3 Skills I Didn’t Expect to Gain During Co-op:

June 23, 2024

By Janice Cheng

You know, the buzz words used to promote the skills and experiences students can gain through a co-op term? They typically include: industry experience, “real world,” network, and just a whole lot of gaining. What I didn’t expect, after my two co-op terms, was that although those words are tried and true, my experiences were beyond the practice of hard skills. They led me to more. These are three skills I didn’t expect to gain during co-op, but remain my most valued ones.

1. Mindset of Preparedness 

This is not to say you’ll be taught step by step on how to be prepared for things, or to even know what it is you need to be prepared for. There are just some things there aren’t handbooks for. Entering my first co-op, I was naive and ran with the mindset of “I have nothing to lose, so why not?” This was my approach to every task I was dealt, every problem I had to find solutions to, and every person I mustered up enough courage to greet. With all the room to learn and grow, and none for excuses, this led to a quick development of the mindset of preparedness. 

From being one step ahead (when possible), having backup plans (because we all know, not everything goes as planned), to always carrying that extra pen -- it all adds up. With that said, the other half to manifesting this mindset into something habitual is having a positive attitude. It’s lame, but probably the most challenging. When we’re faced with the unexpected, our attitude towards how we approach it usually determines our ability to truly assess the situation, judge the options for the next step, and remain calm. Not only will this reflect on the mood of your peers, but your employer, and any external partners would pick up on it too. Being mentally prepared (sometimes for the worst), can be big help to staying positive because you can determine what’s next, and stay far from freaking out. Ok, freak out a little bit, but move on, and remember to always stay productive.

2. Friendships

There’s a lot of pressure on expanding our professional networks, and that is undeniably important, especially in the field of Communications. The mindset of preparedness can also extend into an openness to developing new office friendships. When you allow yourself to get to know your coworkers or the other interns, and let them get to know you, it makes work much more fun. Grab your morning coffee with them, make lunch plans, and see what else you may have in common outside of sharing the same workplace. Remember, we’re all human. 

Since co-op contracts are only 4 to 8 months long, building friendships allow for these short-term experiences to extend past that limited time. You might even meet new BFFs. I know I did. Don’t  meet someone just to ask for their LinkedIn. Challenge your intentions beyond professional networking. Try to make a few new friends because your personal network needs to be nurtured too. On top of all this, remember for your next job, you will need references, so be sure to establish healthy work relationships. Personally, I prefer the word community over network. 

3. Internal Ableness

After four short months in my first co-op, I had a new confidence within me from the simple fact that I accomplished something new, and so (initially) out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t believe it. There’s truly no one more important to prove anything to, than to yourself. Whether it’s lifting that giant box, finalizing that report, or juggling ten coffees in two hands, it can all be done, as impossible as it may feel in the moment. Through co-op, we are positioned to be challenged with irregular tasks and unfamiliar problems to complete and resolve, but isn’t that the point? These are things beyond the safety of our lecture halls and tutorial rooms. This is the “real world” experience that sells because we’re curious. An internal ableness is developed, as through co-op, we gain a peek at what our post-undergrad future may look like. This look into the real world strips some nerves of the unknown, so when you know you are able, this confidence can exude into our academic, personal, and future professional lives. These are three soft skills and mental strategies that my time in co-op has led me to, and continually remain to be the most valuable in remaining my best self, as a student, friend, and candidate.