As fall 2023 approaches, many co-op students gear up to make meaningful contributions to their employers in an effort to establish long-term professional connections, gain valuable experience, and secure a positive final performance evaluation.
UW students tend to place particular weight on the work term rating they receive as part of their overall performance evaluation. The work term rating’s seven-point scale, ranging from “Unsatisfactory Performance” to “Outstanding Performance,” serves as the primary metric used to endorse students’ skills and performance to future co-op employers.
Every year, one student from each faculty is named the Co-op Student of the Year. The selection process for the award is highly competitive and those selected receive a $500 award and prestigious distinction within their cohort.
If you’re wondering about how to achieve an “Outstanding” work term evaluation, 2022 Co-op Students of the Year Breanna DeFreitas (faculty of environment), Alex Zhu (faculty of math), and Rachel Almaw (faculty of health) have some advice.
- What are your top three tips for students aiming to achieve an “Outstanding” work term rating?
As someone who has received three “Outstanding” and one “Excellent” evaluation, I can say that my top tips would just be to work hard, get involved in as much as you can, ask a lot of questions, and keep a positive attitude and show interest in your work.
There is going to be a lot you don’t know and there will definitely be some challenges to overcome along the way, but … [even] your least favourite experiences will teach you a lot about what you do and don’t want in a future job. Employers love to see that you are invested in your work and asking questions is a great way to show you are engaged.
In terms of how to set yourself up for success in co-op, and for your work term ratings discussions, I would recommend a few things.
First, avoid overwhelming yourself with commitments. While it’s important to seize opportunities and commit to things that you are passionate about, it’s equally important to leave room for rare and unexpected opportunities that can significantly improve your co-op experience. You never know when you will get a big opportunity that could change your co-op experience and, when you do, you need to have the willingness and bandwidth to capitalize on it.
Secondly, take advantage of your available resources. When starting a new job, companies often provide you with a wealth of documents, data, and other resources. I’d recommend you take time to explore ways to use these resources to enhance your work. People often call co-ops and new employees a fresh set of eyes, … [which] could turn an archived idea into something more refined and valuable for the company. Also, by showing that you’ve done your research and tried to solve problems independently, you’ll be better equipped to engage with colleagues and find a solution together.
Finally, be fully present at work. I believe that going into the office accelerates your learning process and allows you to quickly integrate into the company, something that helps when it comes time for work term evaluations. It allows you to meet more experienced people, understand their roles, identify go-to people for specific questions and learn from them just through casual interactions in the office.
Feedback is awesome! I make it a regular habit to ask for feedback on 1) what I’m good at 2) what I can start doing and 3) what I can stop doing. This allowed for open communication from both myself and employers.
Recognize your limits! While it’s great to be eager and always be asking for extra to-do’s — don’t overwork yourself and be cognizant of your capacity and show how introspective you are.
Be friendly! Your coworkers are probably great people and can truly assist in making you feel comfortable at work and by proxy more yourself!
- What are some things students should avoid doing that could negatively impact their work term rating and final evaluation?
[Employers are displeased when students] are just doing the bare minimum, they don’t communicate well, or they need a lot of supervision. Really try to go above and beyond, and that doesn’t necessarily mean working long hours or taking on work outside of your job description, but rather going the extra mile to do your job well, get your work in on time, communicate with your supervisor if you are having any issues getting your tasks done or if you expect delays, and try to be resourceful — look for the answer on your own first and try to clarify what you can before going to your manager for help.
The first would be thinking you should go under the radar if you believe you won’t be returning to the company. By not actively engaging, learning from others, and experimenting with new things, you miss out on valuable learning opportunities and risk not leaving a lasting impression on your employer. This can lead to … a mediocre work term evaluation from an employer who wasn’t able to see what you were truly capable of.
The second is limiting interactions in the company to other co-ops. Connecting with other co-ops is a great way to meet like-minded people and make new friends…, just don’t limit yourself to it. It is important to remember the unique position you hold as a co-op employee, working for an employer who wants to see your growth and potential as a full-time employee. Talking regularly to experienced employees will help you mature, learn quickly and ultimately increase your chances of being memorable enough to receive a favorable work term evaluation.
Finally, avoid the misconception that you can do all of your work independently without seeking help or collaborating with others. While you may be able to handle everything on your own, taking the time to meet and interact with smart people with a wealth of experience can’t be a bad idea. Building relationships early on can help you work more efficiently, will give you a headstart in building your professional network and may help when you need someone to vouch for you during co-op evaluations or as references for awards.
I think students should avoid trying to overcompensate for imposter syndrome by taking too much [o]n their plates. Although eagerness can be initially perceived as ideal it will do you a disservice in the end. Asking for help is ok!
Many students opt to arrange an informal mid-point evaluation with their employer to clarify their progress and ensure there are no surprises when the final evaluation is released.
Co-op provides students the opportunity to leverage their knowledge and learn new skills. For those about to commence a work term, we hope these tips will help you to develop professionally and make the most of your co-op experience.