The possibility of failing to secure a co-op isn’t something that’s often talked about in the BPR program. Aside from the occasional stress-induced joke about never landing a job, students generally avoid the subject. The Co-op Office doesn’t regularly mention the possibility either, likely in an effort to keep students motivated to find a position. These reasons are both valid, but they create a stigma around forced deferrals. I talked to a BPR alumna, now working in Halifax, about her experience failing to secure a co-op and lessons learned.
Brittany was a good student in high school. She had strong interpersonal skills and an affinity for writing, so when a career counselor suggested she try PR, she knew it would be a good fit. She made the move to Halifax and began excelling in the program, particularly in the writing courses.
Then the co-op process started. Prior to starting interviews, Britany was apprehensive. She didn’t have any practical PR experience, and felt like everyone around her knew what they were doing. “I think that’s a common thing – you feel like everyone else has their shit together and you’re the only one who doesn’t,” she said. “I know now that that isn’t the case, but at the time it felt that way.”
The first round of interviews started, and success wasn’t coming. While people around Brittany were landing jobs, she had trouble landing interviews. Her confidence waned. She figured weak cover letters were to blame, so she reached out to the Co-op Office for help. This proved futile. While the Co-op Office was entirely willing to help Brittany, it’s their job to help every student. This made it hard for Brittany to stand out – everyone was being helped in the same way she was.
As time went on without any job offers, Brittany grew fearful of what her lack of success meant. At the time, forced deferral wasn’t something regularly talked about by the Co-op Office, giving Brittany the impression she was the first student to ever fail at securing a co-op. This sense of isolation and lack of information made the experience especially challenging.
“I remember the last week to secure a position super clearly – it was the last week of May,” recalls Brittany. “I was trying to keep hopeful the whole month, but it was getting harder. People had already started their co-ops and I was still looking. I didn’t give up hope until the last day. At that point, it was an automatic deferral.”
Though she reflects on how hard that day was, Brittany only gave herself one day to wallow. All she could do was move forward, so she immediately began strategizing to improve her future odds. Intimidated by the fact that she would be interviewing with students pursuing their second co-ops when she was going after her first, she set her sights on getting a good PR-related summer job.
Finding work proved more difficult than Brittany anticipated. Most summer positions called for a year of experience, rendering her unqualified. She started doing one-off volunteer gigs in hopes of finding something more substantial.
The plan worked: Brittany was offered part-time volunteer PR work with a local real estate agent. Thinking ahead, she used this as an opportunity to take summer classes in order to lighten her future course load. She even managed to turn the experience around in her mind, “I ended up enjoying it! It wasn’t what I expected for the summer, but it worked out. It was my first summer living in Halifax so I also took it as an opportunity to explore and get to know the city in my spare time.”
The second time interviewing for her first co-op, Brittany came prepared. She discovered that Counseling Services offers interview help, and took advantage of the service. Armed with new work experience and improved interview skills, Brittany felt confident. Employers liked that although she didn’t secure a first co-op, she persevered by working an unpaid position. Her confidence soared when she landed her first co-op with at a federal government organization. They were particularly interested in her volunteer experience, so she attributed much of her newfound success to that summer gig.
Brittany’s PR triumphs didn’t end there. After a busy first work term, it was time for co-op number two. She was excited to get an interview with an oil and gas company, but she was nervous. “When I got the call from the Co-op Office saying I got the job, I didn’t believe them at first!”
Not only did Brittany land the job, she excelled in the position. So much so, that a month into the term, her supervisor asked her to come back for her third co-op. It was a surreal moment for Brittany – she couldn’t believe how far she had come.
When asked how she feels about her co-op experience at The Mount, Brittany is contemplative: “I don’t know if the possibility of failing to secure a co-op should be discussed more or not. I wish it was presented more as something that happens and isn’t the end of the world. At the same time, I understand that it can be a difficult balance to strike because there needs to be some urgency to spark motivation.”
If you find yourself having trouble securing a co-op, Brittany advises you to be proactive. “I know this is hard, but you should do some self-reflection. Ask yourself why it isn’t happening, and try to be honest with yourself. Figure out how to improve your chances for next time. For me it was my interview skills and my lack of experience. Once I identified those things, I worked to improve them.”
When asked if she would go back and change her experience, Brittany is unsure. “The hardest part about the whole experience was the doubt. I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for PR since so many other people landed something and I didn’t. But the doubt didn’t last long – I got over it. This is cheesy, but conquering something like this made me a stronger person. It gave me a thicker skin. I knew I would be okay.”