Co-op definitely changed me as a person! It was extremely helpful to refine my soft skills – coming from socially awkward days in high school, being in co-op really force me to get myself out of the comfort zone, explore new horizons, and see for myself what I am really capable of.
What are your thoughts on the co-op program? Pros? Cons?
It’s a great program to get some experiences under the belt – because with employers’ “22 years old with 30 years of experience” mindset, it’s quite difficult to find a job without relevant experiences in the industry. At the same time, it’s good to build your soft-skills in professional writing, networking, and personal branding. Most importantly, it allows you to get out of your comfort zone and learn about your strengths/weaknesses.
Pros: as listed above
Cons: the postings are usually in-exclusive to UTSC students, so often we have to compete with students of other schools as well. The program’s reputation (compared to PEY) isn’t convincing enough to the employer that the right candidate will be from UTSC.
How did you go about finding your first co-op placement?
My first co-op placement was an IT Consultant with RBC. I applied on the school website and got an interview. Prior to that, I already have an offer from another bank but it’s not exactly what I had pictured myself doing in the long run. So I had to convince the co-op office to withhold the offer (you only have 24 hours to accept/reject after they send it to you) for a couple of days until I can come to this interview.
P.S. couple of months in, my manager actually talked to us about when she screened our applications, and apparently, the only thing she was looking for was part-time job experiences (retail, fast food, etc.), instead of the other categories such as GPA. Her rationale was that, the company is hiring you as a person, not the concrete, hard skills you have. The latter is teachable over time but the prior isn’t.
What did you expect VS what you encountered?
One of my biggest surprises was the absence of school reputation. From the 6-7 students working with me, many of them are from other schools in Toronto, whom we thought are not as reputable as UofT. And over time, their high performance has pleasantly surprised me and it was a good myth-buster to the negative stereotypes about their school. Relating back to the previous point my manager made, RBC decided to hire us as a person – someone you can get lunch with, have a coffee, and chat during break time, meaning technical skills wasn’t much in their consideration when deciding which candidate to hire.
Do you think it helped improve you as a person?
Yes! Definitely! It was extremely helpful to refine my soft skills – coming from socially awkward days in high school, being in co-op really force me to get myself out of the comfort zone, explore new horizons, and see for myself what I am really capable of.
Any advice for other co-op students?
Advice: undergrad is not only about academics, it’s everything you do during this time that makes you stand out compared to your peers. It’s the work experiences, extracurriculars, and networking that shows the employer what you are really capable of and able to bring to their company. Which means, graduating without experiences is a really bad move because other than academics, it makes you no different than 4 years ago when you just graduated high school.