The Honest Truth: What it Takes to Land a Co-op Job

The Honest Truth: What it Takes to Land a Co-op Job

By: Samantha Grandinetti
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I still remember my initial experience with Co-op: I attended an information session, applied online and paid the application fee, and told my mom about all the exciting opportunities that awaited me with Co-op. Her response? “This isn’t an internet scam, right?” to which I replied, “I don’t think so.” Really, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to things like uploading my documents to mExperience, and I was taking five courses while doing BOL I and the mandatory workshops so it was all a huge whirlwind of way more work than I expected.

It finally hit me once I had landed my first Co-op job at Blackberry just how lucky I was to have even gotten placed after how disengaged with the whole process I was. I remember thinking, “you’ve got to get it together if you ever want something this good to happen again. You won’t get lucky twice” – and truth be told, I worked a lot harder for my second Co-op placement than I did my first. Now, after working for a year with Arts and Communications Co-op here at SFU, I’ve seen students come and go and seek and be successful, but I’ve also seen students struggle when it comes to following through, and landing the job. Here are a couple of truth bombs from yours truly that I hope will help you buck up and land a Co-op job.

1. Success is pretty much your responsibility, but you can totally do it!

Students often let their own doubts about what they are capable of define their job search. Co-op is a learning process and you’ll definitely be so totally stoked and surprised when you take a risk and it pays off. I see students freaking out when they get offered a job that pushes them out of their comfort zone and they aren’t sure if they can rise to the challenge. Spoiler alert: they probably can – especially when they have the support of a team of Co-op staff backing them. On the other hand, some students feel that writing a brand new, tailored cover letter for every application and applying to more than five jobs in a semester is just an unreasonable amount of effort. Here’s the thing: you’re letting yourself down. You’ve worked way harder at other things in your life, I’m sure.  

2. Be open to all possibilities.

Sometimes, students looking for their first Co-op jobs are discouraged when they can’t find the “perfect job” for them.  News flash: you have to start somewhere, and it’s probably at the bottom. Your experiences in volunteering and part-time work may be more than enough to land you a Co-op job, but your dream job may take a bit more industry experience to land, and that’s totally normal. A lot of students also don’t see the benefit of working a job that doesn’t seem to align exactly with their faculty. Each and every job has something important to teach you, regardless of how niche your interests are. For example, say you are interested in Publishing, and you can’t find any jobs specifically in the book Publishing Industry, but you have been shortlisted for an interview as a Social Media Coordinator with a tech company. This job may not seem directly related to your academic background or career goals, but perfecting your digital communication skills, editing and MS office skills while acclimating to office culture, and building professional connections, are DEFINITELY in your best interest and are directly related to you getting any other job. Most of what you do on the job can be transferred to other roles, and it all works together in an amazing tangled web that will become your amazing new resume.

3. Don’t be a lone wolf.

If you are accepted into the Co-op program, make the most of it by getting to know your Coordinators and Advisors.  They know everything you’ve done work wise, know what you’re capable of, and know the employers and jobs.  They can give you advice on how to conduct the legendary Informational Interview or how to create an online portfolio. It’s important stuff you won’t learn unless you take responsibility and seek it out.

Additionally, landing a job doesn’t mean that your quest for career nirvana has ended. Not by a long shot. Your first Co-op won’t be your last, and it definitely won’t be the only job you have. Don’t shy away from meeting and connecting with as many people as you possibly can, because you never know where those relationships will lead in the future.  Say, “hi” to your coworkers in the elevator, make the effort to attend Lunch & Learns or just take an interest in the lives of those around you to make connections happen. I can think of many students who gained Co-op placements and post-grad employment through of a friend of a friend or someone they met while on a Co-op placement, and that is SO much better than trolling the Craigslist job board for hours.

4. Get out of town.

No, really. If you’re having trouble locating a Co-op job in the Lower Mainland, be open to the possibility of travelling elsewhere for a job opportunity. There are bigger economies than Vancouver with more head offices - specifically, Toronto and Calgary are ranked #1 and #2 respectively as having the most company headquarters in Canada. I’m talking about Oil & Gas, Tech and Government: larger companies often offer some kind of relocation compensation. Even in smaller towns around BC, you can find opportunities that could be reserved for full-time staff in Vancouver. It’s all about keeping your eyes and options open and being willing to try something new.

5. You’re special.

I know it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to be scripted and proper and have your interview responses prepped and memorized but at the end of the day, the person interviewing you is just that: a person. This person probably had to wake up early and put on a suit and come to work. They probably stayed up just as late as you watching Netflix and is thinking, “oh right, I have to interview someone for a job.” How amazing would it be for them if what you said was entertaining? I’m not saying you need to perform a standup routine,  but it is your personality traits that could set you apart from other candidates, so you might as well let a bit of your personality seep into your responses. Your interviewer is looking for the “best fit” for his or her team: that means someone who is both qualified, and will effortlessly mesh well with the existing personalities on the team. After landing my first Co-op job, I remember asking my Team Lead what made him choose me for the position. He responded, “Remember when I asked you why you studied English? You gave me this nerdy response about some 14th century manuscript your professor showed you. You were so excited. I knew that passion was something you could transfer to anything you did. That’s what we wanted.” So, you never really know what aspects of your personality will strike a chord with a prospective employer.

Well, I think I’ve gotten everything out on the table there. Take it from a fellow Co-op student: the more you participate and ask questions the more you’ll get out of Co-op. Working for Communication Co-op has given me an inside look at all the AMAZING places that students have worked and the cool projects that they work on, and trust me, you want to be a part of it. Think I’m all talk? Listen to other Communication Co-op students tell their story:

Posted on June 27, 2014