Want to make the most out of your co-op this term? I've got you covered!
So, you're about to start your co-op term. You’re probably experiencing all kinds of feelings: nervousness, excitement, doubt, the list goes on and on. But, putting those emotions aside, you want to make the most out of this experience and do your best! When it comes to co-op, there are certain expectations that you will need to meet and specific goals that you set for yourself to reach during the four or eight months that you will be working. How about if you go one step further and try to exceed those expectations and goals? Now, I know it’s easier said than done, but nothing’s impossible, remember that. Whether it’s your first work term or last, you always want to give more than 100%! Let’s do this!
Tip #1: Understand your expectations
At the start of your co-op, take some time to clarify what is expected of you and what expectations you want to set for yourself this work term. It’s better to have some idea of what you want to achieve than having no idea. Approach your supervisor and ask them about their expectations for you, and even think about following up with a question like, “What actions can I take now to improve my ability to most effectively deliver on your expectations?” This way, not only will you know what you should be working towards, but also how you can accomplish it. Recognize what the company/organization needs from you and give it your all!
In my personal experience, at the beginning of my co-op, I asked my supervisor what her expectations for my work were. Knowing this information helped guide me through my tasks and projects, and made it clear what goals I should be aiming for. Then, halfway through my work term (during midterm evaluations), I followed up with my supervisor to see if I had been meeting her expectations up to this point and what actions I could be taking to improve. I found this to be super useful moving forward, as it allowed me to know what I should keep doing and what I needed to work on to make the most of my co-op! Take it from me, familiarizing yourself with your work expectations right from the start will do a lot for you in the end.
Tip #2: When in doubt, ask! (and take notes)
I think a lot of us have this common fear of asking questions, or “too many” questions because we feel that we would be bothering someone by doing this. In reality, it’s actually good, if not better, to ask questions when you don’t know the answer. If you don’t understand something or need more clarification on a project, would you rather take a guess or get the right answer? Just ask! Of course, make sure that you are putting in some effort and jotting down notes when asking these questions Not only will this give you information to refer to later on, but it will prevent you from repeating the same questions and show your supervisor and co-workers how determined you are to learn and improve.
Something that I find really helpful is always having my notebook and pen with me every time I am in a meeting, where I have my past notes right next to me and can write down any important points brought up. You are not going to know everything, and that’s more than okay, it’s part of the experience after all! So, go out there and ask questions.
Tip #3: Explore and try something new
Take this co-op opportunity to expand your skills and to try out different things. Don’t spend all your time at the company on just your work, but also try to lend a hand in other projects as well! See what other departments need help with or tasks you could work on to explore other parts of the company. Get in on more meetings and activities. By doing this, you can meet new people, discover something different that you didn’t know about before and it can make your time at the organization that much more enjoyable.
Also, consider spending some time working on personal projects or learning how to use a specific platform or tool. If you are struggling with this, speak to your supervisor/manager and let them know about your interests. Going that extra mile to learn more and grow your experiences will do a lot for you now and in the future.
This reminds me of the time when I interviewed Daynica Fisher, a Waterloo co-op alum, who shared how for one of her co-ops she worked with a lot of different teams at the company. The team she spent the most time with, the recruiting team, ended up leading her to a great opportunity later on. After graduating, she got an offer to return to that same company and work on the team full-time! Pretty cool, right?
Tip #4: Don’t be shy, network some more!
Good old networking! Not only does co-op provide you with rewarding work experience, but it also opens the door to expanding your network. Make the most out of your co-op and take the time to connect with various people. Get to know the person, listen to their career journey and try building a good relationship with them. Have trouble getting started? No problem! Here are a few tips:
- Be kind and show a smile! When talking to someone, you always want to be personable and show interest in the conversation.
- Look out for invites to company events or volunteering opportunities. This is a good chance for you to introduce yourself to more people and develop your skills.
- Connect with your colleagues on LinkedIn. Why not? You will find that most people are on it, and you can learn more about them. Also, this is a good way to keep in touch!
Networking works both ways, a person can help you and you can help them, but your intention should always be that you truly want to get to know the person. Don’t just ask them for a favour, come in with a generous mindset. By going out there, introducing yourself to others, and offering a helping hand, you will be able to build a good reputation for yourself at the company. The chance to speak with professionals working in your industry is an amazing opportunity, so treasure it, because it could help lead you to something great one day!
Tip #5: The learning never stops
We are lifelong learners, we NEVER stop learning no matter how old we get. You’re not always going to get something right the first time. There will be times when you mess up, but how else are we going to get better? Co-op is a learning experience and part of that experience is being challenged with something new and trying to overcome it. However, make sure that you aren’t making the same mistakes over and over again, you want to keep improving.
A good habit to get into is to always ask your supervisor or manager for feedback on a project you have worked on or how your performance is so far. This will help you see what you are doing well and should keep doing, and what you need to build on. Write down all the feedback you receive, understand it and then apply it to your work. Taking that initiative to ask for feedback and using it will prove to others and yourself that you are putting in the time and effort to be successful in your co-op!
This is farewell
Yay! You made it to the finish line. I hope this helped give you a better idea of how to approach your co-op term coming up. I’ve definitely learned something, that’s for sure! I know co-op can be stressful at times and it's not always going to be easy, but this is how you’ll progress in your career. Keep in mind the tips I have shared with you today, take those risks and try it out! Like Rocky Balboa says, “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Words of motivation from the one and only Sylvester Stallone. (FYI don't worry! I'm not going anywhere, this was just my goodbye to this blog. See you in the next one!)
About the author
Social Media Campaign Coordinator
Fatima Muni is an Arts and Business co-op student at Waterloo and is currently completing her second co-op term at the University of Waterloo, as a Social Media Campaign Coordinator for Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE). One of the main projects she is working on this term is writing blogs for the Co-operative Education blog page. To date, she has written about helpful co-op tips and student co-op experiences, and continues to write more blogs to share information that can benefit other co-op students! Feel free to check out Fatima's LinkedIn.