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Software Engineering, University of Waterloo

Applying to Your First Co-op Job

Hey world! It’s been a long time since I last posted. I apologize for this delay, but I’ve never been so busy in my life. I can’t believe that first year is going to be over in one month from now. Time flies.

Today, I’ll be going over my experience applying to my first co-op job and providing tips to maximize your chances. This blog post will be tailored towards engineering and math students, though students of all faculties can benefit from reading this post.

co-op


Step 1: Gather relevant experiences and projects.

What I mean by this step is to actually do stuff and have content to put on your resume. Getting a job in a field related to your major would be awesome to include on your resume. However, this isn’t realistic for the majority of people, so another approach is to get involved in extracurriculars and student design teams. I would recommend checking out the Federation of Students clubs and the engineering student design teams.

For example, Bridges to Prosperity provides civil engineering students with a relevant and enriching experience related to their major. The UW Robotics Team is an awesome opportunity to get involved with robotics. The UW Designed Nanoscale Assembly Team focuses on designing applicable biomedical and nanotechnology innovations for applications such as medicine. Joining clubs not only improve your resume, but they’re also incredibly fun!

Step 2: Craft the best resume ever.

Now that you’ve gathered all the content to stuff your resume with, you can focus on the most important step. I won’t go over how to write a resume, since there are numerous guides online. From what I’ve noticed, the best resumes have the following characteristics: one pager, clean, concise and visually appealing.

Having a great resume is critical in landing that first co-op job, since it’s the only thing employers can evaluate you by. The first draft of your resume probably will be quite different from the final copy you submit on Jobmine. It is absolutely crucial to receive feedback on your resume and get it critiqued by others. In September, I thought my resume was great, but clearly that was not the case after the upper-years destroyed my resume with red ink. Also, only write a cover letter if you can write a great non-generic one. Remember that crafting the perfect resume is an ongoing process and improvements can always be made.

Step 3: Apply to jobs on Jobmine.

Depending on your co-op stream, the job application process begins in early September (stream 4), January (stream 8), or May (sequence 4 math students). On the second Saturday of the academic term, job postings open up on Jobmine. You upload your resume on Jobmine and then apply to jobs on the portal. Applying to jobs is as simple as uploading your resume, and submitting your application.

For most programs, there are usually hundreds of job listings on Jobmine. In the first round, you have 50 job applications. This might seem like a lot, but it’s actually not. The first round of application closes the following Tuesday night. The second round of job postings opens up the next week and closes a few days later. My personal advice is to use 40-45 apps during the first round and the remaining apps for the second round because the jobs in the second round tend to be not as great.

Remember that you’re not limited to jobs on Jobmine. If you find a job that fascinates you outside of Jobmine, go ahead and apply to them! Several of my friends did this and have had success. For programs where there is a low supply of jobs, I would strongly recommend considering this route.

Step 4: Nail your interviews.

Interviews may start as early as the fourth Monday of the term and end on the eighth Thursday of the term. They may either be in person, Skype, or on the phone. All interviews will take place at the Tatham centre, unless otherwise specified. For the majority of the jobs, employers will only conduct one interview. Some employers may send you a coding challenge to do online or in person to determine if you’re fit for another interview. For the U.S. jobs, you can pretty much expect a multistage interview process. In general, interviews are typically around 30 minutes long, though they can range anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. For technical interview preparation, I would recommend ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’ by Gayle McDowell. Another helpful resource is HackerRank

From my personal experience with interviews, I’ve noticed a general structure. In the first 5 minutes, you usually introduce yourself and tell them a little about yourself, your passions and the technologies you’ve worked with. Then, the employer will talk about their own company for the next 5-10 minutes. Next up is the technical interview questions, spanning roughly 15-20 minutes. This could be a straight up coding or a “how would you solve this” question. Or, it could be a review of your resume, and asking you specific questions about your experiences and projects.

For non-coding interviews, the 15-20 minute portion of the interview is mainly behavioural questions. A sample question could be “tell me about your experience and proficiency working with AutoCAD”. The employer usually asks type of questions to determine if you’re a good problem solver and to assess if you’re a right fit for the team. Finally, the interview concludes with you asking questions to the employer. Always come up with one or two good questions.

