Written by: Lisa MacNeil, Co-op Coordinator, Co-operative Education
Going through the co-op process can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. From resume and cover letter writing to conducting interviews, you may be experiencing a lot of ‘new’ as you embark on this journey. In an effort to help you feel more at ease, we thought we would answer some common questions related to the co-op process. But we didn’t want you to hear it from just us (Co-op staff), so we interviewed senior co-op students who shared their perspectives on tips and tricks they found most helpful along the way.
Common Questions from New Co-op Students:
Q: What exactly is co-op?
A: Co-op is an academic program that integrates practical, career-related work experience with academic study. Co-op students graduate with one full year of related work experience and a notation on their transcript and diploma. Participating in a co-op program allows you to build your professional network and confidence, while also ‘test-driving’ different areas of work and industries.
Q: How does co-op work?
A: Students generally complete two full years of their degree program, then alternate remaining academic terms with three co-op work terms. Tourism students complete all of their work terms in the summer term given the seasonal nature of industry demand. Public relations and business administration students typically complete the first work term in the summer term (May to August), second one is in the winter (January to April) and the last one is in the fall term (September to December).
Q: How does the co-op job application process work?
A: Co-op positions are vetted by our Employer Liaison and posted on Career Connects, which is an online information system that students use to review and apply to jobs. Most employers require a cover letter, resume and reference list and will indicate a deadline for students to apply by. You will receive a user guide from the Co-op Office which outlines how to review and apply for jobs on Career Connects.
Q: What types of positions will be available?
A: There are a variety of positions posted across industries (e.g. not-for-profit, government, private). Each posting is reviewed by our Employer Liaison. For public relations students, job duties may involve writing, editing, designing visual content, social media, event planning and more. Potential duties for business administration (depending on major) include marketing, digital media, event planning, sales and accounting. The majority of tourism employers are related to the accommodation and food/beverage sector, and duties may involve event planning, front desk, serving, housekeeping, tour guide and more.
Q: Where are jobs located?
A: The majority of co-op positions are located within the Halifax and Dartmouth areas, but there are positions posted with organizations throughout Canada.
Q: Am I guaranteed a position?
A: There are typically more co-op positions posted compared to the number of students seeking a work term. With that said, we cannot guarantee that every student will secure a position. If you are actively participating in the application process and seeking support from co-op staff when needed, you will likely be successful in securing a co-op position.
Q: Can I look for my own position?
A: Yes, completing your own job search is a good option if you are looking for a specific job, organization or location. If you would like to complete your own job search, make an appointment to speak with a Co-op Coordinator. The Coordinator will provide you with some helpful marketing materials, and will also ensure that it is not an employer the Co-op Office is already working with to avoid duplication in communication. The Co-op Coordinator may also be able to help you in identifying potential leads in specific areas based on previous experiences.
Q: What happens if I get an offer, but I don’t want to accept it?
A: Students have 24 business hours after they receive a job offer to accept or to decline. Students may decline two opportunities (job offers or interviews). If a student declines more than two job opportunities, they are required to do a self-directed job search and can no longer access job postings through the Co-op Office.
Q: What are typical salary ranges?
A: Co-op salaries ranged based on the program, industry and experience. In 2021, the average salary for a first co-op work term was $16 for business administration students, $17 for public relations and $14 for tourism & hospitality management. The average salary information for 2021 can be found on the co-op website.
The Co-op Team is committed to supporting students at every step in the process! This includes support with writing resumes, cover letters and providing mock interview preparation. In January 2022, the Co-op Team will host the Roadmap to Success Conference where employers and senior co-op students will come to present and share their experiences. We look forward to seeing you then!
Key learnings from senior students:
- Keep an open mind when applying for co-op positions. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a sense of the environment from reading a job posting, so better to cast your net wide!
- Seek support from the Co-op Office when drafting cover letters and in preparing for interviews. You can make an appointment with a Coordinator and talk through potential questions which can be really helpful.
- Dress to impress! Wearing professional clothing that makes you feel good does wonders to help boost confidence especially in an interview setting.
- When writing cover letters, try your best to connect relevant work experience to the job duties of the job you are applying for. Focus on two or three areas that keep coming up in the job posting.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for support or to provide ideas on the job. Co-op employers love to hear unique perspectives and it shows that you are engaged in the work.
- If there are areas that you would like to get more experience in or exposure to, don’t be afraid to bring it up to your supervisor. Keep the lines of communication open.