I want to thank Jennifer, a *very* recent graduate, for agreeing to this interview. It’s fantastic to hear more about the co-op experience.
JLH: Can you tell readers a bit about your current position?
JP: Sure, I work at Vidyard as a Content Marketing Manager. Here I get to combine my two favourite parts of the marketing world: brand positioning and video production. I manage the blog and editorial calendar, produce video scripts and interviews, content guides, press release copy, and other media resources. I get to work with fun, talented creatives and I’d really recommend the content marketing avenue for other English grads.
JLH: What made you decide on Waterloo for your undergrad?
JP: I chose Waterloo based on a presentation I’d seen at a high school exhibit in grade 12. UW had a student discuss her experience and I went away thinking I should look into Waterloo and what it had to offer. Some later research revealed that Waterloo had both an arts & business option and was also the only Canadian school to offer rhetoric as a field of study. Because I wanted to get into advertising or marketing in some capacity, I saw the program as a means to be creative and practical (co-op was a terrific practical add on).
JLH: What was your experience of the co-op program?
JP: I found the co-op program really valuable. The job market can be tough and having nearly two years of job experience under your belt ensures that you stand out in the right way when you need to. My time in my co-op positions – as well as the interviews that brought me to each – taught me a ton about what to expect upon graduation, what sectors interest me, and what it takes to impress an employer. Tech and product meetings are much different than literature midterms and it’s good to learn how to handle both.
JLH: Did you find there was always a connection between your class time and your co-op time?
JP: Not always but, depending on the class, sure. After working in technical documentation, for example, it was very cool to take a class in information design. I had spent my whole co-op term learning why tech companies structure information in a particular way and when I came back to campus I was far more interested in what we were talking about because I’d encountered it out in the wild. It was interesting because I could apply the subject to real use cases from my co-op term and I felt like I could legitimately add value to our in-class discussions.
JLH: What advice do you have for current students?
JP: I have two main pieces of advice and both are a bit career oriented, but that seems to be important to folks, so here goes:
1. Use your co-op to accomplish real goals: If you use your co-op terms wisely you can demonstrate a clear contribution to your workplace and that, hands down, is what will get you a job when you graduate. Accomplish a major project for your department, learn three new pieces of design software, read a book a month during your term related to your industry, or – better yet – find a problem your department doesn’t know they have yet and solve it.
2. Look up the job descriptions of the positions you’d like to have and learn the hard skills listed. When you graduate, you’ll sigh a big heavy sigh when you realize every entry-level job listed “requires” 3-5 years of experience, but you can be tricky and get an interview anyway. My ultimate piece of advice is to create an amazing portfolio or website featuring your copy, design work, or projects (not school projects, real projects you make just because you want to make things), and these personal projects will get you a job when you graduate because they showcase what you care about and – most importantly – how you think. A cover letter explaining why you’re eager and even an interview sometimes won’t cut it. You’ve gotta go the extra mile or else the neighbour who babysat the kids of the hiring manager is totally getting that PR job you want.
and one, non-job related piece of advice…
3. Experiment in a course you’re not sure you’ll enjoy: I wasn’t sure I’d like Canadian literature, but it fit my schedule and I thought, ah why not. Whenever I even thought about what made a novel Canadian I figured it contained a farm, old people, a few young boring people, farmers, and mostly described flat landscapes for pages and pages. While tiny parts of that assumption are a tiny bit right (authors love landscapes), I learned that I actually really like Canadian literature and that it’s not boring at all once you learn how it functions and the history that drives it. In any case, challenge yourself with a few courses you feel you don’t really know anything about. If the prof is really excited about the material, chances are there’s something cool they are trying to show you and you might really surprise yourself with what you learn.