Edit Dec 26/12 – Grammar and whitespace.
Edit Jul 2/12 – Added PEY vs. Co-op comparison.
I was supposed to post this 2 weeks ago, but didn’t have the chance to complete it til today (finally done midterms!)
I want to make another post directed towards prospective students (or entering students, or students wanting to switch from regular) about Waterloo’s co-op program. The co-op program at Waterloo is what makes our school stand out. For many people, it’s a deciding factor between this and that program from school X and Waterloo. You will take an extra year to graduate compared to your other peers that plan to go to York, Queen’s, UofT, etc. but you get tons of work experience on your belt (up to 2 years). This is extremely useful upon graduation, considering our unpredictable economy.
I don’t regret co-op at all. My past two co-op experiences have been amazing, and I’m looking forward to my next one. But is co-op for you?
Now without going into too much detail, here are some pros and cons about being in co-op:
1. Likelihood of finding a job after graduation greatly increases; if you find co-op jobs that are related to your field of study, that is. Note that it is very common for students to return to their old co-op placements as returning co-ops and full-time employees.
2. Allows you to have breadth of different working environments, industries, size of company, etc. You have 5 or 6 four-month co-op terms (depends on your program). Use them to your advantage to try out different companies. Although, you can also keep going back to the same placement if you found your workplace enjoyable, and if your employer wants you back, of course (mutual decision).
3. Rather than just focusing on schoolwork and social life, you will be able to see a 3rd side: your career. To me at least, co-op has helped me realize that marks aren’t everything. To succeed in almost any type of careers), you need a mix of social skills, passion, organization, teamwork, etc. These career and professional development skills are developed throughout your coop terms.
4. Great way to help pay tuition. You may make enough to cover tuition for the following term. As you gain more co-op experience, you should be earning a higher salary after each co-op term.
1. Being in co-op means that you will often be off-stream with some of your UW friends (and possibly boyfriends and girlfriends). This may explain why Waterloo has the stereotype of being a non-social school, where no one parties (which is completely untrue by the way!).
2. Stress. First round interviews usually start during midterm season. Depending on your interview rate, it may be very stressful. More on this later.
3. No vacations (Always in school or at work). Not necessarily. You definitely don’t get as many summers or breaks like your friends at UofT/Western/etc. have. But depending on the job and location, it may very much be like a vacation every co-op term. It is also possible to take a co-op term off, but you need to ensure you have at least 4 or 5 (depending on your program) to graduate. Speak to your co-op adviser if you decide to do this.
4. Being in co-op means you pay about $600-700 more than regular students (per term). This value is based on administration fees, salaries for all the co-op advisors and peeps, work term report marking, etc. Hopefully you will make more than that during your co-op term, though, and the experience will be worth it.
I don’t have any with me, but I remember seeing myself that Waterloo is advertised to have a 90% employment rate for all coops (or something of the like). Although it sounds hopeful and so very attractive, it doesn’t mean much. If you’re anti-social and only booksmart, you’ll have a difficult time getting a job (or even getting the interview), no matter how large the availability is.
If you’re a prospective student reading this and thinking you’re going to jump in, write up a resume in 30 minutes, and get interviews in a snap, you’re wrong. The likelihood of getting an interview is low during your first round, especially during the early rounds of the job matching process. You may end up having to keep waiting and applying and interviewing until final exams before someone finally wants you.
As pessimistic as it sounds, it is completely true. The process can be very stressful for some people, and when they finally find that job, they are placed into the huge 90% that our school advertises our program to be. So it’s not an easy 90!
If you’d like to look at detailed stats, check out this site:
You can only use it if you have a UW id (so, you either need to be a student or a prospective student that has been admitted).
Co-op vs. UofT PEY
UofT and Waterloo, both great schools for engineering, provide their students with professional experience outside of academics. Waterloo has a strong standing program for various faculties, and from what I have read, PEY is mainly for engineering, computer science, and pharmacology majors. Obviously this entry is biased towards Waterloo co-op, so please take that into consideration. In the end, it is your own choice.
