When you start at a new co-op position, how do you stay focused and organized amidst the myriad of textbooks, tutorials, and other learning materials that come your way? How do you quickly learn so you are well prepared to participate and contribute to the team?
In engineering, this process of learning and getting up to speed is often referred to as “ramp up”. Here are five tips that helped me speed up the learning period and as a result, I was able to quickly adjust to my new co-op position.
During the first weeks or months of work, it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed. One of the biggest temptations is to go back to what is comfortable. Sometimes during the seemingly endless learning of a new job, there can be a strong urge to escape for a more comfortable place like social media. I definitely felt this constant temptation during my ramp-up period, but I would encourage you to battle it. Put your phone on airplane mode or keep it in your pocket. Do whatever you need to do to stay off it. It may be a surprise how much more effective you can be during ramp up if you choose to forgo your phone and stay present. Wasting time on social media only prolongs the ramp-up period, and it definitely does not contribute to your professionalism. I know the temptation is strong but battle it.
Depending on the company, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with the flexibility you are given with your hours. Although this is definitely a nice perk, I would strongly recommend not taking advantage of this perk too early on. It can be a temptation when you are feeling lost to take off a little early or sleep in and come in a little later, but this can be very detrimental to your ramp period.
As a rule of thumb, I would suggest making it a habit to arrive at work before your supervisor. This allows you to have some time in the morning to get organized so that you can be more productive during the rest of the day when your supervisor is around. Also, make sure you put in the hours of work expected of you at a minimum. Do not short-change your employer. I know learning for eight hours a day, five days a week can be a grind, but it does not last forever. Instead, think about how if you put in the hours you will accelerate your ramp-up.
When it comes to questions, timing is everything. Personally, I believe this is one of the main reasons my supervisor thinks I ramped up so quickly. If you constantly bombard your supervisor with questions, it gives off the impression that you are not learning quickly. I’m not at all suggesting that you don’t ask questions because questions are very important to learn about your role, but the key is timing. You need to remember that your supervisor’s time is a lot more valuable than yours.
What I recommend doing is writing your questions down and consolidating them into a list. That way, rather than interrupting your supervisor five or six different times to ask questions, you can consolidate these six interruptions into one and still get all of your questions answered. If you find that you are stumped on something, write your question down and move on to something else until you have a list of questions and cannot keep progressing. With this technique, I have been able to avoid interrupting my supervisor altogether by saving my questions until a time when they came to check in with me. Question consolidation and timing really is key.
Depending on the company, there may be opportunities to get to know and connect with your colleagues in a different way than simply through work. Maybe there are clubs or groups that meet weekly during lunch breaks to enjoy various activities. Or maybe you are a part of a smaller company but there are some colleagues who all break together at a certain time. Make the most of these opportunities to connect with people over more than just work. Not only will this go a long way in networking for the future, but I have found it also helps as you are ramping up.
First of all, it is often a great way to meet people from other areas or departments of the company which can help you better understand the broader picture of the company and piece together where your work fits into it all. Secondly, these informal gatherings either give you a natural break to ask your supervisor some questions, or an opportunity to gain a new friend who could answer your question. Lastly, these times can be a refreshing break from work allowing you to rest your mind for a bit and have some fun at work.
Finally, don’t be afraid to jump in and start working on your project or task. As I am sure you have heard or experienced, starting is often the hardest part. An obvious way to impress your supervisor is to begin working on something. No matter how much you try and learn before you start on your project, you are going to need to continue to learn as you go, so why not jump in and get started. The sooner you get started and begin to actually contribute to the company and help the team out, the more excited and willing the rest of the team will be to help you as they see their investment at work.
I challenge you to try out these tips to ramping up, as I truly believe they helped me adapt quickly. I guarantee that the quicker you ramp up the sooner you will get to do work you actually enjoy.