What I’ve Learned from Managing a Social Enterprise in South Africa’s Townships—And Other International Co-op Lessons

heart capitalOn Aug. 26, I boarded a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty five hours later I arrived at my new home for the next four months.

A week later, I started my co-op at Heart Capital, an impact investment firm on the outskirts of Cape Town that manages a portfolio of social enterprises in local townships. So what have I learned so far from this incredible opportunity to learn about social enterprise management in one of the regions of the world that needs it most? Read on.

1. Printer ink, Internet access, phone calls, and meetings are luxuries—not necessities.

 

In Cape Town, I’ve realized that you can still conduct business without a formal corporate infrastructure in place—it’s just a little more difficult. No technology on site? Better make sure you bring everything you need with you. Deliverymen didn’t drop off your compost in the right place? Time to revamp the work schedule so that you can account for manually hauling your supplies to a different location.

 

Being innovative and flexible are essential in the social space—you often won’t find well-oiled business machines in under-resourced townships.

2. Sometimes, the needs of the business don’t go hand in hand with the needs of beneficiaries. And that can be challenging.

 

The difficult thing about managing social enterprises is that they don’t operate as for-profit businesses, but they aren’t nonprofit either. In this space, we spend a lot of our time wrestling with wanting to help people directly while still trying to progress the business. These tough decisions make this space incredibly challenging. What’s important is that you figure out the best way to cope with the situation. For me, I’ve found that leaving work at the office and exploring the area allow me to clear my head and face the challenges ahead. Figure out what gives you inner peace and capitalize on that.

3. Creativity is key.

 

When there isn’t a clear procedure on how to do something, that presents an opportunity for innovative thinking. Past and current interns have developed new systems for inventory management, sourced free materials from willing companies, and launched crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for supplies. Success in this industry—and especially in an international environment—relies on drive, creativity, and innovation.

4. Working internationally is different than working at home.

Sometimes you might forget that cultural norms you took for granted aren’t the same in other countries. Email may not be effective, the laws and regulations for donations may be different, and common words and phrases may not be present in your new space.

 

Like any new job, it’s important to take each lesson in stride. Sometimes, working in a different country can be frustrating and confusing. It may make you want to tear your hair out, find the nearest McDonalds, and try to un-block Netflix. But by using each experience as a learning opportunity, and then reminding yourself about the lessons you’ll be able to take home with you, you’ll survive—and, even better—thrive.

 

Sarah Silverstein is currently managing Heart Capital’s ongoing Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 USD to purchase a bakkie, or small vehicle, which will drastically improve the organization’s operations on the ground. Check out the campaign page to learn more about the campaign.

Turning Your Co-op Into Your First Job

TurningYourCo-op1Roughly 51% of Northeastern graduates secure jobs with a former co-op employer! Wouldn’t it be cool to land a job with a former co-op employer where you’ve already developed great relationships, know their business/products/services/clients, and have proven yourself to be a top performer?

On October 15 we hosted a terrific panel on “Turning Your Co-op Into Your First Job.”  We were lucky enough to get four panelists all of whom successfully turned a former co-op into their first job.  Our panelists gave a ton of helpful tips, which would be way too long for this blog, but we’ve condensed it down into four main topics we covered that you’ll want to take note of!

Being Strategic and Thinking of Your Co-op as a Building Block:

Many of our panelists were especially strategic about their co-op choices, starting at their first if not their second co-op, in terms of recognizing company names and the types of skills and experiences that would make them more marketable down the line and that they wanted to get on their resume as a building block.  Some also looked at which companies were most likely to hire co-op students for full-time work in making their selections.

Being Successful on Co-op to Get Noticed:

This was something that, not surprisingly, all of our panelists knew how to effectively navigate!  The main points that came out here were:  (i) getting to know people in the company by attending events so that enough people knew who you are, and in that same regard, working with a variety of people in your group so you have plenty of people to vouch for you; (ii) showing initiative and a willingness to do any assignment and to do so with enthusiasm; and, (iii) making sure to ask for feedback and to really work with that constructive feedback to improve your performance as you go along on the co-op.

