions. 

Do not put false information on your resume

Don’t put anything on paper that you cannot back up. It’ll get you into unnecessary trouble during your interviews. 

Make a LinkedIn profile

Employers tend to look at your LinkedIn profiles before/after interviews. There are LinkedIn headshots events at the beginning of every term, where you can get a nice display pic for your LinkedIn profile taken by a photographer at the university at no cost.

Prepare for your interview

Make sure you research the company you are interviewing: familiarize yourself with their products and industry of focus.

Be confident: don’t worry if you don’t think you have enough experience or if there are others interviewing with more experience. Employers are aware there is a mixed pool of experience when they call you in. Let your personality shine through, interviewers are trying to see if you align with their culture

Dress professionally for your interviews. It may sound shallow, but how you present yourself gives your interviewers the first impression of your personality.

Send an email to your interviewer after your interview. You don’t have to do this, but sending your interviewer a thank you email is always good interview etiquette.

On unconventional co-op placements

Do not get disheartened if you do not get an interview from a company in your field. More  often than not, students do not get a co-op position directly related to their field in their first co-op term ­­— and that is OK. Always remember that no work experience is bad experience; you always learn new transferrable skills. In fact, a different work experience may put you ahead of other candidates in your future co-ops. Sometimes, working in a different industry may help you realize your true calling. Co-op is about making sure you know what you are getting into, and testing if it’s something you will enjoy full-time. I know people, who did computer science co-ops in their first term, even though they were in actuarial science, and realized they really enjoyed it. This resulted in them switching into computer science, and now they have worked with huge companies like Facebook, Bloomberg, and Google, to name a few.

There is also an option of doing an enterprise co-op. This is a great option if you have a start-up idea and want to work on it. University of Waterloo is the hub for innovation, and they provide you with a lot of support and resources to make your start-up dream a reality. You can find more details here: https://uwaterloo.ca/conrad-business-entrepreneurship-technology/undergraduate/enterprise-co-op.

At the end of the day, being in the co-op program provides you with opportunities to explore your potential. Work hard, be confident and success will follow.

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