The Key to Success in a Co-op Position

What’s interesting about engineering is that although the degree is meant to lead towards a hands-on, practical profession, the material taught in class is often quite theoretical. This leads to McMaster alumni frequently telling current students how different the ‘real world’ is and to prepare themselves to learn a completely new skillset. Therefore, the importance of work experience during an engineering degree cannot be understated – hence, the existence of the co-op program.

The hardest part of any co-op job is landing it. From optimizing resumes to networking with recruiters to rigorous interviewing, the competition is fierce and the process is long. If a student is fortunate enough to get the job, they should feel a sense of accomplishment. However, the hard work does not stop there! There are a few key pieces of knowledge that can make or break a co-op term and be the difference between a strong reference and a failed connection.

Interacting with Your Boss and Coworkers

Obviously, supervisor relationships should be approached with caution and the utmost respect. This person, or persons, is ultimately a superior who has earned their position, and is directly responsible for evaluating a student’s job performance. However, a boss-subordinate relationship doesn’t have to be something to be feared. Your supervisor is ultimately still a person with emotions and biases like you, albeit a person who is your superior! Provided your supervisor seems like a decent person, which most of them are, it can be beneficial after a few weeks of working together to try to get to know them better. After all, people usually hire an employee not only for their skills and expertise, but also because they can see themselves getting along with them – no one wants to work with someone they dislike personally. Let this knowledge give you some confidence to, at appropriate opportunities, slowly learn about your boss and coworkers; their hobbies, interests, family, etc. All you have to do is be friendly; of course, being mindful of the line between boss and ‘bestie’. There are many advantages to having closer, but still professional, relationships with your boss and coworkers. Knowing that you are liked, accepted and that your work competence is recognized slowly begins to dig away at the anxiety of working in a foreign environment as an inexperienced student. You may also gain a friend or two! Furthermore, any connections made, especially with a superior, will likely come in handy after the term is over. You never know when a good word put in by your former boss might get you somewhere you want to go.

All this being said, it is also possible that a supervisor may cause issues in your relationship through things such as micromanagement or a general lack of trust or friendliness. This is also okay; you won’t get along with every person you work with. If it’s something serious, the best course of action is to speak directly with your supervisor and try to resolve the issue. If this is too intimidating, it can be helpful to bounce ideas off a trusted coworker who knows your boss. Overall, a supervisor is someone who should be respected but not feared (as long as you’re not doing anything wrong!). Moreover, it can be greatly beneficial to get to know those who you work with.

Showcasing Learning and Commitment

Something many corporate leaders report wishing they knew when they started their careers is this: half the time nobody knows what they are doing – and no one expects you to either. This is an important lesson on emotional maturity. The first couple of weeks in a new job are supposed to be scary and anxiety-inducing. Everything around you is new and you haven’t had the chance to prove yourself. Accept that it will be difficult and show compassion for yourself. Any decent supervisor will understand, giving space and time for you to get used to the way things are done and what is expected of you. It is of the utmost importance that you are not afraid to ask questions; there is no better way to learn. After a few weeks, it is now time for you to show that you deserve to be working in your position by producing strong results. Your coworkers and supervisors will be impressed by your dedication, adaptiveness, ability to learn novel skills and fearlessness.

Adhering to Company Policies and Culture

As an intern or student, it is extremely important to be observant of the interactions going on around you. This is the best way to learn about a company’s culture. Corporate culture is a broad term that encompasses all social and business interactions within the workplace, from one on one coffee chats to board room meetings. In your first few weeks at a job, try to consciously take note of the way your coworkers speak with each other and their superiors about different topics. For example, how do they address conflict? Is there a very strict policy or are the resolution strategies more relaxed? How do they communicate informally? Do they make jokes and poke fun or keep things purely professional? Picking up on these subtle nuances will allow you to assimilate into the company’s culture faster, making you and your coworkers feel as though you belong.

Taking Initiative

Succeeding in a job is just like succeeding in life. All you need to do is accept that there will be both good and bad moments and do your best. This is obviously easier said than done but is really what it all comes down to.

Make sure to demonstrate emotional maturity by taking responsibility for mistakes that you make, because you will make them. Instead of squandering over these mistakes and letting them hurt your confidence, ask how you can do better; or better yet, just do it. Always be impeccable with your word – if you say you’re going to do something, do it and do it well. If you get stuck, ask for help! There is not a single successful person who has gotten to where they are without help from others. Most importantly, have fun. If you have learned something, you have succeeded.

Written by Elsa Bassi