Regardless of whether this is your first co-op or you’re a co-op veteran, the switch to working life can be problematic. Not only have a lot of us just packed up everything we own to move into a new place, but now we’re expected to rearrange everything from our schedules to the way we dress. However, fear not, Northeastern has prepared you well for this! Just make sure you follow this basic advice and you will be on your way to a successful co-op!
(Special thanks to @cadethallamb, @sbaumgaertner, and @L_Burroughs for tweeting @NUStudentLife with co-op tips!)
1. Have clothes that are nice
Unfortunately, you can’t walk into work wearing some free t-shirt and sweatpants like you did your 8 am class. No, most workplaces suggest a business casual dress code, which means you should double check your wardrobe to make sure you have the socks, shoes, pants, skirts, shirts, etc. necessary to get you through the workweek. Also, make sure you’re prepared for any crazy Boston weather changes, as they will get you when you least expect it. You should always have a sweater/jacket stashed away, and if conditions are bad, don’t be afraid to wear the proper clothing/shoes and change at work.
While it might be tempting to spend that paycheck you don’t have yet on a bunch of new outfits, you might want to hold off until you have gotten a feel for the company and you…
2. Learn the culture
Every workplace has a different culture, and what is acceptable behavior in one environment might not be acceptable in another. For example, at my last co op I would occasionally dress up in a turkey suit and gobble around the office to encourage people to make sales, as it was a more relaxed atmosphere that encouraged a fun spirit while working hard. However, this sort of behavior might not be acceptable at a large financial firm with a high suit-to-plainclothes ratio. Be sure to pay attention to how people behave in the workplace, and as a rule of thumb: be professional. So, now that you’ve figured out how you should be carrying yourself, you need to…
3. Figure out what the heck you should be doing
Make sure you talk with your boss often and that it is clear what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. Chances are, your job will require you to use a program you’ve never even heard of before, and you should make sure you learn it before it becomes too late and your coworkers just assume you know it. While you might “feel dumb” asking questions, remember that people know that you’re new and that it’s extremely dumb to not ask for help when you need it. Also, people will make judgments based on how much effort you put in your first week, so make sure you’re on your A game constantly as you handle projects like a ninja.
4. Figure out what the heck you should NOT be doing
First impressions are important. You know this because it’s been told to you many times throughout your life, I addressed in the previous point, and I am about to address it again. If you’re seen goofing off your first week, people will immediately start to think of you as “that co-op kid that just browses the internet all day,” and you won’t ever dig yourself out of that title. I know it will be hard, but you’re just going to have to avoid going on Facebook at work. Yes, you will see other people doing just that, but you’re the new co-op, and using the “But he did it first!” excuse won’t work when your boss catches you. Make sure you know the rules, and that you play by them.
5. Be the cool co-op that people like
An important thing to know is that the coworkers in your office are human. While they may not want to be your best friend, no one will ever complain about people acting in a positive, friendly manner. Be outgoing and helpful. If someone asks for volunteers to help with something, go for it. Your training won’t tell you where the best place to go for lunch is, or if there’s a staff locker room, or if your work reimburses transportation, but your coworkers will tell you, and if you ever need help, your coworkers are the best resource. I’ve heard a lot about people’s different co-op experiences over the years, and all of the people that have had truly marvelous co-ops were always able to interact with their coworkers on a somewhat social level, so be professional, but try to connect with your coworkers.
So what’s the secret?
No matter what level of formality your workplace is at, a chocolate basket is always welcome. Most people adore chocolate, and even those who don’t will offer their respect to anyone goodly enough to bring it into the workplace. It doesn’t need to be chocolate though. It doesn’t even need to be edible. The point is that you’re putting an effort to bring something positive to the workplace, so make it your own.
Any pro-tips that I forgot? Please let me know in the comments!