My Top Five Tips to Become a Successful Co-op Candidate
Applying to Co-op can be stressful and overwhelming as the process is long. First is the application into the program, then the pre-requisite courses, job applications, interviews, and many deadlines to complete and make note of. In summer 2020, I decided to sign up for Co-op to explore opportunities for my future career in the field of arts and social sciences. With the vast, quick changes in employment due to Covid-19, many job opportunities were removed, which limited the number of positions available. In addition, many of the positions became remote which was not what I had intended on doing. My idea of Co-op was to gain hands-on experience with internal and external stakeholders in the fields that I dreamt of working in for my future career. I wanted to expand my skills in areas that would relate to my future interests. I applied, took the pre-requisite courses, and began my job search. In my seeking semester in fall 2020, I ended up scoring seven interviews and three job offers, one of which was an organization I have always wanted to work for. The following will detail my five top tips on how to be a successful co-op candidate.
1. Remain Open-Minded When Applying for Jobs
Apply for jobs outside of your typical areas of interest! Typically, Co-op students will search for jobs that suit their desires; however, this will limit the opportunity to develop new interests if you have a narrowed focus. As a Co-op student, you can apply to jobs within any major– not just whatever you are declared as! For example, I applied for jobs in business and communications and I even got a job offer for a communications position while being a criminology and psychology student. Each job has a specified area of interest, but this is simply because the job criteria are directed towards these students. This does not mean you would not excel in this position and be the ideal candidate. When I began applying for jobs, I was looking for those organizations that were not as easy to get into without Co-op such as CBSA, RCMP, CSEC, and CSIS. Unfortunately, as one may assume, these organizations receive thousands of applicants as their job openings are not only for SFU students, all students can apply. It is also important to note that large organizations that require security clearances take applications many months in advance to the actual start of the work term, which might mean that you have graduated before the job begins. Once I realized that I was limiting myself, I started applying for multiple jobs. In total, I applied to fourteen positions to which I received seven job interview offers, and three official job offers. The Co-op program is meant to provide students the opportunity to develop endless skills, and this is made possible through the ability to apply for all job types.
2. Consider What You Want To Get Out of Your Co-op Experience
In my experience, this is probably the most important tip. When you first join Co-op, keep in mind what it is that made you sign up for this process. This is important to understand because it will help you in your job search and with deciding between job offers in case you receive multiple offers. You should consider whether you are looking for the best experience that aligns with your career aspirations, if you want a job with the highest pay rate, if the title of the job matters, and the length of a position you want (multiple jobs will have four or eight month contracts, so it is important to consider how long you can/want a position due to other commitments such as finishing your degree). This step was super critical for me when I was deciding which job offer to accept. One of the jobs was interesting; however, I was not going to gain many additional skills, so I declined it first. The second and third job offerings were the hardest to decide between because both were jobs that I would be happy in and felt confident with. I weighed the pros and cons with the time that I had, since you only have 24 hours to decline or accept an offer. It came down to the job location. One of the offers was a remote job, and since I really wanted hands-on experience in a job that best suited my career goals, I chose the on-site position. There is always the possibility a job offering will come up in a future work term, so always focus on what you truly want from your Co-op experience.
3. Utilize the Support of Your Co-op Supervisor
To be completely honest, my Co-op supervisor believed in me more than I did during the seeking process. When I began applying for jobs but was not receiving interview invites, I started to doubt the process. My supervisor always motivated and helped me through the process and provided me with useful suggestions and feedback. We met through Zoom, over the phone, and kept in touch via email daily. Your supervisor is there to support you every step of the way and you should definitely take advantage of this. For example, my supervisor edited over ten of my cover letters, my resume, and she kept me in the loop regarding future job postings that I may be interested in. The best part of having a supervisor is that they can contact the hiring manager of jobs you have applied for and find out how far along in the process they are of accepting candidates in order to give you an idea of where you stand and where to go from here. This was super useful to me and also kept my head high! Do not forget to reach out for support if you are struggling or need any advice, they are all amazing and very knowledgeable.
4. Create a Convincing Cover Letter
As discussed in tip #1, applying to multiple jobs comes with many advantages. This gets you in the swing of things when it comes to the strength of your application. The cover letter is the element that many hiring managers are typically most interested in, therefore, it needs to highlight all of your skills. I spent hours editing my cover letter, receiving feedback from my supervisor, and then revising again until I was satisfied with my cover letter. I believe my strong cover letter was one of the main reasons why I was able to secure various job interviews; I mastered my cover letter after applying to multiple jobs. The best part is, once you create a cover letter that perfectly demonstrates your abilities and experiences, you can keep it for future job postings to save time. The cover letter needs to demonstrate the skills that a company is looking for and I found a lot of jobs were similar (i.e., teamwork, experience with MS Office, research experience). So, once I created a solid cover letter, I was able to quickly make small changes which saved me loads of time in the application stage. There are also endless amounts of useful information on the Canvas Co-op courses as well as on SFU MyExperience that guide you step-by-step to develop an outstanding cover letter.
5. Prepare for Interviews
Hooray! You scored yourself a job interview. This is the most exciting part, but also a very important one in order to stand out in the pool of candidates. The interview is the stage where you need to verbally demonstrate your skills and further exemplify the content on your cover letter. There are two things I strongly recommend before your interview: research the company to ensure you know their values and what they do, and also prepare practice questions. Knowing about the company is important for the interviewees to acknowledge that you truly are interested in working for them and have taken the time to do your research. For practice questions, I used Google to search for common interview questions, and also through SFU OLC. During the interview, you need to nail down the STAR approach–Situation, Task, Approach, Result– so when preparing, make sure to outline all key points. First, when answering an interview question, formulate your answer around a situation that best exemplifies the skill the interviewers are assessing. Then, you must explain how you actioned the task involved: how did you complete it, what steps did you take, were there any issues, how did you resolve them? Finally, talk about the result of the task. This is where you want to mention what you learned and the outcome: were you successful in the task, did you learn any specific skill from this experience? The result is very important to emphasize because the interviewers want to know what you gained from your task to fully determine if you demonstrate the skill they are assessing. During the interview, make sure to highlight all four steps of STAR in response to every situational question, and most important of all, be yourself and be confident!
Once an interview is completed, it all comes down to the waiting game. I waited a couple of weeks after my first interview before receiving an email from the company about the next steps. Sometimes you get lucky and will receive a positive or negative response right away, but oftentimes there is a long process behind the scenes that many companies and organizations undergo as well. This prolongs the wait which can become stressful. It is important to remain patient, be positive, talk to your supervisor for updates, and never give up! Good luck, you got this!