note: I made these back in 2017. I am going back in 2020 to update info. These are just guidelines, be sure to ask your academic advisors for concrete advice.

2020 edit: This article in particular I’m not going to rewrite entirely but I don’t think co-op evaluations matter at all. After a certain point no one really cares (unless you had a very bad evaluation, but even then you don’t show it when applying to jobs externally), they just want to know where you worked/what you worked on.

Co-op Evaluations

Just like any course, the co-ops you do are graded by the companies on how well you performed.

From best to worst the rankings are:

  • Outstanding
  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Marginal
  • Unsatisfactory

“95.0% of co-op students receive ratings of very good to outstanding from employers”

CECA statement on the stat

In every scenario you should strive for outstanding or excellent, and try to avoid anything else. The co-op evals are another part of the co-op process that can help or hinder your future endeavors. In co-op interviews they will almost always look at your past evaluations. Similarly how employers tend to look at grades you did poorly in, they will talk about co-op evaluations.

I’m going to break down major reasons why co-op evaluations matter and why they don’t matter.

Why co-op evaluations matter

They matter because it is work experience. Aside from getting a job and working there, employers want to know if you worked well and if you were a good fit. You may work at a great company but if you got a “marginal” co-op review, every company forward will ask you in the interview “Why did you get marginal?”. (That is if you get the interview after receiving a low rating) They care because a bad rating indicates something bad about you or your job performance. Something you did made you receive that grade, and companies usually want to hire the best students. (Albeit hiring the best students for usually budget labour)

Future Co-ops I said this before, but a lot of WaterlooWorks companies look at these evaluations. When I looked for my second co-op, two of them saw my “Outstanding” from my previous co-op and asked me about that. The rating is ethereal in a sense, but holds a lot of weight in future co-ops. If your current employer gives you very good or excellent, try to ask for outstanding if they can. A small bump up in rating can help you tremendously in the long run.

Judging co-ops from the cover They say “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, but in this case the co-op evaluation is doing exactly that. Many future employers won’t see the nitty gritty of co-op evaluations, all they see is the one word rating. Similar to my side project post, from face value if someone had all outstanding evaluations vs someone who got all very good, who would you presume to be the better worker? Regardless of job prospects and skills, an outstanding worker is perceived to be guaranteed better. Unfortunately that is not always the case, and sometimes can’t tell your full side of the story.

Why co-op evaluations don’t matter

At the end of the day it is a one word rating for 4 months (or 8 months) of work. It’s hardly indicative of a four month period and the co-op evaluation probably went more in depth of the actual specifics of how you worked.

Graduation After graduation co-op evaluations tend to matter less (unless you explicitly put it on your resume if it was Outstanding). A lot of companies value work experience and may overlook co-op ratings since a lot of companies don’t necessarily put it as forthright as Waterloo and WaterlooWorks. After graduation, your work experiences, skillset, and side projects usually determine your job prospects. (Alongside a relevant degree, but that is usually a baseline among a lot of new grads)

It is just a word At the end of the day, it is just a word. A bad rating doesn’t mean you were a bad worker, but it did mean something was wrong. Either the manager didn’t like you, you didn’t perform up to standards, your work was too difficult, or some other reason. Most people skip over the decency of assuming it is just a word, a word that holds too much bearing. In the similar way that a bot can scan a transcript for marks, I don’t see it unfathomable for a bot to scan for applicants with no ‘very good’ or only ‘outstanding’. I think filtering by that metric is a much weaker indicator because if a company is looking for a developer and there is someone who got an excellent at IT, and someone else who got marginal at developing, you can’t tell. By those standards, you don’t want an IT person for a dev job, and employers don’t want marginal people.

What do I do if my employer gives me a bad evaluation?

I have had this question asked to me on multiple instances. My first thought is to show them the CECA link above saying “95% of students get very good evaluation or above”. A lot of employers may not know that the system is inflated, and might give you a very good thinking it is actually very good, when it actually isn’t. If you say that most people get some evaluation and you performed well, they may be enticed to raise up the rating.

Ask them to bump up your evaluation (in most cases it requires just putting the checkmark somewhere else on the page, unless you are changing from excellent to outstanding. Outstanding evaluation requires an extra writeup which most employers are too lazy to do unless you truly were stellar)

If they stay adamant to their decision there really isn’t much you can do. You asked, you showed them proof of the evaluations, and they still said no. In that case you just take their evaluation and move on.

Conclusion

Co-op ratings matter in the same way work experience matters. It is a rating given to assess your quality as a co-op student. It can poorly reflect your quality or overstate it, but in many cases no one will truly know that. It is a necessary part of co-op because of the nature of 4 month (and 8 month terms). No one can truly sum up a work period of that length in a readable format, unless you get a rating. Even the qualitative rating is better than a quantitative one.

Can you imagine co-op evaluations being a scale from 1-10? That would be horrendous. Imagine seeing a student comparing co-op scores to marks. You can be a 9.0 student in co-op but a 60s student in school, or people complaining they are only at 9.0 on co-op and they need 9.5+, since they are a 90s student in school. Having a number score instead has too many comparisons to school marks, and overall it is wouldn’t be perceived well.

I think co-op ratings matter, but it shouldn’t be a stressful thing. Co-op evaluations keep co-ops accountable for their work during the co-op and serve as a accolade or tarnish on their resume.