Advocating for Yourself:

Our panelists also made sure to advocate for themselves when it came time to discuss a full-time position.  Because they made an effort to get to know people in their department and to solicit feedback along the way, they all knew that things were going well at the co-op and that their employer was pleased with their work by the time they approached the conversation, typically about mid-way through.  Some practiced the conversation in advance with a friend or a relative, but importantly, made sure to have this conversation so that their employer knew they were interested in a full-time role.  In fact, as they pointed out, sometimes employers start to view you as an employee (which is pretty flattering) and may lose track of the fact that you haven’t yet graduated, or may not remember exactly when you graduate or even realize that you’re interested in a full-time position with them.  The point being, you need to make sure you’re effectively advocating for yourself and letting people know what you’re hoping for, and not waiting to be approached.

Developing a Strong Network:

And finally, our panelists touted the importance of networking while on co-op, but also after you leave a co-op.  Having these relationships and staying in touch with people you used to work with, through periodic, friendly emails, is an important way to make sure that you have a network to tap into when it comes time to look for a full-time position, especially since it may be the first or second co-op employer that you want to try to go back to.

Amy Stutius is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University.  She practiced as an attorney before transitioning to higher education.  Email her at a.stutius@neu.edu.

From Applying to Acing The Capitol Hill Internship

scarlett ho in front of capitol

Posing in front of the Capitol

This guest post was written by Scarlett Ho, a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy.

For any Political Science major, working in the nation’s capital is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Getting an internship on the Hill while still in college is not only useful in helping you decide if public policy is your niche, but also helps you get a foot in the door in other federal-related jobs in the field. This past summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to intern for a member of Congress in Washington D.C., and here are a few tips I would like to share to help anyone who is thinking about interning on the Hill.

1) The Application Process and the Interview

Most congressional internships require a standard resume and cover letter, followed by an interview. Sounds like a pretty easy process, but how do you stand out among hundreds of applicants?

  • Email etiquette: Most people think that all you need to do when you email your application package is just to attach the files. But from my personal experience, crafting a short and sweet paragraph in the email containing your brief bio and objective will make your application more personable. Remember, small things matter, so make sure your resume and cover letter are free from typos and grammatical mistakes. One way to ensure that is to ask your professional network, professors and friends to proofread them.
  • Interview: So you have received an invitation for an interview, how should you prepare? Research the office, know your objectives and why you want to intern there. What are your passions, and how is this internship going to contribute to your goal? Since most interview questions always revisit your past internships, be sure to be able to explain every detail you have put down on paper. Rehearse, do mock interviews, and feel confident. Remember, the secret to interviewing is: it’s not “what” you say, it’s “how” you say it.

2) Working on the Hill

Everyone has to start somewhere, and you should come to any job with the mindset that you are starting from the bottom. With that, it means mundane and trivial administrative tasks, such as answering and transferring phone calls, photocopying/scanning, and running errands. But on top of that, you should seize this wonderful opportunity to benefit the most out of it too:

  • Attend briefings/committee hearings: Fortunately for a Hill internship, because you’ll be at the center of politics, interns get the chance to go to different hearings and briefings and take notes. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the issue; and any memos that come out of it will be a great writing sample for the future.
  • Ask questions: Remember: no one knows the answer to everything. If you have questions or doubts, ask your fellow interns or supervisors- they will likely be able to answer them for you. Asking questions demonstrates that you’re proactive and thoughtful- something every employer would value. Additionally, ask for more tasks or offer to assist others in their work when you have completed yours. Your willingness to help others proves that you’re collaborative and are inclined to take initiative.
  • Networking: It’s all about connections, that is the truth. Be active in seeking out intern networking events, or receptions near the D.C. area to talk to people from different fields and offices. Seek out interesting people from LinkedIn, through friends and ask for informational interviews either in person or over the phone. Be flexible and respect people’s time because they are busy but are generally willing to help.

