Lessons from a Co-op Outside of your Field

Lessons from a Co-op Outside of your Field

By: Sara Milosavic
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Having spent eight months working in an office environment, I solidified my suspicion that the office life is not for me. With that being said, I do not regret my first co-op experience at all. Why? Because it was the perfect starter job.

When I first began my co-op search, I told everybody that I would be working as a designer at Facebook, or Google. But soon, the realization hit. I didn’t have the experience for those kind of jobs! As a second-year student I felt intimidated by these large companies with even larger expectations.  After working for SFU International Services for Students (ISS), I am now much more confident to look for future jobs. Although I did not necessarily gain the technical skills I may have been searching for in the beginning, here are the lessons and skills I did learn, and why I value them much more than any technical skill.


In my office, I was the only designer and communicator. We also had three separate teams, with different goals and audiences. This lead to a lot of people asking me for things. My biggest takeaway from this job is that it is KEY to remain calm and organized. Once you start stressing out, you begin to cloud your mind with everything other than the task at hand. My strategy is to write all tasks down.

It seems very simple, but it could be very easy to not write something down, leave the meeting and then completely forget about it (this has happened once or twice…)! I learned my lesson, and now I write a daily, and even weekly, checklist to make sure I don’t miss anything in a panicked state. I have about 3 notebooks at my desk to keep myself focused and organized. Now maybe that’s a little excessive... but it works for me.


You could be the most talented person ever, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t work in a team. People are much more likely to hire somebody with okay technical skills and great teamwork skills rather than somebody who is great at many software applications but terrible to work with. Besides, in this day and age, you can find a tutorial on almost anything. It is much tougher to learn communication and cooperation. As I mentioned, in my position I was the only designer and marketer. If I did not have proper communication skills, nobody would trust me or enjoy working with me.


The biggest risk I have ever taken was deciding to go on exchange within only a couple of weeks working at SFU ISS. It was now or never and I was in the perfect position to just do it. After all, my whole job revolves around marketing how great studying abroad is. I guess I did such a good job that I even convinced myself! What really helped was being surrounded by colleagues who were there to support me and offer advice on such a big decision for me.

Now enough of talking about me. How does this relate to you? This risk I took on had set the tone for the rest of my work term. I was in a creative position that often allowed to redesign things and my coworkers trusted me to create something fun and unique. I realized that projects like that were the perfect opportunity to take risks in my designs and learn new techniques.

However, I did have a strategy to this. I did not want to recreate an entirely new design and show it on the day of the deadline, only for my coworker to hate it. I would update past posters as a fall back and sprinkle in some of my new ideas so that they would be given multiple options. This allowed room for more open collaboration and feedback because I was not tied to just one idea. Now not only was I proud of the design, I knew my coworkers were happy to see their idea come to life as they had envisioned it as well.

The point of this story is to never turn down any job that is not your most “ideal, perfect job”. It is guaranteed you will gain something out of any job, whether it be more experience, skills or even just some good friends! What I have learned throughout my experience is that your co-op term does not have to be super glamourous, but as long as you are open to the possibilities it may hold, you will find yourself to be much more enriched than when you first walked through the company doors.

Beyond the Article

  • Want more tips?  Read Ryan's reflection after being on the job for 24 months. 
  • Co-op is a great way to start saving money.  Ashley suggests some some ways to keep your wallet in check.
  • Just starting your Co-op work term? Tyler gives some advice on how to navigate a new workplace as a Co-op student.
Posted on February 10, 2019