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Vanessa Clarke

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology, Arts + Social Sciences

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Scrabble Tiles spelling out the phrase "origins are usually messy"
One of the first things my older brother asked me when I told him the news was “Are you going to work for one of those millennial tech companies where all your co-workers casually party together and everyone rides around the office in hover boards?” I replied, “I don’t think so, but I hope so!”

Working for a start-up has its challenges, especially when it is your first point of entry into the workforce. Coming from a family of people who have all worked at major companies in their careers, I had no idea what to expect. It was exciting and daunting at the same time, and my family and friends couldn’t wait to hear about my experiences. One of the first things my older brother asked me when I told him the news was “Are you going to work for one of those millennial tech companies where all your co-workers casually party together and everyone rides around the office in hover boards?” I replied, “I don’t think so, but I hope so!”

Stephen Colbert hoverboarding down a hallway while being tossed a burrito

Not only was I starting off in an unfamiliar business, but I was also entering an industry that I had no former experience in nor knew much about. But WOW, have I ever experienced a lot in such a short amount of time. This is what I learned about working for a start-up over the last 10 months as a Communication & Multimedia Associate:

Be Open & Embrace Change

Man frolicking in meadow

This is key to surviving and ultimately staying sane in a start-up, and I learned this the hard way. I like predictability and routine, however I had to force myself to not become attached to certain responsibilities because this type of work environment requires you to be able to pivot from projects at a moment’s notice. In fact, I was hired as a Communications intern and  started being referred to as the Marketing intern after 4 months. At one point, I was named the Graphic Design intern. Therefore, even job titles change with the seasons. You must learn to live in uncertainty, which is already how a lot of people are living now in 2021.

Admit Your Weaknesses to Solve Problems

Trevor Noah tapping his temple then pointing at camera, with the caption "problem solved"

It might just be you and maybe one other co-worker in your department (if you’re lucky). In my case, I was the entire Marketing Communications department and the only one in the company with any knowledge in this field. I quickly learned that admitting my weaknesses to myself was the first step towards solving any problem. I write down specifically what I don’t know how to do, and then I explore all available resources before asking a colleague for help. For example, I was asked to figure out how to track the success of a new virtual product. I thought about Google Analytics, but I had never used it before. Using the Internet as a resource, I discovered a free Google Analytics beginner course. I ended up completing it in a few hours, and had the company’s GA up and running to start tracking our new website all in one day.

Remember Where You Started

Drake and friends dancing under confetti with the caption "started from the bottom, now we here"

This is very important when beginning any Co-op position, but is slightly easier in a start-up. Take note of what stage the company is in when you enter. Because there are so many areas that need to be built and established, it is easy to record the growth of a start-up company. I can clearly see the impact I had during my Co-op terms. Start-ups, like Co-op students, truly reflect the phrase, “started from the bottom, now we’re here!”

About the Author

Vanessa Clarke

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology, Arts + Social Sciences
Connect with Vanessa via LinkedIn and Instagram!
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