Searching for summer employment as a first-year engineering student
C/O Jin Lee
By: Kirsten Espe
How do you apply for jobs that require experience without any experience?
The engineering co-op program is one of the only programs at McMaster University that offers the possibility of gaining co-op experience after a student’s first year. Recognizing the importance of gaining experience in the industry, students are eager to plunge themselves head-first into the applicant pool.
“I know that [in] engineering, [compared] to a lot of other undergraduate programs, your GPA doesn’t matter as much; it’s a lot more project and experience-based. I feel like getting experience as early as possible is really important to kind of get a leg up on it and it’ll help set you up for the future,” said Gayan Athukorala, a first-year engineering student.
Magnus Lu, an integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences student, said that they are interested in a co-op position this summer to begin building experiences and connections. This will also help Lu complete their co-op terms and earn some money to pay for their tuition next year.
Importantly, Lu also sees co-op as an opportunity to explore his future.
“I don't really know what it’s like to work either in industry or in research. . .I want to explore the field. Engineering combined with health sciences [has] a very broad pool of prospects . . . I kind of want to cast a wide net to see what I want to do in the future,” explained Lu.
Although engineering students start with a general first year before specializing in a specific stream, students still have a variety of options for their future, including going into research, industry or academia.
However, securing a co-op position regardless of the specific field has traditionally been a daunting task due to the lack of experience first-years have.
“I do think it’s very frustrating how many of these co-op positions prefer you to have prior experience in working because how am I supposed to get an entry-level position if all the entry-level positions require me to have entry-level positions beforehand?” said Lu.
Athukorala also added that the novelty of applying to co-op positions can be stressful for students.
“It just feels kind of overwhelming since I know myself and a lot of other students just haven't applied to so many positions before. Obviously, I’ve applied to retail jobs before, but finding more [specific] professional jobs [is new],” said Athukorala.
Both Lu and Athukorala have applied to positions mostly through OSCARPlus, a McMaster job site that offers co-op listings. They have also looked on job sites such as Indeed, LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Both noted that McMaster and the faculty of engineering offer a wide variety of co-op and career services they have taken advantage of.
“McMaster has a lot of engineering events that I don’t think a lot of people go to. The engineering career services are really helpful to have. They have appointments for nearly everything like one-on-one appointments for your LinkedIn profile, cover letter, resumes, interview skills . . . My resume has definitely improved a ton since I first started applying and I kind of wish I first started applying earlier on,” explained Athukorala.
McMaster also hosts periodic industry nights, where students can speak to professors and employers in specific engineering streams in order to expand their network.
Despite the difficult and tedious search for a co-op position, both students are confident that their efforts are not in vain, whether they land a position or not.
“A lot of students I’ve talked to. . .don't bother applying for the first year just because they don’t think they’ll get it. But I think applying, even if you don’t get anything. . . applying [and] getting used to the process is really important,” Athukorala says.
Lu expressed similar sentiments.
“If I don’t get any offers, at least I know the process, and hopefully by next year I’ll have a bit more experience under my belt,” she said.
Athukorala would like to encourage his fellow students to not give up even if their initial attempts at finding a position are not successful.
“I know a lot of people compare themselves to their friends and their peers. Getting a co-op, it’s something that’s really difficult, so if you don’t get one [in your] first-year or second-year, don’t feel discouraged by it,” said Athukorala.
Engineering students who are interested in finding a co-op position this summer can visit the ECCS page or contact their faculty co-op supervisor for more information.