My co-operative education experience

Before I got my current job, I applied to a cooperative education department and never heard back from the hiring manager. Given the department and job description, I actually tailored my cover letter to convey that I had been through co-op and was eager to work for a program that so positively impacts students’ futures.

I got hired by  the company anyways, but in a different department, and learned the name of the hiring manager. Because she has a name similar to mine, it would come up when I queried the personnel directory to verify my contact information is correct, and one time her name was pulled up from the company-wide database and accidentally used for an invoice someone issued to me.

Co-op was a memorable but just short part of my past life and I am far happier in my current department. Nonetheless, when a friend landed an interview for a position in that department, I reminisced again for the first time in a year, about the co-op engineering program at the University of Waterloo, circa 1995.

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Not a Waterloo co-op board but you might get the picture.

I was in the computer engineering program at the University of Waterloo in 1995 with only three other girls in the first-year class of 120 students. The engineering co-op program was big (mandatory for all engineers), successful, and the best in the country, starting students in the workforce as soon as after four months of entering university. Being a smaller class, all the computer engineering students did a full school year and went on co-op together in the summer of 1996. After the first year, we wouldn’t be in school for more than one term before heading out to complete another of the 6 four-month coop terms. By studying and working non-stop, graduates finished a four-year program with a total of 24 months of experience in five years.

It was barely after you return to school for a semester and settle into grueling classes and labs when another round of applications and interviews would take place. I was as fascinated by new opportunities as I am right now and the long hallway lined with template-produced job postings–I recall them as coming from dot-matrix printers–was filled with possibilities. Granted, not all the postings were for computer engineering students but there was significant overlap in the call-out for Elecs (electrical engineers) and Comps (computer engineers). After we selected which jobs were most appropriate to apply to, we gave good money to the printing houses and got hundreds of copies of our resumes made and slipped them into the numbered bins that lined another wall. I once accidentally dropped a resume into the wrong bin and got an interview for an electrical position I would never, ever consider. That was one awkward interview!

The way I remember the interviews is like being in a great big exhibition hall and all the space is divided up into small rooms with blue curtains. Tens of other interviews are simultaneously occurring nearby but it’s not distracting when you are focused. After all our interviews for one round, students ranked the companies they most wished to work for while interviewers ranked those they interviewed in the order they most wanted them. All of this was entered in a magical ranking system and you received your matches on another uber-exciting day and learn where and how you would be spending your next semester. Students who did not match went through another formal round and there was still a third, informal and ongoing round for the stragglers without jobs.

Of course, back then, it was largely a paper-based system. A computerized system may have been in the works or rolled out, but I barely remember it. I can imagine the co-op office being a constant buzz of energy with hundreds of eager and intelligent students coming through, hundreds of companies with co-op positions to liaise with, scheduling all these people to successfully meet multiples of other people, and generally the satisfaction that all the students were gainfully employed.


It wasn’t the right position for me but my friend would be a much better fit….

On this day..