I felt both excited and hesitant when I received the phone call announcing that I was selected to be the Whitefish Group’s Accounting Assistant. On one hand, I was eager to learn more about accounting outside of the classroom and gain some hands-on experience. On the other, I was nervous to abandon my comfortable student routine. I knew how to study, but I had no idea how to work in a professional environment! How would I keep up in an office with only academic abilities under my belt? It wasn’t until halfway through my co-op with the company that I noticed the skills I learned in the classroom were supporting me during my work term. While they may not have been directly related to the work I was doing, such as reconciling accounts or creating financial statements, below are eight skills I believe were critical to helping me attain co-op success.
1. The Ability to Take Notes
Like a student, taking detailed and comprehensive notes will prevent you from asking questions on topics that were already covered. I recorded things like steps of complicated processes and special instructions for my personal reference. The thought that my notes may be a transferrable guide for similar future positions ensured that I kept everything neat and organized.
2. The Ability to Use an Agenda
I am the type of student to obsessively document tasks and draw timelines to organize myself. Throughout my co-op job, using a simple notepad like my university agenda helped me significantly manage workplace stress. Listing my deliverables prevented me from worrying about forgetting to complete a task. It also helped me manage my time by allowing me to prioritize what needed to be tackled first and what could be left until tomorrow.
3. The Ability To Write an Essay
Everyone has been asked to write an essay at some stage in their student career. What some may not realize is that problem-solving in the office follows a similar template to an essay outline! My supervisor taught me to use an essay approach to identify the root problem of a complex issue and document my findings for her to review.
Introduction – What are you working on? What are you trying to accomplish?
Thesis – What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Body – What kind of research have you done to try to solve the problem? What are the resources available for use?
Conclusion – What has your research led you to believe? What is a possible solution to the problem?
4. The Ability to Self-Evaluate
I created monthly self-evaluation sheets for myself, similar to the ones distributed in my class tutorials. I asked myself what I did well and what I struggled with. What could I do to be more efficient? What are some ways I could avoid errors? I used my results to create strategies to overcome the areas where I struggled and implemented goal-setting plans for improvement. When possible, I also consulted my supervisor so I could hear a separate perspective on my progress and work quality.
5. The Ability to Raise Your Hand
It’s important to recognize when you need to seek help. After spending hours attempting to solve a problem by myself and achieving unsuccessful results, I went to see my supervisor. First, I would show her my problem-solving outline (as discussed in skill #3 above) to see if my solution was progressing in the right direction. Then, I would ask for clarification on concepts or additional details to ensure that I would feel confident moving forward.
6. The Ability to Take Initiative
University has taught me that you must take responsibility for your own learning. When I finished completing my daily checklist, I would take the initiative and ask my supervisor for more work. Doing so ensured I was meeting my personal goal of gaining as much hands-on experience as I could during my co-op term. It also demonstrated that I had an interest in the job and was eager to take on more challenges. If you complete all of your work and your supervisor has no further work for you, take time to ask if you can assist anyone else in the office. Helping others in different departments allowed me to gain a more in-depth understanding of the company’s operations. It can also foster positive relationships amongst your colleagues who will appreciate your help!
7. The Ability to Listen and Apply All Feedback
Throughout my life as a student and now as a professional, I have had people point out areas where I could improve or a mistake that I need to fix. While some might see these people as being picky or having unrealistically high expectations, this is untrue. When others discuss your work with you, they are showing an interest in helping you improve and develop your skillset. During my co-op, I always made sure to be open to hearing comments from my superiors and carried their critique forward to all future assignments.
8. The Ability to Learn From Your Mistakes
While we all may strive to be the perfect intern, making a few errors in the early stages is difficult to avoid. On days where I felt discouraged from making silly mistakes on both class assignments and office tasks, I reminded myself that learning is a continuous experience and that the most important thing to take away from each error is the lesson learned. I made sure to document each lesson in my agenda and refer back to them throughout my co-op term to avoid similar missteps.
Before I began my co-op journey, I thought that working in an office would be a drastic departure from my student life. I was concerned about how I would conduct myself in the workplace and whether the course content I learned would be enough to guide me. What I did not expect was that the skills acquired from simply attending classes would help me while on my co-op term. Take the time to reflect on your unique study habits and the various skills you have developed as a student and try to see how you can apply your university life to your professional career.