The major differences between the two programs is that PEY is a “depth” approach which exists only for 3rd and 4th year students, and lasts for 12-16 months, while Waterloo co-op is a “breadth” approach which is recurring throughout a student’s undergrad. Co-op terms are typically 4 month, but 8 month terms are also common. Apparently, it’s also possible to do 12 month co-ops, but I have never heard of anyone doing that. UofT also has a shorter-term PEY program called eSIP for rising Juniors (4-month placement), which seems to be a new thing they are trying.
In the real world, 4 months is a great “trial period” to see if an employee actually suits their role and fits into the culture of the company. So just because you did an internship for 8 months longer, does not mean you have a lower chance of receiving full-time offers. I know many graduating Waterloo students that already have full-time offers waiting for them once they do graduate (many from their past co-op placements, some from new companies they have not worked at).
Also… the other way to think about it is – if you really dislike your placement, as a co-op, it’s not a big deal since you won’t be there for too long to suffer. I don’t know what the terms are as a PEY if you dislike your placement (probably don’t have a lot of flexibility).
I am not sure if there are fees associated with PEY, but even if there are, I assume they would be minimal.
If you are in Waterloo engineering, you will have an extremely restricted and demanding schedule to deal with due to co-op sequencing, so if you prefer to have flexibility, UofT is probably a better choice. It’s not overly demanding, but just a word of warning that you will likely be moving every 4 months (probably more of a hassle for us ladies : P).
Also, just because you do not attend Waterloo, does not mean you have no chances of getting your own internship or co-op placement during your free summers. It’s entirely possible, you just need to take the initiative.
This is a bit early of a note, but I do want to bring it up. In first year, you will take a few intro Professional Development (PD) courses. Don’t follow the generic resume format that they teach you. You need to do all you can to stand out and grab the employer’s attention, considering that you’re a measly first year. Putting down your retail job experience is totally fine, but if you did any side projects on your own that relate to your field of study, put ‘em down! School projects are okay too, but 100 other students will probably have the same project if they take the same course as you. Putting down a ‘related courses’ section is pretty useless, considering that your transcript is automatically appended to all of your job applications.
Update your resume every term. As you get into your upper years, you can start weeding out unrelated and outdated information (usually high school stuff).
As a whole, either programs are great. It just depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re still on the fence, comment below and I’ll try to help you decide :)
Jobmine is a poorly written web app that co-op students have to use throughout their undergrad to apply to jobs for their co-op terms. You don’t HAVE to use Jobmine. Applying outside of Jobmine is also an option. You just need to report it to CECS as soon as you can by filling out an online form.
It’s a little complicated to explain how the system works in detail if you have never seen it; but to keep it brief, you can have up to 50 active job applications at one time.
Companies from all over the world post jobs, but most are in Southern Ontario (or more specifically… Toronto). You can apply anywhere you want, just make sure you are willing to work at the company and that you are willing to move wherever the placement is. Also make sure that you apply for a job you actually want. If you really want a developer job, don’t apply for QA (quality assurance) or help desk jobs and be disappointed once you get there.
After each ‘posting’ closes, companies will eventually look at everyone’ resumes, and create an interview schedule. You will then have to choose a time that suits you. Here comes the stressful part. Getting the time slot you want. You cannot just spend the whole day at school and NOT check Jobmine. You may be screwed, and end up with an interview during an important lecture, or possibly conflict a midterm. For the latter, CECS advises students to contact other students on the interview list to do a switch. But that honestly never works out because no one is ever willing to switch times, so just go into the Tatham Centre and fill out a conflict form. Most of the time, the company will be flexible to reschedule.
Some companies contact by email rather than schedule through Jobmine, because that’s how they roll. They may not want to fly into Waterloo if they’re located in the US, or deal with CECS’s strange way of doing phone and Skype interviews.
I cannot tell you what an accounting major’s interview will entail, or what a biology major’s interview will entail, but I can tell you a little about non-technical interviews and Software Engineering / CS technical interviews.
First of all, go in at least 10 minutes early, especially if you’re not familiar with the TC building. Don’t go in too early though… or else you’ll just be stressing yourself out.
Remember that the employer is not out there to get you or ask you trick questions (well.. depends on the company I guess). Most of the time, they just want to see what kind of person you are, and if you are a good fit to the team. Maybe you’re extremely passionate about the product that a company makes, but the company just wants neutral employees who just do what they’re told. Maybe you have a 95 average, but the company just wants a junior student who wants to learn stuff, not a know-it-all.