3) Ways to Take your Hill Internship To The Next Level

  • Keep a journal: It is important to keep track of your daily or weekly tasks, because at the end of your internship, you need to have talking points that summed up your responsibilities on your resume. Even if you don’t keep a journal (which is mostly for writing about your feelings and what you have learned), have a small notebook that jots down your tasks to make it easier to keep track in the future.
  • Recommendations: I was advised by a Capitol Hill staff to ask for the letter the last week of your internship, so that you will have the letter in hand on your last few days. By creating a time constraint for the recommender, they will most likely craft a more thoughtful response because you can read it when you are still there. After your internship is over, connect with the staff on LinkedIn and ask to be recommended.
  • Thank you note: A small thank you note for each staff in the office goes a long way. A nice hand-written note makes a lasting impression and you never know who will help you down the road. Therefore, this is a critical step that should not be skipped.

Interested in working in government? Career Development is hosting a Non Profit and Government Careers Forum at 5:30PM, tonight in Raytheon. Also, Thursday, October 16th at 5PM in 12 Stearns: Demystifying the Federal Job Application.

Bio pic_scarletthScarlett Ho is a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy. She is a former Capitol Hill intern and will be interning at the European Parliament this fall with NU’s study abroad program. As a trilingual, she is interested in foreign affairs and diplomacy, and is an avid globetrotter. Connect with Scarlett on LinkedIn and follow her on                                                                                            Twitter.

 

Good luck everyone!

Down at the Crossroads

lifes-crossroads

“Lifes Crossroads” by John Matlock

What do you do when you’re ¾ of the way through college and suddenly you’re not sure the major you’ve chosen is the path you want to follow?  Starting over and tacking on more years and thousands more dollars of debt is a very costly approach and still provides no guarantee.  Ducking into grad school until the picture becomes clear is even more costly.  How about another option?

Stephen Uram ’14 found one way.

As a mechanical engineering major, he was well into his degree track when he realized engineering wasn’t for him.  “I wanted to be an engineer when I took my first physics class and loved it.  I had a great teacher and learned a lot about process, prompting me to join the rocketry club and spend parts of a couple summers attending science seminars at Purdue and UC Berkeley. When I got accepted to Northeastern I was excited to become a mechanical engineer.”

The dream played out nicely for a couple years, as he loved his college courses and really enjoyed his first co-op.  After returning to classes and then heading out for second co-op, however, he started to realize maybe this path wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  “I was doing more design engineering and really wasn’t seeing the why’s of the projects or using what I learned in classes on the job.  When I went back to class I realized I liked the project management side more than the engineering and got worried that I was in the wrong major.”

Fortunately, he kept a level head and researched career options that would allow him to parlay the engineering skills he had developed into a more project management-focused role. After doing some research and speaking with family, friends and career advisors he learned about Leadership Development Programs.  LDP’s allow new employees to enter a company and follow several tracks to learn about multiple areas of the organization to develop a well-rounded skill set and experience a more holistic career.  Programs last between 18-24 months and are broken into several 6-8 month blocks.

“When I got back to campus for my last semester I looked at which companies were coming to the Career Fair and looked for ones that offered a leadership program, preferably in a growing industry. I didn’t need a foosball table.  I wanted to be part of an industry that is growing and with a company I can grow with”  For Steve, this turned out to be Optum, a technology company under the United Health Group umbrella.

With healthcare costs on the forefront of the nation’s priorities, technology has become a major driver in mitigating costs and improving a damaged system. As a result, the demand for sharp college grads is very high and technology companies are progressively dotting the healthcare landscape. Through Optum’s Technology Development Program fresh grads are able to delve into several areas of the organization to develop skills and grow their professional network.  “I’m exposed to senior leadership quite often and my Navigation Coach has me organizing informational interviews with different people so I know what other parts of the company do and how it all fits together.“

“I was also able to use skills from my engineering background and apply them to the job.  Having worked on teams for class projects it allowed me to leverage resources each member of the group brings to a project and get the most out of everyone. I’ve also been able to use the problem solving skills from classes and co-op, along with time management skills, to balance projects and complete projects on time.”

