Among the many rites of passage in a college career – your first frat party, fighting with roommates, cooking something more adventurous than Easy Mac – some will be more valuable learning experiences than others.
It’s hard to find one you will learn more from than your first co-op or internship. You put on a suit you probably just bought, fake a passable level of preparedness, and venture out into Corporate America for the very first time.
My first six months as a functional human in the working world has taught me more than I could have imagined. From figuring out my treacherous commute to learning how to have the right amount of fun in the office, these lessons will likely stay with me forever.
Luckily, I’ve generously decided to share them with you. Any you would add? Leave them in comments.
- Just Gotta Fake It ‘Til You Make It
In the beginning, it’s normal to think, “Why did these people hire me? Am I even useful?” But though you may feel like a 12-year-old in a blazer, everything you learned in class is slowly coming back to you. By Month 2, you’ll stop asking 500 questions about every task (maybe only 150), and realize the knowledge was there all along. Just keep in mind that you wouldn’t be there if your coworkers didn’t see your potential, and be patient with yourself. Before you know it, you’ll feel like part of the team.
- “Prioritizing” Sometimes Takes Longer Than Working On Your Priorities
It may feel like all you do during meetings – and meetings are a lesson unto themselves – is sort your priorities, update your team on your priorities, reevaluate priorities, prioritize some projects, and deprioritize other ones. See the pattern here?
But, just when the mere mention of "prioritizing" is enough to drive you up the wall, you’ll quickly realize that there’s a method to the madness. What you do (and, yes, prioritize) affects everyone else on the team. Prioritization is not micromanagement -- it’s letting people know what you’re doing, because it’s important. Not to mention, it’s a great way to stay on top of your tasks.
- You’ll Hate Business Jargon Until One Day You Catch Yourself Telling Your Roommate You Like the Way She Leveraged Fresh Thyme in Her Balsamic Roasted Radicchio
A new workplace means a new culture with its unique people and their buzzwords. It’s only natural that some of these words will rub you the wrong way, at first. Maybe you hear “granular” about 800 times a day, or just can’t get behind the use of “leverage” as a verb. Or maybe you spend way too many hours “noodling” whether “winnow down” or “whittle down” is the proper expression. Regardless, it will only be a matter of time before you call your mom and proudly tell her how you “got granular with your data in order to leverage its potential” – and that’s when you know you’re one of them.
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- Finding Work Friends Is a Must
It’s a universal truth that your job is only as great as the people you share it with. So when you spend 40 hours a week in the office, it makes all the difference in the world if you have someone to joke around with, play a quick game of ping pong in the break room with, or even sit with during lunch. Find yourself an office friend and you’ll find yourself enjoying the workday. And another tip: It helps if you love the people on your team.
- Meetings Are Work
It’s definitely a shock when you see your boss spend 7 out of her 9-hour day bouncing from meeting to meeting. Fast forward six weeks and your calendar’s filling up with more meetings every day – tactical meetings, informational meetings, input meetings, decision meetings, just to name a few. You’ll start to wonder, “How do we ever find the time to work on the things we meet about?” But before long you’ll realize meetings aren’t just a necessary evil, they’re an important part of the workday. And let’s be honest, they’re more fun than sitting at the same desk all day.
Find Out How to Prevent Meeting Culture From Killing Productivity
- “Find Your Fridge” And Other Office Hacks
Every workplace has its secret perks and six months is plenty of time to sniff them out. Maybe every Tuesday the kitchens get stocked with Greek yogurt, but by Thursday they’re all gone – or are they? If you’re observant (or just an addict), you’ll come to realize that the 6th floor kitchen never runs out of yogurt because hardly anyone sits up there. Figure out the little secrets that make your office special and enjoy them – that’s what they’re there for.
- Nobody Uses Nap Rooms
I should know – they’re right next to my hidden cache of Chobani on the sixth floor! Nap rooms sound amazing in theory, and show that your employer really cares about your work-life balance. But actually, does anyone have the guts to come into work, grab their Snuggie (if you don't have a blanket with sleeves stashed at your desk, you're doing it wrong), and doze off for 30 minutes? It’s a bold move – definitely too bold for a co-op!
- Enjoy Work-Life Balance While You Can
What do you come home to when you leave the office? If you’re anything like me, it's probably straight to your couch and your Netflix. Maybe you go to the gym or cook yourself a fancy dinner. But, basically, your responsibilities are over for the day. Meanwhile, your co-workers are coming home to actual tiny people who depend on them for food, homework help, attention and so much more. When your job ends at 5 p.m., their second job – parenthood – is only just beginning. Can you imagine?
Ask Yourself: Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible Anymore?
- It’s Awesome to be a Part of Something Big
Nothing beats finishing a project you worked hard on, only to find out that it’s a part of something massively important and cool. For me, the best part of co-op is being able to contribute to something larger than yourself and thinking, “Wow, I helped make that happen.” So enjoy the feeling of being a productive grown-up, if only temporarily – you earned it.
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Allie Glushanok is a student at Northeastern University, studying Business Administration and Interactive Media. She completed a six month co-op at Care.com and enjoys travel, Game of Thrones, and cheesy foods.