Surviving Your First Co-op

Surviving Your First Co-op

By: Megan Heesterman | Communication Co-op Student
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We will all finish our co-op term with a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and liberation, but getting to this point is no walk in the park. Some of our co-op experiences will prove more challenging than others. I would argue that my first co-op term was more towards the challenging end of the spectrum but it offered me a chance to learn new skills and grow as a person.

The first challenge I faced was communication. Communication is arguably the most important function in any organization, yet during my co-op semester, I felt I lacked a clear understanding of my role and responsibilities, and also in specific tasks that were required of me. I tried to work through the fog and come to an understanding on my own. However, this only made problems worse, as I was not meeting the expectations because they had not been communicated to me. It quickly became apparent that I had to actively work to bring effective communication into the workplace. Here are some strategies for doing so:

ASK QUESTIONS!  If you feel as though you lack a clear understanding of your role,    responsibilities, expectations and deadline, or whatever it may be, ASK!

As you ask these questions TAKE NOTES and refer back to them as you go in order to maintain a clear direction and understanding of your role or task.

ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE; by engaging in effective communication with co-workers you can create a more cohesive work term and enforce positive ways of communicating with one another.

My second challenge was negative criticism. Having your hard work critiqued, or in some cases, torn to shreds, is not easy to take! Not all criticism is constructive, but if you’re able to turn the negative criticism around, you may learn more in the end and grow as a person. Here are some tips for swallowing negative criticism:

Don't get defensive, even if feedback is not delivered in the most constructive manner.  Acting defensive will only heighten tension and hinder you and your co-worker's ability to move forward.

Try not to take criticism personally.  It is important to separate your feelings from your work environment and realize that critique of your work is not a critique of your character.

Stay positive; while it may be disheartening to receive criticism, remember the positive work and the important qualitites that you bring to the table.

Lastly and most importantly, move forward.  Hanging onto this feedback will only foster resentment for your co-workers.

The third challenge I faced was the lack of training, which I have found to be a common theme as I listened to other co-op student’s experiences. Many of us will be thrown into roles where we lack training and necessary experience. And when starting out, we often must rely on a “fake it til’ you make it” mentality. Here are some tips on training yourself:

Problem Solve.  Make Google your best friend; trouble shoot to the best of your ability before asking a co-worker;

Do your homework.  Sometimes taking your work home with you can be vital in surviving your work term.  Take time out of your day to learn more about the programs that you're using, for example, Adobe Creative Suite.

Research the tasks you are asked to do; for example, research successful fundraising events online and by talking to other, and apply them to the fundraiser you yourself are planning.

It is important to stay positive in these trying situations in order to “survive” your first co-op. It can be argued that we learn more about our strengths and weaknesses through these kinds of difficult situations. From this experience, I was able to develop a better idea of who I am, what I want to do, the environment I would like to work in, as well as the type of organization I want to work for.

As we work through each of our co-op terms, and more prominently, out into the real world and into our careers, many challenges will emerge, but I believe that the way that we handle these difficulties will build character, experience, and further our careers.

Posted on October 11, 2012