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Melanie Yien

SFU Co-op Student
Health Sciences

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A sign is displayed in front of Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa
Credit
Sean Kilpatrick from The Canadian Press on CTVNews
The anticipation was building up and before I knew it, it was my turn. I got myself together, introduced myself, shook her hand, and mentioned that I had applied for the Project Assistant position in Ottawa. To my surprise, she replied “Oh yes of course, wait here.”

It was the beginning of 2020, a month before this pandemic swept across the world. I had just received the approval from the Co-op office to start seeking for my first work term. Having no clue where to begin, I started scrolling through multiple job postings and submitting applications here and there, waiting patiently for a response. A week would pass and all I had received were rejections. This did not discourage me though, since I was still waiting on the status of one job, the position for the Project Assistant at Health Canada. Nothing caught my attention until I stumbled across that listing. There was no response or status changes from the only position I was interested in. Another few days would pass by and I would receive an email in my inbox regarding an information session for students hosted by representatives at Health Canada. As much as I wanted to attend the session, it was rescheduled due to a Snow day and conflicted with one of my classes. 

Fast forward to a cold and long commute to lecture one day, when I noticed that SFU was also hosting a job fair that coincided with the Health Canada info session. Since I was not available to attend the information session, I decided that no harm could be done by stopping by the Health Canada booth at the job fair. Mustering courage, I walked over to introduce myself and spoke to one of the representatives at the booth. I asked the representative if she knew more about the Project Assistant position in Ottawa. She was excited to inform me that two representatives from Ottawa were in fact visiting, one of whom was named Nina. At once, the jumbled pieces in my head began to align and I quickly came to the realization that Nina was the name of the hiring manager listed on the job posting. I wanted to find her right there and then; however, Nina had just left for her lunch break but would be leading a presentation later that evening. Then and there, I decided that this was an opportunity that I could not miss out on.

Unfortunately, there was another problem. The information session had conflicted with one of my tutorials where attendance was mandatory. Marks would be deducted if I missed one. So many possibilities ran through my head, pushing me to urgently make a decision. Would it be worth it to skip my tutorial for a quick information session? Or should I go to the tutorial to save myself from losing marks? Opportunities will pop up here and there right? I found myself in a dilemma. I finally came to the conclusion that there would be plenty of tutorials left in the semester, but this was an important opportunity to be able to speak to an employer in person, especially when they arrived all the way from Ottawa. I went ahead, cleared my schedule and thanked the representative at the booth for her help. With an hour to spare, I rushed towards the computer lab to print a few extra copies of my resume and cover letter. I was determined to meet Nina in person and even if it meant I would be losing a few marks, I knew my long-term goal was what my priority was at that very moment. My initial plan was to attend the info session for approximately 15 minutes. Perhaps I could even spark up a quick conversation and still make it in time for the attendance sign-in sheet for my tutorial. Little did I know, I would be at the info session for almost 2 hours waiting patiently for my chance to speak to Nina. 

I walked into a room full of students and I immediately noticed the two representatives from Health Canada, one of whom introduced herself as Nina. As informative as the presentation was, all I could think about was how I could go talk to her. There was a Q&A period shortly after the presentation but unfortunately, my nerves settled in and kept me from raising my hand in front of all the students. I decided to stay patient by waiting for a chance at the end of the session. The session quickly ended and at that moment I knew this was my chance. I jumped out of my seat, trying not to appear too eager and lined up amongst numerous students rushing to go and speak to her. There were a few students in front of me, which gave me some time to practice how I wanted to share my interest but most importantly, gave me time to calm down and keep my composure. The anticipation was building up and before I knew it, it was my turn. I got myself together, introduced myself, shook her hand, and mentioned that I had applied for the Project Assistant position in Ottawa. 

To my surprise, she replied “Oh yes of course, wait here.”

She grabbed her folder and pulled out my resume and cover letter. She asked if I wanted to schedule an interview for the following day since she was only visiting Vancouver for a few days. I tried to remain calm while all sorts of emotions coursed through my body. Among them were shock, excitement, and more nerves, as if I did not have enough already—it was all happening so fast. The only expectations I had coming into this was to have a quick conversation and learn a little more about the position, let alone secure a job interview! All I could remember from that moment was that I could not stop smiling. The worries of my tutorial mark no longer lingered in my head as I had landed an interview with the Hiring Manager at Health Canada!

Nina scheduled my interview at 1pm for the following day. I rushed home, began preparing for all that I could, and even emailed my Co-op coordinator for some last-minute advice. The next day, my interview took place and I had a good feeling about how it went. Fast forward two months later, I received an email from Nina offering me the position and I was only a packed suitcase and flight away from leaving for Ottawa. 

However, I landed the position before the COVID crisis hit the world in March. No one expected this. No one knew what was going to happen. Every person of every industry in the world was facing uncertainty and was unsure of what their next steps would be. The uncertainty that hit me was how this pandemic would affect my Co-op. Could we travel? Is it safe? Every day, new information was coming out and we would have to quickly adjust to them. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to work remotely from BC. Nina was not only accommodating to help me work remotely and continue pursuing my long-term goals, but also willing to make me feel welcomed through a remote team, despite being on the other side of the country. Her effort made me ever more appreciative and thankful for the opportunity she gave me.

After such a rollercoaster of events that lead me to where I am today, I want to share some advice on the steps you can take after submitting a job application. 

1. Attend Information Sessions and Job Fairs 

This happened a month before we were all living through a global pandemic and it may not apply to landing a job interview today in this virtual environment. However, I hope this story inspires students to try to reach out to their employers. Check to see if the company you applied for will be attending job fairs or hosting information sessions. Do not be afraid to reach out to future employers. If I had relied solely on the job offer status to change online, I probably would not have received a follow-up any time soon.

2. Chase Opportunities, Don't Wait For Them

Take every opportunity you can get. Meeting the employer in person, or over Zoom, can benefit you in leaving a much more memorable first impression. If there is that one job that interests you, find alternative ways to learn more about the position and company even after you have submitted your application. Go chase your opportunities, do not wait for them to come find you as chances are, they may find someone else instead!

3. Prioritize Your Time and Needs

Although I do not condone skipping tutorials or any part of your education, this was an integral part of landing my job interview. Sadly, in my case, there were attendance marks that I had to give up; however, it all worked out in the end as I am starting my third and final Co-op work term with Health Canada. Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices by looking at the bigger picture of the stage of life you are in now. 

It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since the beginning of the pandemic. The past three work terms have flew by in the blink of an eye and I could not have done it without my supportive supervisors and colleagues. Adapting to work virtually and networking with people across Canada from West to East has been an enriching experience. I hope you can learn from these tips and take my advice when seeking for your future Co-op. All your hard work will pay off and you will land the perfect Co-op! 

About the Author

Melanie Yien

SFU Co-op Student
Health Sciences
Melanie is a fourth-year Health Sciences Student at Simon Fraser University studying in the Population and Quantitative Health stream. She is currently finishing her third Co-op work term as a Human Resources Assistant at Health Canada. During her free time, she loves to bake and spend time with her dog. Connect with Melanie via LinkedIn.

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