Landing your first co-op job may feel intimidating, especially when you're working in a corporate environment for the first time, meeting new people, and taking on projects that are somewhat different from your usual school-work. Even after several months of planning, designing, and working on multiple projects, you may still feel that you have not accomplished that much, but you probably have! After all, getting to the final product isn’t always the goal, it’s the learning and relationships along the way that really counts.
Having only a few accomplishments after your first co-op term is okay and here’s why. Although it’s nice when the final product of a project comes the way you envisioned it, some employers will tend to look at your overall contribution and evolution as a designer and communicator. This means it isn’t about how quickly you finish a project, or how extravagant the final product is, or even how many projects you have done during your term. Don’t get me wrong, deadlines are very important and should not be taken for granted, and having multiple projects under your belt can be useful when applying for future careers. However, when you focus on training and skill development and gaining knowledge and integrating feedback, you can see how the project or product improves along with your understanding of the process, your quality of contribution, and the speed you can deliver on projects as you gain confidence.
It can help to take time to reflect and think of the following: What steps did you take to improve the project from its initial stages? How were you able to implement feedback and ideas into the project? Do you carefully listen to your employer or clients during meetings and take notes? Are there key points phrases that they repeat over multiple occasions? Were you able to contribute points on why you think the project should be designed in a certain way?
Developing a sense of accomplishment during co-op is so important. However, when we are deeply focused on goals, we may forget our emotions and mental health. Breakdowns, detachment, or loss of interest in the job can happen, particularly when the project is almost/finally over. If you are feeling down or confused/stuck about a project, some good advice is to ask questions or have a coffee chat with your employer or colleagues about the project or even just to chat about how the day is going so that you can come back to it again. It can take some time to learn an employer’s expectations, particularly when it’s your first co-op, but trust me, they are there to help you and answer all your questions. Finding the time and a way to share emotions or thoughts about your projects, work performance or personal life has been better than keeping it in, which can have negative effects in the long run.
It does not come easy, but when you feel happy, your confidence grows, and it reflects on every project you do. Overall, co-op is a learning process for improving yourself, your strengths, or discovering areas you need to learn more about and an opportunity to reach beyond the horizon if you are willing