In September I didn’t know what to expect from the next four months of my co-op as a Project Administration Assistant at SFU VentureLabs. Especially as it meant transitioning from working in a large government Finance department to a five-person team at a business accelerator. I just knew I was ready to try something new and, truthfully, excited to have secured a co-op position at all amid COVID-19. As my term wraps up, I can easily say the skills and learning experiences I’ve picked up have far surpassed what I originally imagined for my last co-op semester – and I think part of this is attributable to the smaller company size and close-knit team environment at VentureLabs.
1. A smaller team means greater exposure to different tasks and projects
While I was originally hired on to help run one of VentureLabs and WEKH’s new projects, my duties quickly expanded to include other marketing and administrative work. From writing blog posts for their website to compiling PR lists for clients and attending content brainstorming sessions, I was both surprised and grateful that a company would let a student be involved in so many aspects of the business and have a real impact. Getting to work on projects outside the scope of my original position allowed me to broaden my skill set immensely and I now have a wide range of real work experiences and accomplishments to back up the skills on my resume.
2. There’s a good balance of working independently and collaborating with your team
While working remotely has its challenges and I would have loved to not be working right next to my bed 35 hours a week, the company did the best they could to support us through Zoom check-ins three times a week, frequent Slack communication, and socially distanced meetups. If I was ever unsure about something, I could easily message my managers and get a response within a day. Our weekly meetings included fun activities like trivia, themed photograph contests, and employee skill shares, all of which quickly made me feel like I was a part of the team despite working from home. At the same time, I was given autonomy with many assignments, particularly those that had to do with Excel. With this, I felt I had a good balance of experiencing what it was like to manage a project from start to finish independently while getting support from my team when it was necessary.
3. You get to work closely with and learn from people who know a lot more than you
Since the organizational structure is generally flatter in a smaller company, you’ll likely get the opportunity to work with the senior team members closely and regularly. A good example of this I can think of is when I wrote my first blog post – at the time, I remember feeling nervous as I had never written anything more than an email in a work context. However, the marketing co-ordinator reviewed my work and input her own ideas at every step of the process, from drafting an outline to coming up with a creative title and ways to make the post more engaging. The end product felt more like a collaborative effort than something I had taken on myself, which I really appreciated. This is just one of many examples and throughout the semester my managers have frequently helped me word emails, overcome project administration obstacles, and improve my work output. Learning by example, especially when the example comes from people who are much more experienced than you, is a valuable way to build your skills. At VentureLabs, I think I got the opportunity to do this a lot more than I would at another workplace.
For these three reasons, I would highly encourage any student – whether it’s your first co-op or you’re one semester from graduating like me – to try working for a small or mid-sized company at least once in their degree. While I discovered I prefer working in an environment similar to the one at VentureLabs, I don’t regret doing my first co-op in government as I think experiencing both ends of the spectrum has given me a more well-rounded skillset. I’m still unsure of exactly what I want to do after graduation but, after this term, I don’t feel limited in the type of positions and companies I can apply to once I decide.
As a student scrolling through the long list of co-op postings, it’s normal to get excited about big names like Amazon and Microsoft. Applying and working for industry giants is great too; just don’t let the thought that you need a prestigious company name on your LinkedIn limit you from considering positions that could benefit you immensely in other ways.