How to Find a Co-op Job
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Written By Sarah Weisbrot
Tell us a bit about your program and career goals:
My program is Molecular Biology and Genetics co-op. I decided on this major initially because of my interest in genetics and biology, and I later applied for the co-op program as I believe it gives valuable experience. I find that my career goals change a bit with every new position I have, which is one of the great parts about co-op. I always assumed I would end up doing research, but my recent positions were focused on quality assurance and enforcing safety regulations, areas which I never even considered before. I’m still unsure exactly what I want to do, but I still have more work terms to complete and I’m hoping that they will help steer me in the right direction.
How many jobs did you apply to?
I ended up applying to around 30 positions, including emails I sent to professors, and I had 3 interviews. The amount you have to apply to varies a lot between people- I know someone who applied to 3 and got an interview almost right away, and I’ve heard of others applying to even more than me. It really depends on luck and what employers happen to be looking for. It’s best to try for quality over quantity when you can, as applying to 50 jobs with poorly written cover letters will end up being more work in the long run.
How do you find jobs?
The job I ended up getting for this term was found on the co-op job board, but I searched a lot of places for postings. Indeed and LinkedIn are both good places to look, even though it takes a lot of work to filter through postings to find one which applies to you. I also looked up various places nearby which could offer positions (ex. labs, hospitals) and checked out their websites. There’s a bit of a trade-off that must be made while searching and applying: if you are too picky, you will have trouble getting a job, but you also want to apply to things which will be beneficial to your learning. In my opinion, it’s better to lean more towards applying to anything, because you never know what an opportunity might bring you. Even if you end up disliking the position, at least you can firmly rule it out in the future.
How did you prioritize job searching during a busy semester?
I looked for any small amounts of free time I had during the day, such as between classes, and tried to look for potential postings and saved them for later. I also kept track of when applications were due so I could prioritize certain ones. In the evenings, I would apply to ones which were due soon. It can be difficult to find time, but as the term goes on you will become better at writing cover letters, and you will have more previous ones to use as templates.
Any resume tips?
When explaining what you did in a previous position, make sure to highlight the outcomes of what you did. For example, instead of saying ‘Used Microsoft Word’, say ‘Used Microsoft Word to create effective written reports and procedures’. As well, make sure your resume is formatted nicely and is easy to read. Mention any projects or labs you’ve done in school which may be relevant.
Any cover letter tips?
Use words directly from the job posting, and give relevant examples of how you used those skills. As well, use the same sort of language or key words that the company used in the posting or on their website. It’s good to reuse old cover letters as templates, but make sure you explain all of your past experiences in a way which is most applicable to the job you are applying to.
How did you prepare for your interview?
I’ve always hated interviews, as I get nervous and start saying ‘um’ too much. A good way to practice is to prepare answers to common questions, such as ‘tell me a bit about yourself’ which is bound to appear in every interview. I liked to practice these in front of a friend, or even just to myself, as I would know which parts of my answers I would blank on. As well, you should always go into an interview knowing about the company and the position, so I would take notes on what the company does or relevant skills I should mention. Additionally, I would always come prepared with a few questions to ask the interviewer(s), as it shows interest. For example, I would think of a question relating to recent news from the company (check their website or LinkedIn) or about some program/procedure they do. I also ask the interviewers what they do in their job, which they are usually enthusiastic about. On interview day, if it’s in person, I like to arrive early so I can relax beforehand.
Can you share any details from your interviews?
My first interview was over video, but I had to record myself saying answers to questions they provided in a set amount of time. I disliked this format, as I didn’t get to elaborate as much on certain points or ask questions, but if I had to again I would be more concise in my answers. Another interview I had was over the phone, and it was a short 15 minute talk before they selected people to meet them in person. Unlike before, I wish I had elaborated more on my answers, and gave more specific examples. The interview which led to my job was in person, a format which was more nerve-wracking but ultimately better for me. All of them asked something along the lines of why I wanted to work there and why I would be a good fit, as well as other common questions relating to teamwork and problem solving.
Any tips now that you’ve gone through your interview process that you didn’t know before?
Before my interview, the interviewers told me to talk slowly so they could take notes. Afterwards, I realized this was actually a good tip, as it made me more calm and I stumbled less over my words. As well, I realized it was beneficial to speak about specific projects you have done in previous jobs which are relevant to the position, because it helps to give more context about your skills and abilities. I knew this before but it’s an important tip: send thank you emails to your interviewer(s). If there was more than one, send separate emails and reference the questions that each of them asked. It’s a small thing but it can set you apart.
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