How to Dress & What to Bring:
Depends on the company. Enterprise / corporate – probably formal suit/dress clothes. Startup / Large tech company – casual (they honestly don’t care, just dress comfortably). Definitely don’t look like a mess (as if you ran to the interview or something). I recommend bringing at least a clipboard with a pen, paper, and >=1 copies of your resume inside. Paper and pen is very useful to take down any notes you want, including employer contact information if they are willing to give it to you. Sometimes employers come unprepared without any of the applicants’ resumes. Well you can just give them a copy to make their life easier. I don’t recommend bringing a laptop or a heavy bag. Some companies will ask you to bring something to show them, but it doesn’t happen very often.
Common Interview Questions:
1. Tell me about your last co-op term. What did you like/dislike there?
2. What is your favourite course & why?
3. What do you know about us? (I haven’t gotten this in a while though)
4. What makes you stand out from other candidates? Or, tell us something unique/special about yourself.
5. How do you keep up with tech news? What blogs do you read?
(I’ll be honest here.. I have a hard time with this question because.. well.. I don’t really follow blogs. I read news feeds. Mashable, Twitter, whatever. I don’t have TechCrunch as a bookmark or anything. If I see a friend post a TechCrunch article, then it must stand out since my friend recommended it to all his/her friends. That’s all I need. )
6. Tell me about a time you had a conflict in a team setting, and how you dealt with that conflict.
The list goes on and you can find more online. To ‘prepare’ for this kind of interview, I recommend learning more about yourself. No, seriously. Have a good sense of what you’ve done in the past 2 years in terms of extracurriculars or part-time jobs. You need to be able to have a smooth conversation with the employer. Not being able to think of examples shows that you haven’t really worked in a team setting, or you haven’t had experience in such and such tells them that there may be risk of you entering their workplace, lowering your chances of getting the job compared to other highly qualified candidates.
In terms of communication skills, show some liveliness and interest in the company. At least look over their website before walking into the interview (before making a fool of yourself :P). If you didn’t bother to look, then why should the company hire you? You’re not even interested in working with them.
Most of the time, technical questions are used to see a candidate’s thought process and technical knowledge at a glance. There are various types of technical questions. There are riddles – thinking problems, questions that program manager or system design people may get. These questions are useful to see a candidate’s creativity or thought process. There are trivia questions that are just pure knowledge-based. It’s either you know it, or you don’t. And then we have the generic programming questions, reverse a linked list, find the unique element in a list of duplicates, etc. – the most common type of question. Most of the time, the interviewer will guide you through the problem if you’re stuck. Some employers just sit and stare at you though.. which really sucks..
Rule of thumb (especially for trivia): Admit that you don’t know instead of making up bullshit. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing what an AVL tree is, or what SQL injection is, simple terms that can be searched via Wikipedia and learn on the spot. There are of course important concepts that are essential to certain jobs, however, and are huge deciding factors if the company is looking for a senior student.
A 45 minute interview is usually technical. A 30 minute interview could be technical, but it is likely non-technical. You can also end up with 2 back to back interviews, and in that case, it may be 2 technical, or 1 of each. I also want to note that a lot of employers don’t abide by the time limit, causing there to be delays in interview schedules (can be frustrating for those who go in 20 minutes early).
Technical questions can be done on paper or whiteboard (if there is one in the room). Sometimes, the employer will ask you to type your answers on their laptops so they can save your progress; harder to do for whiteboard questions, and paper = messy at times).
Questions to Ask
ALWAYS have questions to ask, even if it’s something stupid such as “What’s it like to work in DT Toronto?”
Typical questions I always ask for:
1) Normal working hours
2) Public transportation options
3) Team structure
4) Methodologies used (applies more to software companies)
5) Salary (ask this if you’ve already completed >1 co-op term)
6) Past co-op projects/ things that co-ops do
7) Where do you see the company in X years?
8) What type of training will be provided?
The list varies depending on the company. Asking specific questions about the company can be impressive and shows your interest, but be careful to word it in a way that you’re not trying to get insider information.