Whether it be healthcare, finance, communication or human services, leadership development programs are available across all industries and can help kick start your career! If you would like to learn more about Steve’s experience and about other leadership development opportunities come to the Cultivating Leadership:  Leadership Development Panel and Networking Night, on Tuesday 10/07.

Don’t feel lost at the crossroads – come to the NU Visitor’s Center and get back on track!

Derek Cameron is a member of the Employer Relations team in Career Development and occasionally blogs on the in-ter-nets.

Say “Yes” And Make This Your Best Semester Ever

say yes quote tina feyWith a new semester comes a whole new crop of classes, new students, new professors, and incredible new opportunities to grow as a student and a future professional. As a student, we are faced with options and decisions to go further every day. Maybe your professor has an idea for a research project and he’s looking for a research assistant. Maybe your favorite student group is running a conference and needs someone to manage logistics and operations. Maybe an internship position opened up that can fill your day off. Every day it seems these opportunities for growth and expansion present themselves on campus, inside and outside of the classroom.

The summer after my sophomore year, I met a consultant at a conference who ended up being my future boss. While I was on co-op, he offered me a position running communication and client relationships at a five-person publishing software company. It sounded like an awesome opportunity, but the idea of trading two easy breezy months at the beach for a full-time internship after six months of co-op was daunting. I ended up taking the job, hustling and couch surfing my way through an incredible two month learning experience. Looking back, I could not imagine a more meaningful way to spend the second half of my summer, but it took a leap of faith and more than a little uncertainty.

The difference between an average semester and an incredible semester is your ability to say “yes” to opportunities that compel you. If it seems to big for you or you feel under-qualified, try it anyway. You will surprise yourself. The worst thing that can happen is a healthy dose of rejection. College is about making the moves that feel right to better yourself emotionally and personally. It’s about find your comfort zone walls and pushing on them.

So how can you find opportunities? Run for a leadership position. Start a side hustle. Sit on a board. Apply for an internship. Try anything that moves you in the right direction.

The poet e e cummings once wrote, “I imagine that yes is the only living thing.” A simple “yes” can push you to brand new ground in your life — ground you have yet to explore. Yes will bring you new friendships with people who will encourage, influence, and inspire you. Yes will bring you to new experiences to expand your boundaries. Yes will shape your future.

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Writing. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Follow her blog here and tweet her @lindseygsampson.

Photo source: BeautyBets.com

Living Proof…that finding a co-op is not impossible

frustrated student head down

This guest post was written by Samantha Palmer, a 3rd biology student who just completed her first co-op at the cosmetic company, Living Proof, Inc.

Finals were approaching and anxiety of acquiring my first co-op job was growing. It was mid-December, and I was distracted by the consuming thought of not receiving a co-op offer. Checking my emails became an obsession and every email I received unrelated to co-op was a bothersome. Even more upsetting was that no one had told me getting a co-op could be this difficult, it seemed as if they were just handed to you. Sure, I had a few interviews, all of which I thought went rather well. It’s just that I applied to SO many jobs that I thought at least one would work out. I had good grades, and I aced my co-op class…why on earth had I still not received an offer? While many students had already accepted jobs, I did have a few friends in the same position as me. We were all a bit confused and frustrated, forced to register for classes the following semester.

As a Biology major I applied to many positions, mostly in research labs. Clinical opportunities were usually limited to health science majors. I would have loved a clinical experience, something I should have pushed for earlier in the co-op process. However, I did come to terms with myself that a lab experience would be beneficial for my studies, that is if I could get one.

I kept my thoughts positive while also accepting the possibility of being in classes next semester. Then one evening, I was having dinner with a few friends, one of which mentioned she was finishing up her chemical engineering co-op at a cosmetic company. It sounded cool and aligned with my interests. The idea of working with a science that is relevant to my feminine life was intriguing. She continued to tell me that she had sought out the position herself, and that they would definitely need someone to takeover for her. I was a little nervous since I was not a chemical engineering major, but why not try something new?