A key tip for interviews is be confident and don’t think of the interview as “OMG will they accept me?” Instead, think of the interview as a more formal conversation with your future coworkers. They selected you for an interview for a reason, don’t undersell yourself. Interviewers aren’t trying to make your life miserable by giving you hard questions, they’re just looking for someone they can work with.

Step 5: Rankings.

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve had a couple of interviews and walked out of them happy. On the eighth Friday of the term, rankings open up. The three possibilities are: offer, ranked, or not ranked. If it’s an offer, congratulations! If it’s ‘not ranked’, that means the employer did not select you. If your status is ‘ranked’, then that means the employer wanted you, but you were not their top ranked applicant.

You have until the following Monday morning to submit your rankings. You can rank the employers anywhere between 1 to 9, with ranking 1 meaning you want them. To secure a job offer, simply rank ‘1’ to the employer that gave you an offer. Give the other employers ranks that are not a ‘1’. If you weren’t ranked for any jobs, then you’re out of luck and will have to go to the continuous round. If you were ranked for jobs, then you’ll have to decide and strategize how to rank them. Note that it is possible to get matched with a job even if you ranked them a 9, so apply to jobs carefully. You do not want to be matched up with a job that you don’t want (it creates a lot of problems).

Step 6: Job matching.

Jobmine will apply an algorithm to determine how the rankings will be dealt with. To read more about the specific details, please read this post by CECA. You will find out on the Monday afternoon which job you were matched to. If you got matched with a job, then this is the end of the guide for you. Congratulations, I hope you enjoy your first co-op experience. If you still don’t have a job, then proceed to Step 7.

Step 7: Continuous round.

The continuous round begins the ninth Wednesday of the term and goes on until you have successfully found a job. Don’t be shocked or saddened if you have to go to the continuous round. In fact, only about one third of the students in Engineering and Mathematics are employed after the first round.

The continuous round functions pretty much the same way as the first round. You apply to jobs and do the typical interviews. The only twist is that rankings come out every Tuesday and Thursday night, rather than just once during the first round. Matches come out Wednesday and Friday mornings, so hopefully you have been matched up with a job by now. If not, don’t give up and keep on persevering.

If you happen to be without a job after the first month of the co-op term, it’s not the end of the world. You still have 4 more weeks to find a job. Even if you don’t, you can use the time to focus on self improvement and gather relevant experience and projects.

My personal experience and thoughts.

My experience with Jobmine has been exactly what I expected from the start: a lot of fun and stress. I worked on personal projects and did most of the things I mentioned in Step 1. I developed the first draft of my resume in September 2014, and continued improving it, until I was finally satisfied. I submitted ‘BoPengResumeV6.pdf’ to Jobmine on Saturday January 17th, 2015 and proceeded to Step 3. I had a very ambitious mindset, applying to several jobs in California and most of senior level.

In the first round, I received 3 interviews. The first was for a large company in Seattle, though admittedly I got wrecked in the phone interview. The second was an established company based in Waterloo. The competition for this job was tough and I was not as prepared for the interviews as I should have been. My last interview was for another senior level job in Waterloo, where I was competing with upper-year students with multiple co-op experiences under their belt.

I was not ranked by all three employers which made me feel a bit sad. My upper-year friends advised me that the continuous round would an amazing opportunity for me, so I was quite optimistic about the future. I revamped to a new, cleaner, more elegant design. Then, I uploaded ‘BoPengResumeV7.pdf’ on Jobmine on March 4th, 2015 and applied to about 130 more jobs. The next thing you know, I get several interviews during the first week alone. I am pleased to announce that I will be working at Bidvine as a Software Developer for the Spring 2015 term.

To conclude, getting that first co-op job is not an easy task. As I’m writing this post, most programs currently have employment rates of less than 50%. However, the SE class last year had a final employment rate of 99.3%. What this means is that most students will find a job in the next few weeks. The entire co-op application process is not as pretty as advertised and many students struggle to find suitable jobs. If you follow my advice, then you can optimize your chances of getting that first co-op job.