For those who just finished high school and are starting university in September, here is some homework to complete over the summer. It’s specifically for those starting Waterloo Engineering, but might be useful for other programs and universities too. It’s not compulsory, and you won’t get any marks for it. But if you do it, you’ll find yourself ahead of the class and much less stressed in September/October and beyond.
Assignment 1: Get Experience
Waterloo Engineering is all co-op (alternating 4 months of academic and work experience) starting in first year, and some are going to be starting job search and interviews in October (that’s only about 3 months from today). You don’t want to be applying for jobs with a blank resumé, so get some experience doing something. Get a job for the summer. If you can’t get a job, find some volunteer work to do. Anything is good as long as it’s significant, not just a few hours one day or a week. You want to do something that takes 20 to 40 hours a week for 6 to 8 weeks if possible. You want to have some significant stories that you can relate to prospective employers about the things you did, what you learned, how you handled adversity, how reliable you were, etc. The more experience you have at doing something for a sustained period of time, the more willing an employer will be to take a chance and hire you.
Assignment 2: Prepare a Resumé
You’re going to have to do this in September anyways, so get started now. It will take some pressure off later, and you’ll probably have a better result than rushing through something later. There are lots of online suggestions for preparing resumés, so just use Google and pick some to look at. The particular format doesn’t matter at this point; you can change it later if necessary. You just need to start thinking and putting down the things that help define you and your experiences, and that might be of interest and importance to an employer. Maybe try to get some feedback on your efforts from parents or others who frequently look at resumés. Don’t worry if you get conflicting feedback; there are a lot of different views on resumé formats and you can finalize it with our assistance when you get started at Waterloo .
Assignment 3: Manage Your Online Profile
Some employers apparently search online for information about applicants. If there is anything online that may be embarrassing or offensive for potential employers, try to get rid of it (although you may be out of luck if it’s been cached).
Start a LinkedIn profile, where you can elaborate on your background and experience. Make it as professional as you can. If you post a picture of yourself, try to get a good quality headshot like CEOs and executives have, not a silly or blurry photo. Don’t accept invitations for connections from anyone and everyone. Make sure they are meaningful connections (i.e. people you’ve actually met and know), and help to build-up the professional quality of your profile and network.
Assignment 4: Practise Interviewing
If you haven’t had much experience in job interviews, this can be the most scary part of the co-op program process (it certainly was for me!). Check with Google or YouTube for some tips and advice on what to expect during job interviews. Try to get a parent, family friend, or neighbour to give you a mock interview for a job (especially someone who regularly does interviews if possible). Ask them for feedback and ways to improve your interview performance. Get a suit (or other suitable business attire) and wear it during your mock interview so you can associate those clothes with your interview skills.
Assignment 5: Improve Office Software Skills
Most people can use a word processor, but if your skills are not very good it’s better to work on them now then later. Perhaps more importantly, make sure you can use a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel because you’re going to need it a lot. You should know how to use built-in functions, and how to create charts of various sorts with proper axis labels and formatting. There are lots of lessons online that you can look at or work through.
If you don’t have a copy of Microsoft Office, no need to run out and buy it yet (you can get a cheap student version at Waterloo: http://ist.uwaterloo.ca/admin/softwareforstudents.html). The Open Office software is free and has similar functionality to Microsoft’s Office, so good enough to practise with.
Assignment 6: Learn Some Programming Language
If you’ve already done a computer science course in high school or some other programming experience, you can skip this assignment. This is for people who have never had any programming experience at all and wouldn’t recognize a do-while loop if they tripped over it.
The point here is to get some familiarity with common programming logic and structures so it won’t be so completely new and foreign when you take your programming course in first year engineering (which will be September for Electrical, Computer, Mechatronics, Nanotechnology, and January or May for the rest). The specific language doesn’t matter so much, whether it’s Java, Pascal, one of the C variants, BASIC, whatever…? Look around online and try to find some good (free) tutorials or introductions. Or perhaps a book at the library, or a friend that knows something and can teach you.
So there it is, your summer/pre-university homework. You can go ahead and get started. Or, take the summer off and relax, and try to do all of that in the last couple of weeks of September (in addition to the work of 5 engineering courses). Lots of students do leave it all until September, and as an added bonus they get to learn the true meaning of the words “panic” and “stress” at a whole new post-secondary level.