Salary: In first year I’ve been told not to ask at all. But it really isn’t too terrible of a question to ask, especially if you require a lot of financial support & you’re going to have to rent a place to live. Employers should understand that. Definitely ask after your first coop term, because salary is a huge deciding factor between 2 or 3 great job offers.
Q8 is something you may want to ask if it’s a job you’ve never done before. Some companies do training in the first week, others just throw you onto a project, or ramp you up immediately. It honestly doesn’t matter IMO how you are trained, as long as you are given decent work and mentored properly.
Once you’ve completed 1 or 2 co-op terms, you already have a huge competitive advantage. You will likely have less upper years to compete with, and you will have more experience + knowledge on your belt. Now, you can be a little more picky with what kind of jobs you want to apply to, or accept offers to. As I mentioned, salary is a great deciding factor.
Other factors may be: new type of working environment, close/far away from home, big/small city, etc.
Once the interview round has ended, rankings must be made by the employer. If an employer ranks you, you can rank them. If they don’t rank you, then you cannot rank them (it means that they don’t think you’re suitable for the job). Although a company may only be looking for 2 students, they will give offers to 2 students, and they will rank other students. They can rank every student they interviewed if they wish. They can even rank a student that they never interviewed for the specific job (perhaps they believe the student is more suitable for a different role). But essentially, they can rank students 1-9 (just like how students rank employers), and they can give offers (worth more value than rankings).
Once the rankings go in, Jobmine will run its slow algorithm and match employer to student, ensuring that employers and students get the best choices (it’s a graph theory problem). It’s rumored that CECS favours the employer, thus a student may be screwed over. Rank wisely!
I’ve mentioned this before, but please do not apply to a job you do not actually want. This may be hard to follow in first year when ‘any job will do’, but it becomes bad when you receive an offer to a company you don’t even want, and you only get ranked for a company you REALLY want. You may still end up getting the job you do not want, due to Jobmine’s ranking system. You can ‘sign off’ a job if you really don’t want it, but make sure to do this before rankings. There are some useful resources if you wish to look up job satisfaction (similar to Glassdoor, but for Waterloo coops). http://ratemycoopjobs.com is a good one.
Are there good co-op positions for my program?
Waterloo is well-known for math, engineering, CS, and also AFM. So I’ll be honest here, if you’re coming for science or arts co-op, you will have a harder time finding an above average job (in terms of pay, type of work, location, etc). The variety and amount of CS jobs have jumped in the past couple years; whether it be many startups being created, or more big companies learning about Waterloo’s coop program. If you want to work for a big company or a cool startup, come to Waterloo. You will have a pretty big chance of landing an internship for 1 of the above. I won’t really talk about the kinds of jobs (maybe in a later post), because it varies with each company.
Regular vs. Co-op
A big question that I see getting asked is – What is the point of going to Waterloo if I didn’t get into co-op? (Note that Engineering is co-op only, there is no regular Engineering.)
There’s still a chance that you can transfer into co-op. Co-op students have different requirements to uphold to stay in co-op, regular students will likely have less strict requirements. With this, you can do extremely well and transfer if there is enough room. Usually there is enough room if people drop out of co-op or switch programs. Remember that the capacity is usually measured by the amount of jobs that are posted for your field of study.
Now the other method of getting on the same foot as co-op students is finding your own internships, and using your connections, because finding jobs is not just about applying everywhere and seeing what happens. Networking has a huge impact. I have a friend who is in regular CS. He found his own co-op because his co-op CS classmate recommended him. My friend did well on the interview, and got his first co-op job. Huge step ahead of anyone who’s never done an internship at all. He also saved 600 dollars because he didn’t pay for any co-op fees, AND he didn’t have to go through stress or annoyance of using Jobmine.
So there are still ways to excel and succeed without co-op. It just depends on whether you want to make the effort (also takes a little talent + social skills of course ;))
I’ve given a large overview of the coop system at Waterloo, hopefully it has helped answer any questions or round down any decision-making. If you’re already admitted to Waterloo co-op, then hopefully this helped you gain a better understanding of what to expect. If you are applying in the future, hopefully you have a better understanding of how the co-op system works, and whether it is suitable for you.
I think I covered almost everything. If not.. comment below with your questions or send me an email, I’ll be sure to get back to you : )