I ended up going in for an interview, learning about the position, and meeting the four members of the product development team. By the time I finished my last final, I had accepted the job offer and would officially begin working at Living Proof, Inc. for my first co-op. Looking back, it was as if all those other jobs didn’t work out for this very purpose. My experience at Living Proof was everything I could have asked for and more. I consider myself lucky to have had such an amazing opportunity.

Although I am not studying to be a chemical engineer, I gained great laboratory insight. As a science based hair product company, my main task consisted of batching. I followed recipes to produce shampoos, conditioners, styling products, hairsprays, etc. Overtime I became familiar with raw materials and how they contributed to each product. Sometimes I even got to take home a small sample of whatever I made that day. Batching was always satisfying because after a long day of measuring, mixing, heating, and cooling, you were left with a beautiful end product. Another fun task was tress work. This consisted of testing our hair products on hair strands to see how they performed, especially in relation to competitor products. Of course I also had to perform more tedious work. The stability of new possible formulas needed to be checked constantly. The color, odor, and consistency were measured to see how stable the product is over time. Keeping the lab clean is also important and a lot of my time was spent sanitizing equipment and organizing. My favorite part of my lab experience was helping with the actual formula for a new product. I got to test different raw materials and see how each performed in the salon. This was definitely frustrating, but now I can look forward to seeing a product on store shelves that I had a part in.

In addition to the lab experience, Living Proof has an awesome office environment. Due to the small size of the company, I sat among colleagues from various departments. I made friends in finance, marketing, and HR. We had an office kitchen where people could gather, and on Fridays the entire company came together for a group lunch. I got to see how the company ran as a whole, and it allowed me to make lifelong connections. Living Proof proved to be a place that had some of the smartest scientists, an amazing culture, and an exceptional learning environment. I looked forward to co-op every morning; my next one has a lot to live up to. What was my favorite part? I could say it was preparing for Jennifer Aniston’s visit, or the frequent product launch parties, or even the quiet, relaxing, lab atmosphere. However, every part of Living Proof seemed to make my experience worthwhile.

Make the job you want quoteThrough my first co-op process, I learned that acquiring a job or an internship is not just handed to you. You have to work hard for it. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and use whatever connections you have. Once you get where you want to be, it’s important to continue to make connections, even if you’re not looking for your next co-op or internship for another year or so.

Samantha is a 3rd year student at Northeastern, originally from NY. She’s seeking a bachelors degree in biology, with minors in psychology and business and plans to pursue a career within the medical field. 

5 Apps For A More Productive, More Awesome Semester

appsThe new semester is coming up fast, and its time to prepare. So while you’re being forced to download an app you neither want nor need (looking at you, Facebook messenger), take a minute to download some free apps to make your life easier and more efficient this semester.

RefMe: Here’s the situation – you have a paper due in an hour and you can’t remember the difference between MLA and APA citations. We get it. RefMe can help. Simply scan the barcode of the book you just referenced and you instantly have every form of citation you could possibly need. Chicago style? Easy. APA footnotes? No problem.

Evernote: This is one of the most useful apps you will ever download for a new school year. Make a list of employers you want to meet during that networking event and check them off as you go. Write a grocery list during class that you can access on your phone in the middle of the supermarket so you don’t forget pasta sauce again. Type notes on your computer and record the class lecture at the same time, and it will immediately be available on your tablet, your phone, and your computer so you can review that case study on your walk home.

White Noise: Getting out of the house every now and again to study in a new environment is refreshing, but not if the person a table away is talking on his phone like he’s never heard of an inside voice. WhiteNoise is an easy-to-use white noise generator that helps you block out distractions so you can study in peace.

Duolingo: You’re studying abroad in Spain next semester, so it’s high time you refreshed your Spanish language skills. Duolingo teaches you grammar & vocabulary with quick activities you can do a few minutes a day on the T. You’ll have your Spanish down in no time!

