In today’s competitive job market, co-op programs are a valuable option for eligible students.
Not only will you gain professional skills, you’ll also get practical hands-on experience in your field of study before you graduate. Maybe you’ll discover a new passion, or maybe you’ll realize the specific role isn’t for you. Regardless, your foot in the door is your one step ahead of the competition, so when you graduate you feel more confident to walk right in.
Make the most of your co-op experience so when you graduate, you can open up doors to your dream career.
Treat every day like a learning opportunity
The first week at your new workplace will be orientation and training, introductions to your colleagues, and getting comfortable in your new role and work environment. Eventually, you will become accustomed to your daily and weekly tasks, and become more involved in other ad hoc projects.
Don’t fall into a rut – it’s important that you always feel challenged, and learn something new every day, no matter how small. Don’t wait for people to approach you with new information, seek it out! For example, if you’re working on a data-entry specific task, find a way to streamline your process by learning keyboard shortcuts.
If you are in need of a challenge, ask your supervisor for more ways to be involved with team assignments. You’re a student, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a lasting impact on an organization! Employers value workers who are enthusiastic about the work they can do, so they will likely come up with something new for you to help with.
Ask questions and join the conversation
During your first week, discuss expectations with your supervisor so you can set goals and objectives for a successful work term. Attend staff meetings, take note of key discussions, and don’t feel intimidated to ask questions.
If you have an idea, express it with confidence. Think of yourself as a contract student employee, not a coffee-grabbing intern. There are no dumb questions, especially when you are learning the ropes of a new workplace. Besides, it’s far better to ask and feel silly for five minutes than to feel silly your entire work term not knowing the answer to your question.
Learn from mistakes and ask for feedback
As a first-time employee in the workforce, your supervisor will expect you to make mistakes. Remember, you were selected to be a part of the team, and your colleagues and managers want you to succeed.
Ask for feedback when it isn’t overtly expressed. In a co-op role, you aren’t given a grade after every assignment like in school. If you’ve worked on something really hard and only get a small tap on your shoulder as an appraisal, ask your supervisor what they thought of it and how you can improve for future projects. This shows your initiative and willingness to grow from constructive criticism.
Keep track of all your tasks and contributions
It’s important to write down everything you’ve contributed and have worked on at your placement. Not only does this make writing your co-op work term report at the end much easier, it will help you enhance your portfolio and explain your learning experiences to future employers.
Writing it all down also keeps track of your learning objectives for the term: did you fulfill everything you possibly could in your required job duties? Or is there more that could be done in this area?
Keep in touch and grow your network
Of course, make friends with your co-workers! You are in a prime position to meet people from all levels of your organization and learn about their own work experiences. Connect with your supervisors on LinkedIn and broaden your professional virtual network. These will be your future references, so be sure to make a great impression and cultivate that relationship even after you complete your work term.
Choose Your Tactic: Many Placements vs. One
If you are unsure about what kind of future career path you want to take, consider the many placements approach, as it exposes you to more options. If you’re there for only one work term, chances are you won’t be making any big decisions on certain long-lasting projects happening during your placement. However, with two to three different workplaces during the year, you get to dabble in different environments, expand your network and career options, and broaden the scope of your professional skills.
If you’re in your first work term and absolutely love it, see yourself moving up in this job role, or are working on a project you want to see to the end, try to stay as long as you can at that placement. Organizations would much rather keep an experienced co-op student on for another term so there is less training and more working. If you truly enjoy and see yourself advancing within the organization, create firm ties with your co-workers and take on large projects, so you’ll have a higher chance of landing a job with them after graduation. Your skills acquired from your role are also more refined with time, which is important for future job postings where employers look for length of experience for required skills.
Remember, what you get out of this experience is entirely up to you. Make the most out of your work term by showing initiative and a positive attitude, so you’ll be prepared and confident for your job search after graduation.