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Dennis Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management

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Although your job responsibilities, tasks and duties may sometimes be repetitive and frustrating, do not be discouraged because there are always learning and networking opportunities available if you look for them.

Because it may be difficult to secure a co-op position in a weakening job market and a declining economy, it is even more important to impress your employer when you are offered a position. These internship opportunities help you understand the organizational culture as well as providing hands-on experience and insights in your related field of studies and industry-specific to your interest, all of which are vital in landing that first big full-time job out of university.

For many students, moving from a student to a working role is a major transition, especially for those who have no previous professional working experience. In school, the hours are flexible and interactions between people and the overall atmosphere are generally informal. The professional world, in contrast, has a different culture and environment.

The professional world has specific criteria evaluating the performance of the individuals working there, and there are usually fixed schedules to be adhered to as well as responsibilities and duties assigned on a daily basis. A professor's expectations of students are much different than those of a manager/supervisor for an employee. Professors may accept minimum efforts by students and in return give out lower marks, but a manager/supervisor will surely let their employees know the consequences of dissatisfactory performances.

How can you present yourself professionally and ensure your best performance at work then? Here are some very important tips to help you transition smoothly and successfully from the academic environment to the office setting:

1. Introductions

Prepare an interesting and concise introduction for your first days, such as your background or something unique about yourself, and try to make your speech memorable. For instance, some interesting things I have heard so far are a co-worker who has never stepped a foot on an airplane and a colleague who has an identical twin sister.

2. On-boarding Details

Some details to consider asking about when you first start if they are not in your orientation or formal welcome letter package and/or if you have not been notified by your supervisor/manager:

  • Company or team policy about taking time off

  • What to do when running late or have to leave early

  • What to do if you lose the company-issued ID badge

  • Company benefits, if applicable

3. Be Friendly, Helpful and Take Initiative

  • Greet everyone whenever an opportunity presents itself

  • Be flexible and likable. Offer to help out whenever possible, without jeopardizing your own priorities

  • Ask your co-workers out for coffee. It never hurts to know your co-workers better, whether they are full-timers or co-ops

  • One of the ways to you can impress others is to remember their names after your first acquaintance. It sounds easy but it is actually quite hard, help yourself by writing the names somewhere on your notepad if you have to, and they will be even more impressed if you remember what they told you

4. Learning About the Organizational Culture

  • The expected start and end times of your work shift

  • The amount and duration of coffee breaks, if applicable

  • Normal Internet usage, i.e. if external web searching is allowed at work or not. If so, are there any restrictions on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

  • Regular communication channels, i.e. usage of desk phone, instant messaging, email, etc.

  • Regular dress code: business formal, business casual or smart casual

5. Priority of Tasks

When you first start, always ask your supervisors about the priorities whenever you are unsure. As a new co-op, you will likely make mistakes, so make "smart" mistakes and learn from them, maximize your learning curve and excel from there.

6. Maintaining Professionalism at Work

  • Don’t fall asleep! If you are experiencing fatigue, try taking a walking or grabbing something hot instead of actively trying to stay awake

  • Desk tidiness: Make sure you lock the valuables in your drawers. Keep in mind that your workstation is not your personal desk at home, and that your supervisor or coworker may walk by your workstation anytime

  • Use appropriate vocabulary: Learn the terminology your colleague's use and what information you can and cannot share with your coworkers. For instance, it may be a company's confidentiality policy to not discuss with others in detail about your department's migration from Project A to Project B. Observe your team members and learn how they handle such situations. 

  • Interaction with your co-workers: When you are living in an unfamiliar city and working full-time with a group of people your age, it is normal for you to hang out after work and on the weekends. However, keep in mind to refrain yourself from gossiping about the private lives of your workers in the office space, as by-standers may take the intimacy and humour in unintended ways

  • Communication channels: Internet usage has become predominant in today’s work environment. Everything you send, receive and browse leaves a record somewhere in the data storage process, so refrain from sending joke emails around and pay attention to the use of tone and vocabulary in your emails and normal communication channels

  • Use of downtimes

    • Avoid chatting with co-workers, or try your best to keep the volume to a minimum and be respectful to your surrounding neighbours

    • Most companies should have some kind of learning materials available online, try to take advantage of them

    • Show initiatives – offer to help others

Keep in mind that your co-op experience is what you make of it. Although your job responsibilities, tasks and duties may sometimes be repetitive and frustrating, do not be discouraged because there are always learning and networking opportunities available if you look for them. Make sure you are fully prepared to wrap up your work term so you are ready for your next position, co-op or full-time!

About the Author

headshot of Dennis Chen

Dennis Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management

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