StudyBlue: StudyBlue means you can study whatever you want, wherever you are, with portable flashcards. Create a set of flashcards on your computer or your phone through StudyBlue, and you can access them at any time on your phone or tablet.

Want to make this the best semester ever? Add a couple of new apps to your phone or tablet. You’ll be smarter, more efficient, and better looking (probably).

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Writing. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Follow her blog here and tweet her @lindseygsampson.

Steer Clear of Creepers: Navigating Awkward Office Situations

image source: http://duebymonday.com/tag/behavior/

image source: http://duebymonday.com/tag/behavior/

It was a Wednesday afternoon, 15 minutes before quitting time. I had just graduated high school seven days earlier and had started a summer job at a small newspaper. In the midst of packing up my bag to officially shut down for the day, the screaming started. Yells I never expected to hear in an office. The executive editor and senior writer were exchanging harsh words about not meeting the Wednesday printing press deadline. I was frozen at my desk in the back hallway. The exchange went on for almost 20 minutes. Once quiet was restored, I quickly snuck out the front, so thankful to be out of the office.

The next morning, while writing my first article, the senior editor came over and apologized for what I heard the previous day. She said it was the biggest argument the two of them had ever had. She said to expect an outburst between her and the executive editor once a month. Three days in and I hear a huge fight; is it really that bad here? I thanked her for the apology and warning but questioned the office dynamic.

Later that same day, the secretary came to the back to use the paper cutter and asked how things were going. She then brought up that if I ever see the accountant (who conveniently sits right by me) intently watching videos on his computer to alert her. He watches porn in the office. Woah! Hold on-I’m sitting right near a porn watcher?

For the second day in a row, I left the office with way too many questions about the atmosphere and lack of professionalism. I drove straight home and spoke with my mom about the porn-watching situation. My mother told me that I didn’t have to return to the office. I could quit and avoid the uncomfortable situation. Through tears, I told her that I was not about to forgo my dream internship, or what I pictured was a dream internship, because of a couple crazy people. She told me she would support my decision but recommended that I ask to be moved. There was no need to have me sitting in the hallway.

Friday morning on the drive to work, I went over in my head how I would ask to be moved. I told myself that unless I speak up, I would be on edge the rest of the summer, knowing the porn-watcher was too close for comfort. Upon arrival, I told the secretary I thought about yesterday and decided I was not comfortable being around a horny guy and asked if it was possible to be moved. Just then, the associate editor walked in and he immediately agreed that I shouldn’t be sitting back there. As a result, I was moved to an empty office up front.

Later in the day, the senior writer issued another apology, this time on behalf of the staff. She was sorry I had to witness a guy watching porn and that she also is uncomfortable around him. The executive editor apologized too, saying he was unaware of the situation but that it was taken care of. One week down, I left the office with so many uncertainties about company culture but I was hopeful the summer could only go up from there.

There were more arguments and more porn streamed but I just turned a blind eye. The experience I got from writing for a newspaper trumped the negatives. At the end of the summer, my mom asked me a very important question: Looking back, would I intern for the newspaper again? I quickly responded “no.” But then on second thought, I said “maybe.” I learned how to professionally deal with coworkers that I didn’t want to be around. I spoke up for myself when I saw inappropriate behavior. More importantly, I took advantage of interning for a newspaper and published many articles. By the end of the summer, I became the best intern they had ever had. I proved to myself that I can handle any situation and can only hope that I will never have to deal with a poor company culture again.

 This guest post was written by a Northeastern Student who wished to remain anonymous.  

 

My #1 Trick for an Awesome Cover Letter

image source: sciencepreps.iupui.edu

image source: sciencepreps.iupui.edu

This guest post was written by recent communications graduate and former Career Development Intern and co-op, Amy Annette Henion

Last April, I sat on a hiring committee. Yes, I tend to talk about this a lot. (C’mon – as a student, is it not super cool to hire a great career counselor to help out your peers?)

While poring over the applicants’ cover letters, we noticed an important detail that made some candidates really shine. What did they do that the other candidates didn’t?

