My First Co-op Term & Advice for First Year Co-op Students

August 25, 2016

I'm finally done my first Co-op term at the University of Waterloo, and I must say that it was certainly a LOT of hard work, but also a lot of fun! This summer, I worked as a Research Assistant at the University, and my main project was researching the University of Waterloo Act, 1972, and making suggestions as to how we can modernize and amend the Act. But enough about me! After working for these months, I have four great tips that all students should know before entering their first

Co-op term. Trust me, they'll come in handy one day!

Four tips to succeed in Co-op:

Do not apply for only high-level jobs

This is a one of the biggest rookie mistakes that many people make, including me. I remember during my first application process, I looked at all the jobs and was amazed at how many good ones they were. I started applying to all the federal government policy analyst jobs, many of which required substantial research experience. Needless to say, I managed to get a total of only 2 interviews in the first round (which didn't go that well), and no offers.

Expect to know nothing at the start

When I walked in my first day of Co-op, I was bombarded with information that I had no clue about. I remember I handed my first report in, thinking it was excellently written, only to have it handed back with extensive feedback on proper legal writing style. It was a pretty steep learning curve for about the first week or so. It's okay though - your boss doesn't expect you to know much either.

Talk to your coworkers/boss, and be likable at all times

It's amazing how someone's perception of you can drastically shape their attitude towards your work. If thy like you, poor work quality or other detracting stuff often gets unnoticed, and excellent work and laudable conducts gets noticed more often. If they dislike you, the opposite tends to be true. If you start off on the wrong foot with a coworker or boss, it can end up pretty badly. The quality of your work is only half the battle - the other half is getting them to appreciate your contributions, and to do so they have to actually like you. Your best bet in the first few weeks is to act as mild and likable as possible - agree with anything everyone says, say hi and bye to every coworker you see, and make sure you don't continually talk about controversial stuff. I usually like to share funny stories with my coworkers that don't include anything sensitive - it helps to make you seem more casual.

Ask for feedback and talk openly about evaluations

A lot of people get dinged on their evaluation because they don't communicate it that well with their boss. I pretty much told my boss on the first day how the evaluations generally work, and how the curve is usually towards very good/excellent. I made sure to point out that by no means was I trying to boost my evaluation; rather, I just wanted her to know what the "average" was.

Ask for feedback constantly through the term about your work - tell them things like "If you see anything that can be added or improved, please do not hesitate to tell me." A lot of students are scared for whatever reason to ask for feedback for fear of getting roasted - take your roast with humility and improve. It will help you in the end with a better eval.


Right now I have around one more week before I head back to school, so I'm currently taking it easy and relaxing. I've been visiting old friends, catching up with family, and also brushing up on my resume for the next round of Co-op application. Since I'm going to be in third year and also trying to find a Co-op job starting September, it's probably going to be really busy! I'll try my best to get another article out midway through the term, but we'll see how it goes. Bye for now!