5 tips for a successful co-op work term

Erin Written by Erin (she/her), student

You’ve crushed your interviews, received a job offer, and now you’re getting ready for your first week in your new co-op job. So, what are some things you should consider before you start your first co-op work term? Here are my five tips for success in co-op.

1. Learn the culture

One of the most important tips for success I can give you is to learn the culture of your workplace. Pay attention to how your co-workers behave and learn the nuances of the department/company. On my last co-op term, the company was super focused on safety. Safety moments and tips were always shared and looked for by management and co-workers. The focus on safety definitely influenced my day-to-day activities in the workplace.

Some great things to consider

  • Are work hours set at nine to five or is it a more flexible schedule?
  • What is the meeting etiquette like? Is it more formal or informal?
  • What are the people wearing? Do they have casual Fridays?
  • What are the company's core values? Can you see them at play in the workplace?

By looking for these cues, you can get a better feel for your workplace and the expectations your boss and coworkers may have.

2. Get involved 

Many workplaces have a co-op student committee or a corporate social events team of some sort. These committees organize events to get employees involved and boost morale. The student committee at my workplace organized networking events, lunch outings, LinkedIn photo shoots, and so much more. Not only did I make great friends, but I also learned a lot about other departments in the company. Plus, it really helped me build my LinkedIn connections!

A small office gathering.

3. Network

Get to know your co-workers! Often times, you’re surrounded by many interesting individuals who can offer you great advice and life lessons. Take this opportunity to grab coffee with colleagues, set up meetings and pick the brain of people you admire in your workplace. This is a great way to network, develop mentorship relationships, and learn more about what you’re interested in as a career. This also shows initiative and a desire to learn, and may allow you to get involved in other aspects of the company.

4. Don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for work

Employers appreciate a willingness to learn, so don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand or when you’re curious about different things.

It’s better to get the information necessary to do a project well than trying to make it up as you go.

Make sure you develop a good relationship with your manager, so you have that open communication line.

There are also lots of different ongoing projects in a company and day-to-day operations that are supported by various teams and departments.

If you come across an area or project of interest that you’d love to be involved in, don’t be afraid to ask if you can help in any way.

This is a great way to show initiative, explore your passions, and connect with different members of your department. Plus, there is no downside to asking.


A co-op student speaking in a meeting.

5. Don't be afraid to fail

As cliché as it sounds, you learn through your failures as much as you do though your successes. Plus, co-op is a great place to fail! You’re surrounded by support from your employer. No one expects you to be perfect, just to try your best. So, keep that in mind when you walk into a new workplace.

Aamir, third-year Environment and Business student at Waterloo, says he's thankful for his co-op experiences at Waterloo!

"Co-op has really given me the freedom to learn about different industries and has helped me to learn more about myself, the things I like to do, and what I’m good at. In my case, it’s sales and marketing. Co-op has also allowed me to expand my network and work on impactful projects!"

He adds that during his last work term, he played an integral part in training new interns and led a co-op student-led initiative to expand Microsoft’s technology to university campuses across Canada. "With the right team and support, there’s really no limit to what you can learn and accomplish during a work term - something I’m truly grateful for!

Co-op has really given me the freedom to learn about different industries and has helped me to learn more about myself, the things I like to do, and what I’m good at.

Aamir, third-year Environment and Business student

There you have it! My top five tips for success on your co-op job. No matter where you work or what you do, remember to be confident in your abilities and never shy away from an opportunity to learn and grow. Best of luck!

Learn more about Waterloo's co-op program.


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