Co-op Best Practices > Researching Work Term Opportunities

Researching Work Term Opportunities

posted on April 1, 2000

Where do I start?  This is the question most people ask with hesitation because they know that research can be a time-consuming and potentially frustrating process.  The benefits of researching potential job opportunities are endless, but if you don’t know where to begin, then this important step in the job search process may be left to the wayside.  Looking for that perfect co-op term position is a crucial process because the means you use to secure this job can be invaluable in eventually helping you explore permanent career opportunities.  With this in mind, learn to utilize your resources now!

The research process can follow two directions:

  1. Researching the visible jobs and
  2. Researching the hidden opportunities.

Visible Jobs

Researching the visible jobs involves some leg work to find positions which suit your skills and qualifications.  Basically, if a company has a need for personnel, they develop a job description and post it in locations where they hope to interest the ideal candidate.  Fewer than 25% of positions may be processed this way and locating these jobs takes some research.  Resources that can help you locate visible jobs are your co-op office(see all the job postings) newspapers, job banks, career fairs, career services, magazines and trade journals, public postings and word of mouth.

Newspapers - Newspapers are a valuable resource because they usually advertise current, immediate openings.  They can also help you determine regional labour market trends, especially if you are considering relocation.  Even the Internet has classified ads from newspapers around the world.  Unfortunately though, a great number of people see the same ads so your competition automatically increases.

Job Banks - With recent technological advances, job banks on the Internet are fairly common.  These positions are a great starting point for targeting companies and industries.  You can see first-hand the qualifications sought in a certain field and the terminology used by a particular industry.  Many companies now post available positions on their own Web site, so you can target a company and monitor their Web site on a regular basis.

Career Fairs - Career fairs are a great way to see who is hiring in all kinds of industries and locations.  Many companies distribute actual job descriptions and company merchandise with the hope of enticing the strongest candidates to their organization.  Take your resume along and distribute it to companies which interest you.

Career Services - The career services department at your school and community employment centres are terrific places for information on seeking employment and for posted positions of hiring companies.  Many of these centres also have access to resources such as the Internet and databases at low or no cost to you so you can conveniently make use of the latest in job search technology.

Your Co-op Office - As a co-op student you have access to resources specifically available to
co-op students.  There may be employers who choose to hire students exclusively from your school because of its strong academic program and the relationship they have with your Co-op Office.  Your co-operative education coordinator may also have contacts you can explore.

Magazines/Trade Journals - Check out magazines and trade journals in an industry which interests you.  These resources may list available positions, Web sites or job banks that focus on careers within the industry.

Public Postings - Signs and postings in public places are probably the most visible indication that a company is hiring.  Drive or walk around industry centres with pen in hand, and look for signs and advertisements.  Some human resource departments, including those at municipal government offices, allow the public to view their job postings.

Word of Mouth - Talking to others is also a very effective way of finding a job. Family and friends are usually most willing to pass along leads about job openings.  The key here is to do your part by making others aware of your goals and following through with the information they provide.  People like to see you use the information they give you, and it helps to strengthen your network.

Hidden Opportunities

Uncovering hidden opportunities is a little more work than researching visible jobs.  But when you think about it, with over 75% of  positions hidden, it makes more sense to spend your time focussing on a large pool of opportunities than spending too much time exploring fewer jobs. The secret of finding hidden opportunities is not looking for a specific job but rather, look for ways to become connected to an industry or organization which can help you make small steps toward your goal.  Key resources or methods to utilize include: the six-foot rule, cold calls, volunteering and looking outside the box.

The Six-Foot Rule - The six-foot rule is a networking technique where you inform anyone who comes within six feet of you of your goals and plans.  Speak with a past employer you see at the grocery store, meet with one of your professors during their office hours, even speak to the stranger in the waiting room at the dentist’s office.  Anyone could be carrying the knowledge of a potential opportunity.  While talking to new people, stay in contact with family and friends to ensure they inform you of any opportunities.

Cold Calls - Making cold calls can be a very intimidating way of seeking work.  However, if you make cold calls in the context of seeking information rather than a specific job, more people will be willing to speak to you.  The hardest part of making cold calls is getting started so here are some ideas:

  • Reading articles in newspapers, trade publications, magazines and newsletters is a great way of finding out about companies moving to your area, companies that are expanding and new projects being undertaken.  It’s also a good idea to attend presentations and seminars, especially with high profile speakers, as these people can become potential contacts for you.
  • Keeping informed and collecting resources can help you develop ideas of where to start cold calls.  Collect brochures and flyers, print items off the Internet and pick up material at trade shows.  Gather as much information as you can.  The media and government agendas are other great resources to monitor for opportunities.  What is in the news limelight? Which companies do fundraising campaigns at this time of year? 
  • Once you’ve collected resources, make piles and organize them based on your priorities, such as location, size of company, your interests - whatever makes the pile more manageable.  Then call some of the companies that interest you, but save the ones you want the most until you have your introduction perfected!  Ask about arranging an informational interview to gather information not readily available in the resources you already have.  Remember - this is not interviewing for a job, you are gathering information to explore opportunities.

Volunteering - Sometimes after gathering all the resources you can about an industry, you feel motivated to get further involved, even though the contacts you’ve made indicated they are not hiring - yet.  Building relationships is the key to being remembered, should an opportunity arise.  Volunteer for a fundraising event that an organization is holding.  Offer a few hours a week to help with some daily tasks.  Join a professional association or society recognized by the industry. Stay connected.

Looking Outside the Box - Finally, start thinking about opportunities where you least expect them.  We quite often get trapped into the mindset that we are educated in a certain field and therefore we must work in industries closely related to that field.  What makes a company run, regardless of the industry?  Think of how your skills as a history major might be an asset to the archive of a major bank.  What about using your knowledge of laboratory apparatus to help in the testing of scientific equipment?   The opportunities are endless once you start to think about how your skills can be applied.

Researching job opportunities now will better prepare you for your evolving career.  You will find some great leads for your co-op terms and your knowledge of the industry will impress interviewers.  Whether you are researching visible jobs or trying to uncover hidden opportunities, learn to use the resources available to you and great leads will come your way!