This past semester, I did a co-op work term at a relatively small lighting sales agency, Inter-Lite Sales, with at total of 21 employees. After this experience, I can say with confidence how valuable it is for students to work for a small business. It is a fast-paced environment and you are given the opportunity to learn skills you would never learn in a classroom, or a large firm. Now don’t get me wrong, working for a large company has many advantages! But this article focuses on the benefits of small businesses, such as allowing students to experience a diverse and heavy workload, having easy access to skilled mentors, and working in a close-knit corporate culture.
When working for a small business, your job description can change very quickly and easily, which teaches you how to be adaptable. I have learned about myself, after many personality tests, that I am extremely change-oriented. I love challenging myself to try new things, go new places, and take on foreign tasks. This made me an excellent match for the co-op position with Inter-Lite Sales. This position was very project-oriented. I was given a list of tasks to complete during my term with the freedom to create my own timeline, allowing me to be a self-starter.
I was also able to suggest projects that I wanted to take on and that would add value to the organization, such as a logo redesign. This was a project management task I took on in the first month of my co-op term. My supervisor had included a website redesign on my project list, but I suggested that before redoing the website, we redo the logo and the company brand standards. This project was perfect for practicing my marketing skills. I created new business cards, new email signatures, a new letterhead and envelopes, new corporate swag, and a brand standards book for the staff to follow if they had any questions.
In addition to marketing, I also completed a series of human resources tasks. I created job descriptions, crafted interview questions, sat in on interviews, authored rejection and offer letters, edited and updated the employee handbook, and create a systematic onboarding and training process. Leading candidates through the hiring process gave me the opportunity to sharpen my professional communication skills, both written and verbal. After helping shape the new onboarding and training process by working with senior employees, I wrote new policies and procedures for the company and was able to assist in implementing them. Some examples include the expensing policy, the time off request policy, the sample ordering policy, and many more.
I also have an interest in Management Information Systems (MIS) and was able to try my hand at that. Before the conclusion of my work term, I researched and pitched a technology-related project to the partners, which presented an opportunity to practice my sales capabilities. This two-year project will be starting in the New Year. For each of these projects, I was able to create my own timeline and stick to it. Working in a fast-paced environment gave me the opportunity to multi-task, while still ensuring I met deadlines. In addition to the projects above, I was also responsible for:
The redesign of the website
The creation and implementation of a year-long marketing plan
Blog set up and population
A content calendar for 2016
Being able to try my hand at human resources, marketing, and MIS has been infinitely valuable in helping me decide to pursue marketing and human resources as my designated concentrations. The decision would have been much harder if made based solely on my classroom and textbook knowledge.
Another benefit of working in a small business is that my cubicle is right next to the office of the Managing Partner and just down the hall from the rest of the partners. I am surrounded by mentors who have years of industry experience. This is something I may not have been exposed to in a large firm as it can be difficult to even meet the CEO of some large companies, never mind move into an office right next to theirs. I find that everyone here is also so eager to help. If I ever have a question, I’m not afraid to ask. I have been able to learn valuable industry advice from all my experienced colleagues, something that, again, would be much harder to do working for a large company.
A common misconception is that if the company you are working for isn’t in a particularly “fun” industry, the people who work there can’t possibly be “fun”—meaning, in other words, that you have a boring work term ahead of you. I have experienced first-hand how incorrect this assumption is. The first time I saw the fun side of working at Inter-Lite Sales was about a week in when I was asked if I would like to join the Survivor betting pool. Since I love all games and am extremely competitive by nature, I could not turn this down. Everyone in the office participated, and this has been a running tradition in the company for years. The most hilarious part though was when one of the partner’s players was voted out, one of the other partners brought in a torch, waited in his office, and put it out stating “The tribe has spoken,” while the rest of the office was either filming this event or laughing.
Working in a small business allows you to develop meaningful relationships with almost everyone you work with. Close working relationships with your coworkers makes your eight hours a day more enjoyable and, in the future, will allow you to move forward with solid options for references. Each co-op experience working in a small business will be different and exciting and there will always be lots to do and learn. If you have a desire to increase the breadth of your skills, consider applying to some small businesses or start-ups next co-op semester. Trust me, it is worth it!