Top tips from career experts

Make a good impression — and avoid making these mistakes

You had me at ‘hello’

It’s true what they say about never getting a second chance to make a great first impression.

And while making a good impression in any new job is important, the finite nature of a co-op work term makes it even more so. As both learner and worker, co-op students often have opportunities to contribute above and beyond what they were hired to do, and this can have a huge impact on what happens for them after graduation.

According to Anne Fannon, director of the Waterloo Professional Development Program (WatPD), the opportunities a student gets usually depend on that first impression. It’s a philosophy that extends to the regular workforce, too.

She says success typically hinges on three things:

  1. Showing enthusiasm:

    “Don’t take for granted your new employer knows you’re excited to be there,” Fannon says. “Demonstrate. Nod your head. The employer notices who’s paying attention. Say thanks. Say you’re excited to be there. It goes a long way.”

  1. Connecting with co-workers:

    “Four months is short, but it’s long enough to establish relationships,” Fannon adds. “I really encourage students to go out and introduce themselves. Get out of their comfort zone, go eat lunch with co-workers, take advantage of any social opportunities. Not only will building strong relationships make for a more enjoyable and effective work term, those co-workers become great contacts when it’s time to look for full-time work.”

  1. Figuring out the culture:

    “Be a cultural observer during those first few days and weeks. The key task is to figure out the social norms and organizational culture and how to be effective in that context.”

What not to do in the workplace: Our Top 10

Whether it’s your first co-op work term or you’ve been earning a paycheque for decades, there are certain common mistakes that should be avoided at all costs.

Here’s our list of the top 10:

  1. Badmouthing your employer or sharing your bad days on social media posts
  2. Believing you’re too smart for certain tasks
  3. Showing up late and taking long lunches
  4. Too much “hey” and “yeah” and “yo” … and not enough “Good morning!”
  5. Not asking for feedback
  6. Failing to take initiative
  7. Avoiding building rapport with co-workers
  8. Not seeing how your work affects others
  9. Failing to seek clarification on a task, and just plowing ahead to look busy
  10. Believing you can drop in and make changes to long-standing processes before taking the time to learn about the bigger picture

The big interview: What to ask, what to expect

“Be prepared” isn’t the sole preserve of the Boy Scout — so when you’ve landed that big job interview, make like a Boy Scout and do your homework.

Most interviewers will try to put their own personal stamp on things, but there are a few questions you’ll almost certainly be asked (and if you’re an interviewer yourself, what you should ask):

  1. Why do you want this job?
  2. How did you go about researching us?
  3. Tell us about a project or activity that shows how you’ll succeed.
  4. Describe a time when a project didn’t go as well as it could have, and what you learned from it.
  5. Have you anticipated a problem at work and done something to prevent it?
  6. What about this kind of work do you like or dislike the most?
  1. What kind of co-worker brings out the best in you?
  2. What’s going on when you're finding it challenging to work with someone?
  3. What have your past bosses been like?
  4. What’s one key thing you want us to know about you?
  5. What are you going to be able to do better than the other applicants for this job?
  6. What question do you wish we’d asked you today?

How do today’s students measure workplace success?

Recent research from the Waterloo Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education (WatCACE), zeroed in on three factors students look for in a positive work experience:

  1. An authentic experience that is personally relevant to their goals
  2. The opportunity to have a positive impact on their temporary workplace
  3. A chance to begin establishing their professional identity