Life on Co-op, Advice for Spring 2015

Caroline Fried, co-oping at the Beijing Daxing Dandelion School.

Caroline Fried, co-oping at the Beijing Daxing Dandelion School.

It's that time of year again, when Scholars are interviewing for co-op positions and trying to determine what working experience will help them to shape their next years of learning at Northeastern. Here's some great advice from Scholars who returned to campus this spring about what to look for in a co-op, how to interview, and strategies for succeeding in the workplace.

Ask lots of questions during the first couple of weeks! If you are quiet, people are assuming that you're all settled in.

I advise all co-op applicants to get in touch with students who have previously had the co-op and ask questions.  Co-ops should uphold the etiquette taught in the co-op classes, as this will not go unnoticed.  Most other skills are particular to the job, but timeliness, accountability, and respect apply to all jobs.

- Setting clear objectives with their manager
- Not being afraid to speak up if something seems out of place or you see an easier/quicker/cheaper way of doing something
- Asking to learn more about an aspect of the company or spend more time in a particular department or location if you find that interesting
- Meet and develop meaningful relationships with as many people as you can, you never know who they might know or who they might talk to about you


Make sure you value your own time and prioritize tasks even if it requires saying "no" to someone. Try reaching out to higher management as those people might have some eye-opening experiences to share. Work on your writing skills as those are one of the most valuable tools you can enter your first coop with.

Be open to everything you can possibly learn, and talk to everyone at the office even if you're not working with them directly.  They all have interesting work histories and things they can teach you.  Also know that you probably already have the skills necessary to complete the work you will be assigned, and if nothing else you will pick them up quickly.

  1. Keep an open mind. Walk in with few expectations.
  2. Ask as many questions as possible, both about the field of work and the work you're doing. Fully understanding why you're doing what you're doing makes it so much more meaningful and helps in explaining your resume later on.
  3. Your boss is your greatest ally.
  4. Jump right into the social culture at work. Trying to later on will be difficult.
  5. Believe in your abilities and advocate for yourself when needed. You are your greatest promoter.
  6. Ask for advice from everyone around you. One conversation I had with HR in my last week led me to talking to our head of clinical studies, which provided me with ample opportunities in other fields.
  7. Ask a co-worker to edit your resume and help you word the work you did while on co-op. Don't be afraid to make yourself look good on your resume.

I think it's helpful, before going on co-op, to have a handle on your language use, including how much you curse. Cut down early.

My advice to other scholars heading out on coop would be to ask lots of questions during the interview, and talk to past coop students if possible to get a clearer picture of exactly what the job would be like.  In addition, especially for science students some useful skills would be general literacy in excel and statistics.

I would say take it as it is.
It is a six month work experience. Get as much out of it as possible; learn everything you can. But don't worry if it is not the most invigorating work, or a coworker is frustrating. Co-op is not the be-all-end-all of your life.

1) You can never get enough practice with interviewing know your strengths, weaknesses, and have as many examples of applicable past experiences as possible
2) Get college leadership experience, in clubs and other organizations. they give you talking points for interviews and develop your interpersonal and organizational skills
3) Get involved. a lot of my friends made the mistake of "taking it easy" for their first two years -- they had a hard time building their resumes. joining a club and putting the club name on your resume isn't enough -- attend events, be as specific as possible about activities and your role in them