Important lessons that I have learned over the course of my past co-op terms

Tuesday, January 17, 2023
by Ryan, AFM student

As some students will be starting their first co-op term soon, I wanted to share important lessons that I have learned over the course of my past co-op terms as an Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) student; to maximize your impact and your personal development.

Learn the mechanics quickly

If you have minimal experience in tools like PowerPoint and Excel, it can be challenging to understand the bigger picture. By learning PowerPoint and Excel shortcuts, the technical skills you use will allow you more time for executing and more time thinking about what is really going on. It is exceedingly difficult to understand the more sophisticated elements of your role, including the bigger picture, when you are deeply focused on learning the mechanics.

Ask questions early

No one will mind spending time with you at the start of a task or engagement to help you understand what to do. Take that time to learn as much as you can about the task, why it is relevant to the bigger picture and any best practices that you can utilize or potential challenges you will face. The more time passes and the closer you get to a deadline the less time and patience people will have for questions and the more impactful potential errors will become. Ask lots of questions early and ensure you clearly clarify expectations to make your work as useful as possible. In addition to asking questions about your work, ask questions about your role. Try to understand the dynamics of your team and how you personally contribute to achieving team objectives to make your work more purposeful.

Make your work easy to review

The people you work with are busy. They are often balancing multiple competing priorities and on top of that, are responsible for the work you produce. To make your colleagues’ lives easier, understand how they will review your work and streamline that process. It can be as simple as leaving notes in cells with reference to exactly where you found specific numbers or information. It is also helpful to flag areas of concern or challenge to direct heightened levels of attention towards uncovering a potential mistake.

Ask for feedback every day

You do not need to wait for formal review opportunities to ask for feedback. Every time you submit work for review try to get feedback. To make feedback more effective, instead of asking for general feedback each time, try asking for your colleagues’ thoughts on specific things. For example, mentioning that you struggled to highlight certain information effectively or that you thought there were better ways to approach an analysis, allows your colleagues to provide more focused and relevant advice since they are asked about specific pieces of work. Beyond this, when receiving feedback, it is important to clearly understand why your work was inadequate so you can improve and avoid repeating similar errors.

See Ryan's original LinkedIn post.