Western’s MLIS program is notable for its co-op program. I recently applied for a co-op placement with success. The experience involved a lot of work and anxiety, but it paid off. I will write about my experience in this post and provide advice for anyone curious. The information here is relevant as of 2014.
Attend the Information Session
Though there’s a site on the FIMS intranet with all relevant information, attend the session at the beginning of term as the hosts will explain the process and discuss details you may miss on your own. They also invited former co-op students to speak about their experience and provided invaluable insight.
Take note of the forms that you must fill out and their submission deadline. They will all be on the intranet. Also, remember the format and order that the applications must be sent in (PDF format with cover letter, resume and referees) and the way to title emails as it will make life easier for the co-op office.
The Types of Postings
All posting are on the SharePoint site. You can expect 35-45 postings each term. Some hire a maximum of two. Placements will list how long the position is and if there is a possibility of a four month extension. Pay is decent, but I have seen one as low as $14/hour to as high as $26/hour, while some only listed a salary. Some postings don’t list pay, but you can ask them during the interview. You can also arrange your own co-op placement.
The majority of placements are in corporate, academic or government libraries; public libraries and archives are rarely posted, numbering at one or two maximum. The majority are in southern Ontario, though there are a few postings for Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.
Take note of whether or not you have to provide documents such as proof of citizenship, addresses, etc. in the government postings. The PSC form can be found on the site. Some businesses may request a clearance check.
The postings will demand various skills across the spectrum of the information field. Some are interested only in technical skills, reference, teaching, digitization, project management, etc.
A few are posted after the application deadline. Generally, not many apply to them, so it may be an opportunity for some. They provide a week’s time to submit an application.
Rarely, a placement will be unfilled and then will be reposted. As most people by then will have gotten a placement, it’s an opportunity to have one last try at getting a spot.
How Many Should I Apply to?
Though administration recommends that applicants apply for 8-10 positions, personal circumstances will influence you. Factors to consider is whether or not you are geographically bound, willing to relocate, the post actually interests you, the pay, if you think you’re qualified, availability to apply/be interviewed that much, etc. There is nothing wrong with just applying to one, but remember that you will have competition and you may know who they are and their qualifications.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose and you will be doubting the numbers no matter what. Keep in mind though, quantity does not necessarily yield results. I have known those who applied between 8-10 positions, but got no placements. I personally applied to 5 because I was geographically and financially limited and got a placement. What you should really do is make sure your applications are well written.
Writing Cover Letters/Resumes
Attend the resume/cover letter workshop offered each term, as it is geared towards those planning to apply for co-op or graduating soon. The cover letter is one page long. The resume is two pages long. Take notes on how to write a summary of qualifications and how to organize and format your resume.
Your resume should be tailored to meet the interests of the specific employer you are applying to; create a unique resume for each application. Things you can list include technical skills, relevant courses, transferable skills, extracurricular involvement, awards received and association memberships. Make sure to spell the degree as “Master of Library and Information Science,” without an ‘s.’ These details and others are covered in the workshop.
For cover letters, there is a formula of introduction, body paragraphs and then conclusion. Mention some of the key terms in the job posting in your cover letter. Write original cover letters to each position; don’t even think about sending a vague, generic cover letter. It may take a lot of time and effort (it took me at least two hours for each application) but your chances of getting an interview and placement will improve. The cover letter is the first contact you will have with potential employers. Do you think they’ll be impressed with a generic cover letter when there are others competing for the job? There are a lot of posts, but you’ll be competing against your fellow students, which may be a daunting task. Put in every effort to get a placement.
With referees, it’s been recommended to list one former employer and professor. This is not mandatory. I used two former employers as I felt they were qualified to talk about my abilities, as I have known them for years. It’s up to you to decide who’s best. Make sure to inform the referees about using them. Send them your latest resume and co-op postings you’re applying to so they can prepare to talk about you.
Do I Need Previous Library Experience?
Though one imagines co-op as the beginning of your professional career, getting any kind of library experience (volunteering, employment, student groups) prior to applying will always improve your chances. Western and London have many opportunities for you to get library experience in various aspects of librarianship or other applicable skills like dealing with budgets, customer service, liaising, etc. Check out the library’s website for job postings or contact student groups to learn about volunteer opportunities. One of the most popular is the Pride Library. Experience is important because interviewers will be asking about previous experience, so it’s good if you can draw anything from your past.
That being said, I know some who had none or limited (read: months) work experience in a library or only volunteered and managed to get a placement. The issue is that you are able to sell yourself during an interview. Show them you have transferable or technical skills that others don’t.