They talked about why they were passionate about our organization.
While writing a cover letter, you MUST follow this rule. Hiring committees and interviewers are looking to see if you care about their mission. Talking about your passion helps you stand out from the crowd. While applying for jobs, the last thing you want is a generic cover letter that sounds as though it could apply to any job at any other company.

So what makes you really want to apply to work for a certain company? Is it their dedication to helping serve underprivileged populations? Do they consistently strive for excellence with their product? Do they have a vibrant start-up culture that you think you can help build and grow? Say so! Sharing your passions paints a more colorful portrait of you as a living, breathing human being with hopes and dreams for the future. And who wouldn’t want to hire that kind of person?

Amy Annette Henion is a 2014 communications graduate with minors in theatre and East Asian studies. She basically lived in the theatre department office on the first floor of Ryder. Follow/tweet her at @amyannette37 and read her blog here.

Work. Location. Culture.

 

image generated by Wordle.com

image generated by Wordle.com

This article was written by Megan Fernandes, a 4th year international affairs student at NU as a guest blogger for The Works.

Work. Location. Culture. Last year, a professor told me that these are the three distinct elements I need to consider when looking for a job. A few years ago, I might have written this off fairly quickly, but after having a few varied work experiences under my belt, I realized they are all equally important to my happiness and success. Between my first and current co-op, I’ve learned what I need in a workplace to thrive professionally as well as what I need in regards to location and relationships to be happy. Like many other NU students- I have definitely learned what I don’t like in work, even before I figured out what I do.

Work. As college students, we’ve all been encouraged to pursue areas of study that we are passionate about in the hopes of finding a career where we feel we are making a difference. However, I’ve learned over time that feeling too committed to any particular job, industry or institution early on can be very limiting. I had my entire college career planned out by the fall of sophomore year, but so many different opportunities and challenges were presented along the way that threw my plans to the wind and changed what I had previously thought was a priority. Neither the work nor the industry I was in were much of a consideration in choosing my past two co-ops (sustainable agriculture in Cameroon and asset management in Boston), but that doesn’t mean I’ve learned any less about the kind of work I want to do eventually. Being able to stay flexible and transfer over as many professional and social skills between jobs, no matter how different they are, will help keep you positive and confident wherever you go.

Location. Because we attend such a diverse school that offers so many opportunities to leave campus, NU students, more than anyone, understand the importance of location. Cities around the world are becoming more international and physically going and living somewhere else isn’t as difficult as it once was. The big challenge is being OK with being uncomfortable and really giving each new place a real chance; keeping in mind that you may decide, despite your utmost respect for their culture and way of life, that it’s just not for you. Cameroon taught me that, specifically by showing me how different cultural values, social and economic factors can directly dictate the population’s lifestyle. Doing two co-ops in Boston has also taught me that I like living in cities and getting to know a city helps me feel at home.

Culture. Nowadays, people are thinking more broadly about what it means to employ people who are good “fits”. Thinking about if you can sit next to someone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is more of a consideration in hiring than ever before. It works the other way around as well. I have worked for a company whose mission and work I was highly inspired by, but the internal culture was unexciting and stifling. I have also worked for a company in an industry I am not stimulated by and whose work I often find routine, but its internal culture is more open, laid-back, and appreciative than anywhere else I’ve experienced. This combination has allowed me to see that I need a relaxed culture and the encouragement to form personal and professional relationships to maintain my personal happiness and motivation at work.

As much as it goes against my initial view when I started school, simply working on something you love isn’t enough. I always thought that if you found what it is that you wanted to do, you’d be golden, but I’ve realized that loving what is physically around you, both the location and the people, makes your work even more meaningful and makes you even better at what you do.

Megan Fernandes is an international affairs student in her fourth year at Northeastern with academic interests revolving around global poverty alleviation. Megan is originally from Houston, but went to high school in Bangkok, Thailand before moving to Boston. She loves learning about other cultures and would be happy to show new people around Boston!