7 Tips on how to find your first food industry co-op/internship

One of the biggest pieces of advice that we give students here at FoodGrads is to take advantage of internship/co-op positions whenever possible. There are many benefits to co-op positions including:

  • Gaining practical work experience that you can put on your resume 
  •  Discovering what you like and don’t like 
  •  Earning money while in school

Securing a co-op position job while still in school can be challenging, especially if you have limited or no work experience. However, with strategic planning and an early start, you can take control of your career path and set yourself up for success, making the process less daunting and more manageable.

So here are seven tips on how to get an internship/co-op position in the food industry.

1. Tell everyone you know  

As a student, you likely lack an extensive network of people in your field of interest. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any network. 

When you begin searching for a co-op position, it’s a good idea to let everyone know. By everyone, we mean the people you are close to such as friends and family and people you are acquainted with, such as your dentist or hairdresser. It’s also a good idea to ask your parents or family members to investigate if any of their acquaintances know of companies hiring for food industry co-op positions. You never know what could could come from just asking around.

Veronica Hislop, host of the FoodGrads Podcast shared how she found her first co-op position on episode 14 of the FoodGrads Podcast.

 “I actually found my first co-op position through my boyfriend’s mother’s boss’s cousin.” – Veronica Hislop

Veronica exemplifies why it is essential you tell everyone. You never know who knows who. Your next co-op position might be one conversation away!

2. Attend career fairs

Career fairs are not just events, they are opportunities. Attending industry-specific career fairs can give you direct access to potential employers who are actively looking to hire for full-time, part-time, co-op, and internship positions. These fairs also serve as excellent platforms for face-to-face interactions with employers, allowing you to showcase your skills and make a lasting impression. 

It’s important that you are adequately prepared and know about dates ahead of time. For example, we host our own virtual career fair called The Tasting Room for students of our Education Partner schools. At this event, you will have the chance to network with food and beverage industry employers who are looking to hire full-time, summer, or co-op opportunities. If this event applies to you, then schedule it into your calendar today so you can be ready!

Career fairs can occur very early in the semester, sometimes even at the end of your first month. If the career fair is in person, you should have an updated resume, business cards, a business-appropriate outfit, and, of course, research on every company. All these steps will give you an advantage over the competition.  

 If you are looking to prepare we have an entire guide on the subject complete with a checklist.

3. Reach out to people who work in the industry

There is a lot of value in talking to people and learning from their past experiences. Not everyone has a co-op position they can just offer you, but they might have knowledge which can help land that dream internship.  

If you are interested in certain positions or a company then reach out to individuals on LinkedIn who match this description. When sending a connection make sure that you take the time to craft a short blurb with your invite. This demonstrates that have the are looking for a genuine connection and not just sending invites out on mass. A simple message could be:

“Hello [Name], I am a student looking to learn more about you and your current role. Would you be available for a brief 15 minute phone interview where I could ask you questions?”

Be specific about amount of time and your intentions. These conversations can be valuable because they could provide you with insight about the company or hiring procedures. You never know where these conversations could lead you. Sometimes they might even lead you to a life long friend!

4. Reach out to employers directly 

This might not be a fan-favorite method, but it can work and lead to positive results. Although this is sometimes called “cold calling,” it can yield positive results. To do this, reach out to individuals who work in the HR department of the company you are interested in and message them on LinkedIn or email. In your message, explain that you are a student seeking a co-op position, express your admiration for the company, and ask if there are any potential openings. Here is a sample email you could send to a hiring director:

Hello Mr/Ms. Hiring Manager,

My name is [Your Name] and I am 3rd year student studying chemistry at XYZ University. I’m looking for summer work as an__________________. I wanted to reach out because I really admire what your company does. Would you know of any opportunities?

Thank you,
First Name

If you receive a response, it’s important to reply promptly and politely without making excessive demands. However, it is important to keep in mind that this may not be the most effective way to find a role. It’s better to focus on finding a role through networking. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from a cold-call!

5. Attend networking events/tradeshows  

Just because you are a student, it doesn’t mean that you cannot attend tradeshows and networking events. Tradeshows provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the key players in your industry and discover new companies you may not have known existed. Sometimes, speaking to a person at a booth may even lead you to a job lead. Even if you don’t receive job leads, tradeshows are still great places to learn about the latest innovations in your field.

Networking events, on the other hand, can open many doors that could potentially land you a job. They help you build relationships and provide valuable learning experiences. You may connect with someone who was once in your position and who can give you great advice.

6. Search Job Boards

Despite all the other methods sometimes you just have to rely on a tried and true method of applying for jobs online. Luckily for you FoodGrads has it’s own job board dedicated to bringing you food and beverage job postings. There are a lot of websites and job boards you can go to for job postings — but many of them cover a broad range of careers. Other examples of food/beverage related job boards include: 

7. Look for internship programs all year round

Finally, we understand that balancing school with a personal life is tough. However, it is crucial that you set aside a little time each week to search for an internship. 

It is crucial to set aside a little time each week to search for an internship, even though school can be overwhelming. Before starting your search, ensure that your resume, LinkedIn profile, and any relevant portfolios are current. That way you can avoid the last-minute scramble when you find an interesting opportunity. 

If you are interested in getting a summer internship, it is recommended to start looking for one in October of the previous year. Big companies that have well-established co-op programs may even begin accepting applications as early as September. Mid-sized companies usually have application deadlines in February, March, or April. 

Don’t panic if you still can’t find an internship in June. Some companies aren’t as organized and only end up making job postings in May or June.  

Author: Veronica Hislop is a PhD Candidate in the Molecular Science program at Toronto Metropolitan  University. She is also a career partner with FoodGrads and has work experience in the food processing industry working both in R&D and QA.

Currently, she is performing research on water-in-oil emulsions stabilized by fat crystals. When she is not following her scientific endeavors you can find her enjoying Japanese anime, manga and video games.

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