Co-op student redefines first work term success

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kariem Abd El SalamWhat does a successful first co-op job look like?

For Kariem Abd El Salam, a second-year Science and Business student majoring in Biotechnology and Economics, it didn’t look exactly the way he had pictured it.

In fact, Salam was unable to secure a co-op job the first time he went through the job search process.

“When I didn't land a co-op job the first time, I was somewhat anxious because my program is co-op only,” says Salam. “This means that if I fail to fulfill my co-op requirements I wouldn’t be able to continue in the program.”

Salam says he made a lot of mistakes on his first job search. “For one, I applied to jobs I wasn't ready for yet,” he says. “The employers were able to see that I lacked both the skills and knowledge they were looking for during interviews.” He says he also underestimated how competitive the process would be, and didn’t spend enough time balancing academics and his job search.

After his unsuccessful job search, Salam decided to make the most of his time “off” and find ways to improve his employability. He landed a position on campus as a residence don, a job that required training in conflict resolution, crisis management and student coaching. He also volunteered for the Faculty of Science’s ambassador team, speaking with prospective students and their parents who come to campus to learn more about science programs at Waterloo.

With a new set of skills to profile, Salam sought out professional advice on how to market himself on his résumé. He spoke with a career advisor at the Centre for Career Action, met with his professors to ask advice and even practiced interview skills with his friends.

And guess what? The next work term, he got the job.

Salam was hired with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, working on a digital infrastructure project for patient care at the hospital. As a member of the training team, he found himself in a teacher’s assistant role during training sessions for nurses and doctors, previewing the new software for hospital staff. (In fact, thirty-five Waterloo co-op students were hired for this project - read more about the incredible impact Waterloo co-op students had at St. Joe's.)

Did the skills he developed during his first “unemployed” work term make a difference? Definitely, says Salam. “My job at St. Joe’s has a lot to do with dealing with people, so having the skills to work with people is so important. As a science ambassador and don, I spoke with so many students, so many parents,” he says. He also notes that his improved résumé and interview skills were key in successfully getting hired.

His advice to incoming students? Be self-aware of where to improve. “If you are not landing interviews, then you know to have to improve your résumé writing skills or gain more experience. If you are landing interviews but not getting hired, then you know you have to work on your interview skills,” he says.