You will always be emailed about whether or not you got an interview for a placement. If an interview is requested, the email will list the time and place and you will reply to confirm the time. I do not think you can reschedule. Interviews typically last from 30-45 minutes, though some may be shorter but never longer as they usually interview applicants right after the other.
I will describe the preparation needed for these interviews because it will be related to the questions they will ask. Research the employer. Look at their website and learn about their activities. What do they do? If they have a catalogue, search it to see the contents and medium of what they have and take note of it. What electronic resources do you think they have? Remember the vendors/titles/databases. Think about the metadata or software they may be using. Show them that you have a personal interest in their organization, as opposed to just finding a job.
Look at the job description and record the key terms. Find resources that define them and explains the process of these terms (i.e. knowledge management, web taxonomy, metadata). You must look beyond the classroom. There will probably be entire books dedicated to them. Find publications that are recent so you are current about the issues.
Think back to your previous work/volunteer experience and schooling. Think of situations where you had to be a leader, showed initiative, applied technical skills, collaborated, demonstrated oral skills, etc. Think of examples where it didn’t work well and what you could have done differently.
Why are you in this program? How are you qualified for the position?
Lastly, think about questions that you want to ask the interviewer. You can ask about wage (if not listed) and anything else.
There are several types of interviews: phone, in-person and Skype. They are all held at the North Campus Building. The interview rooms have a page on their door identifying a schedule for interview times and for which position.
For phone interviews, I would recommend bringing notes. You can also use paper to record their questions. You will be interviewed by one or two people. Bring a beverage with you. It’s hard to tell what’s going on as you can’t read their body language. Avoid stuttering whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with pausing.
With in-person interviews, there is usually at least two people interviewing you. Dress professionally. The co-op site will have a PDF with a list of generic questions that you should read and answer.
Then there are Skype interviews. You should also dress well. Be aware of your body language.
Questions can range from the situational, defining terms, technical, listing things, anecdotal to interviewers picking up what you said and spawning questions from there. Expect a variety of questions. Some interviewers will be very strict with you answering the questions while others are more conversational.
Remember: you may have many interviews and you could even have several in a single day. Manage your time and seriously think before you send your applications about whether or not you can handle that many interviews. I know some who had ten interviews during the narrow interviewing period.
After interviews, some will begin contacting referees.
After the interviews, you are expected to rank your placements from first to last preference. You can only rank placements you were interviewed for. There is an algorithm that gives a value based on how high or low you ranked each position, and then that number is added with the number that came from the employers’ ranking. The combined number that is the lowest will match applicants with a placement. You can choose to not rank a placement if you don’t want to work there.
You have to give a lot of consideration to your rankings. I have known those who got their first choice, while others have gotten their second or third ranking. You could be strategic and think about how high to rank something to increase your chances of getting a particular placement. In the end, I and others would recommend that you just rank by what’s your favourite and remember how you performed in your interviews.
The Waiting Game
After submitting your ranking form, you’ll be waiting a few days to hear about the placements. You will experience a lot of anxiety and contemplating how you could have done things differently. It will consume your body and soul up until the minute you find out.
They announce placements by the order of earliest co-op post. Co-op placements will be announced throughout the day, so don’t worry if it’s 5 pm and you still haven’t heard back. The co-op office will inform you if you didn’t get a placement.
You cannot reject the placement you’re given.
Don’t Hate Yourself if you Don’t get a Placement
Due to the number of people applying, some will not get a placement. Don’t panic.
Based on anecdotal evidence, getting a co-op as a first termer is rare unless you have specific skills/work experience. There is always next term. Some who failed to obtain a position the first time got one the second time around. After going through it the first time, you will know a lot about the co-op process and can prepare for the next semester. You have also gained experience in writing professional cover letters and resumes and being interviewed.
Statistically speaking, the most competitive time to get a co-op is in the summer. However, Winter term placements has the lowest number of applicants, so your chances are better then. In the meantime, gain experience through volunteering/working on campus and get involved with student groups. It’s possible to get a co-op with a limited amount of library experience.
After Getting a Placement
Your employer will contact you via email and will have things for you to fill out and finalize. Some offer employment after the placement.
Attend the final co-op meeting to learn about the reports you have to write, fees to pay and enrolling into the placement (you have to enroll into co-op like a class) and ask about anything else.
You can take courses while on co-op, but you have to have at least one course to complete after you’re finished your placement. Make sure to change your student status to part-time if necessary (you will be emailed instructions).
You can apply for financial aid while on co-op. You can also have interest-free status by filling out the appropriate form.
If you need to relocate, checkout this blog about living in different cities. Also keep your rent receipts because they can be claimed on tax forms.
That’s all I have to say. If I’ve forgotten anything or if you want to share your experience, feel free to comment. Good luck to all future applicants!