Tips for navigating the co-op experience, from an international student
The job market is a daunting place to be. By needing work experience to get a job, and needing a job to get work experience, the process can feel like a vicious cycle.
Throw in being an international student in the mix, and you’ve got yourself a challenge.
When I landed in Canada 3 years ago, I had no formal work experience under my belt. As I write this post, I reflect on the Co-op work terms I have completed, as well as the paid and volunteer opportunities that I have had, that have been instrumental in my experience at Carleton. By sharing parts of my experience, I hope that any students who are undertaking the co-op program can feel confident embarking on the program with a few tips from a fellow peer at Carleton.
1. Look for experience where you can
The catalyst for finding employment during a co-op work term is often previous experience, and one way to wade into the waters of finding work is to focus on positions available to you on campus as a Carleton student. These are plentiful! With so many offices on campus, you can find plenty of opportunities to start out volunteering, and even transition into paid work. Sometimes, even dropping by a campus office to inquire about any openings is enough to show initiative and make yourself memorable to those who would be interested in having students join their professional teams.
Additionally, any previous work experience you have can be transformed into examples of your transferable skills, which mean that you can apply a limited range of experiences in a range of positions, until you gain job-specific knowledge and skills later in your career.
2. Take advantage of your resources
I can speak confidently when I say that the Co-op Office was pivotal in helping me secure a job for my co-op work terms. One afternoon, two weeks before a co-op interview, I dropped by the Co-op Office in the CTTC to speak with my advisor and to gain insight on how to improve the quality and structure of my resume. My advisor helped me overhaul my resume from beginning to end – two weeks later, I was fortunate enough to get the job.
The Co-op Office provides a multitude of resources to help co-op students navigate the job market. Do not be afraid to use them! By running workshops throughout the year and hosting drop-in hours and resume reviews for existing co-op students, they are there to help you.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure
One thing to bear in mind as you navigate the co-op experience – you will stumble, and you will fall, and that’s before you even get the job. Being declined for an interview is so commonplace, you will be advised that you will likely send out applications in the dozens before you even get an interview request. It may not feel normal, but it is normal.
You were passed up for an interview? So was I (many, many times). You didn’t get a co-op position over the summer? Neither did I (I’m still one term short of a formal designation). You feel overwhelmed at your new job? We’ve all been there. Failure is normal, and mistakes will be expected. Don’t be afraid to make them. It’s only from failures and mistakes that we can learn where we went wrong, and use that knowledge to grow as individuals, as students, and as professionals in the workplace.
The job market is a daunting place to be. But with the right tools, you can succeed, and you can thrive.
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