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SFU Co-op Student

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The biggest lesson I learned from my first co-op job search is: work hard and be flexible. Applying for jobs and writing cover letters is a lot of work, but the more you do it the better you’ll become.

Student Intake form? A cover letter for every job I apply for? Co-op Transcript? Oh my! 

The first time I was in the process of applying for co-op jobs, I was quite overwhelmed. I had a one-on-one meeting with my advisor, and I thought I was ready to start applying. Everyone had warned me that applying for jobs was like an additional course in terms of workload, and this was confirmed quickly through my own personal experience. Initially, there were very few jobs of interest to me. They were mostly out of town, far away in Ontario. I wanted to stay close to home for co-op, especially for my first position. So I didn't apply for these positions and waited until more local postings were up. Soon enough, local postings started to show up. I made sure to be very, very open-minded when applying for jobs, especially because my resume lacked any real and direct relevant experience. As someone applying for your first co-op, it is important to keep in mind that any job would be ideal to start getting some real working experience. 

With this “openness” in mind, I started applying and writing cover letters. The cover letters were tough, especially because I had so little experience writing them. Cover letters are a strange process because you have to write about yourself, and sometimes it feels like bragging. As much as it seems like bragging, you need to try to write something to convince the reader that you are capable of doing the job well. This can be done without sounding too arrogant though. 

I suggest avoiding using words like ‘perfect’, or writing as if you were overqualified. I have heard of a case where a candidate said that they were overqualified for the job - I do not think that they got an interview. I applied for jobs that looked OK, fantastic, and even ones I felt I was under-qualified for. I was determined to find a job. I always made sure to apply for jobs that I would want to do and was willing to travel to. Living outside of Vancouver makes job searching a little tougher, and I had to be willing to drive at least 45 minutes (without traffic) to get to anywhere, or be willing to take transit for who knows how long.

After more and more applications were rejected, I went to see my advisor with some new cover letters I was working on. We went through them and she showed me what I could do to improve them. In fact, one of those cover letters was the one I got my first interview for. After my second interview and second rejection, I went through a “dry spell” in interviews. I continued to apply, and after 25 cover letters, I was feeling very disappointed. Then lightning round came. 

Lightning Round is a period where your co-op coordinators submit your resume directly to employers, if they see you as fit for the job. After writing 25 cover letters, this was a welcome change. Even when Lightning Round takes place, advisors continue to post jobs, and this is when my “dry spell” ended. Around Christmas time, I saw two part-time job postings. The whole time I had looked for full-time co-op jobs, it had never dawned on me to look for a part-time position. I looked at both job postings, and both of them said that a cover letter was not required. It was a few days before Christmas, I was tired of writing cover letters, and I figured that I would just submit my resume and hope for the best. After the Christmas holidays, I went back to school thinking that I would just get a summer co-op job and had given up all hope. I had to convince myself that hopefully the next time around will be better, and all those cover letters will simply help me the next time I started applying for jobs. I remember distinctly sitting in the library and checking my email to find out that I had an interview for not one, but both of the jobs I had applied for! This was certainly a change!  I had my third and fourth interview, and was offered both positions.

a motivational quote on the wall that says "Punch today in the face"

The biggest lesson I learned from my first co-op job search is: work hard and be flexible. Applying for jobs and writing cover letters is a lot of work, but the more you do it the better you’ll become. The number of cover letters you write not only impacts your chances of getting a job, but it will also help to get that extra "push" from your advisors during Lightning Round. This experience also taught me to be flexible. Initially, I wanted to work closer to home, but I quickly learned this was not a practical option for me to get a job. I also was set on working in a full-time position, and I ended up with a part-time job! Not only was it nice to get more variety in my life as I could also take classes and work a couple days a week, but I also saw the company progress over a long period of time. Something else I learned that my supervisor told me, later on, was that she initially was going to only hire one of the candidates that had written a cover letter for the job. Luckily for me, she seemed to like my resume enough to give me a chance. She suggested that next time, I write a cover letter even if it is optional. 

It has been a whole year, and I am now applying for jobs again. I am definitely reminded of how much work it is. With these things I’ve learned from last year and my past year of co-op experience, I will hopefully have an easier time securing a job. Stay tuned for my next blog on my second co-op job search!

SFU Co-op Student
Connect with Natalie on LinkedIn or Twitter Natalie is a Communications and English graduate with a love for writing and learning. In the midst of her first co-op workterm as a marketing assistant, where she learned many practical skills and life lessons that inspired her to write this blog series. She volunteered at SFU as an Orientation Leader, and a FCAT Mentor.
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Mar 23, 2013

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