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Katheryna Khong

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology

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Someone sitting on the floor by the window, typing on a laptop, with notebooks and coffee next to them
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Accepting that you may not be good at everything will hone your scope for future job opportunities and will lead you to do what you enjoy doing as a long-term career.

Co-op is a great learning space for young adults to navigate how to transition from student to work life. After successfully completing a year of co-op education, and with a job lined up after graduation, here is what I have learned that I will gladly carry over to my professional career.

1. Failure is Inevitable

Failure is such a tough concept to grasp. Failure is scary, but we should view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. One of the many things I have learned is that failure is inevitable. What matters is how you handle your failure. What are the next steps that you should take? Assess what you’ve learned, so that you avoid making the same mistake again. After assessing the situation, pick yourself up and focus on your next objective. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, as this might discourage you.

2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Throughout my co-op terms, the one consistent comment that I have received is how well I take criticism. This can be attributed to a “growth mindset” which will give you an advantage over everyone else applying for the same job. Most people place a sense of pride in their work, so when they are criticized for it, one can get defensive and feel attacked. Now, what exactly is a “growth mindset”? It’s when a person thrives on challenges and views failures as a steppingstone for growth and learning opportunities to expand one’s current skillset. It is important to use your co-op term as a learning space for you to figure out what you’re good at, and what makes you safely say, “I’ve tried it once, and with practice I know I can improve.” Accepting that you may not be good at everything will hone your scope for future job opportunities and will lead you to do what you enjoy doing as a long-term career.

3. It’s Not Personal

Switching gears from school to work is tough, from an environment where we are so used to correlating grades with how hard you have worked on that paper or project, to an environment where outcomes of the company rest on your shoulders. I am so used to correlating my bad grades with how smart and hardworking I am. However, it’s not the same in a work environment. When your idea is rejected at work or your suggestions are being placed on the backburner, I’ve learned that it’s not personal. Sometimes your idea may not consider larger factors such as budget or timing, things that are often out of our information loop as interns. One thing that I’ve gained an understanding of is that I should not stop offering ideas and suggestions, as one day I will eventually offer a brilliant idea that just might work.

4. Making Friends is Hard, But Not Impossible

In most co-ops, I have been the only intern, or the only one still pursuing my degree. It can get pretty isolating when you are a whole generation younger, or when you don’t quite understand how work relationships function. Is texting outside of work too personal? Are emojis too informal? Should I only use email? My favorite co-op placements have been the ones where I have made friends in the workplace. Community channels are great for non-work-related conversations. In the midst of the pandemic, social channels are a great way to stay connected and get to know each other better outside of work with platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and even Zoom hangouts. One thing that I’ve learned is to observe and adapt to the company culture, if everyone else is sending GIFS and funny pictures, you might be seen as cold or rude when you don’t.

These are the key takeaways from my co-op experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These experiences have helped me figure out my strengths and weaknesses, how to navigate the workplace, and how to separate my personal and work life. I am now confident in my transition to being a full-time professional. I hope this helped you even just a little. Good luck!

“If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough.” – Jillian Michaels

About the Author

Katheryna Khong

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology
Connect with Katheryna via LinkedIn, or on her Instagram @katherynakhong

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