Making the Most of Your Co-op Work Experience

The Kettering University Professional Cooperative Education Program offers you tremendous opportunities that other college and university students wish they had before graduation. Your co-op terms are building blocks to your future. Therefore, the more successful each co-op experience is, the more your career starts to fall into place.

Unlike your academic classes, there are no midterms in the world of work to indicate how you are doing. You rely more on your own initiative and drive to be successful.

Be Prepared for a Successful Beginning

Once an employer has extended you an offer of co-op employment and you have accepted, you should begin to make preparations for a successful first co-op experience. Approximately two weeks in advance of your start date, plan to contact your co-op coordinator at your employer to review the items listed below:

  • Where to park
  • What clothes are most appropriate to wear. This can vary depending on the work environment - office, factory, shop floor, etc.
  • Work Schedule
  • Confirm your start date and time
  • What time your workday is usually finished?
  • When are your lunch breaks?
  • Is there a cafeteria on site?
  • Is there documentation you need for the Personnel/Human Resources Department?
  • Is a physical exam required?
  • Is there a drug-testing requirement?
  • Can the co-op coordinator give you some general information about your first work assignment?

If your newly accepted co-op position requires relocation, carefully consider the following list of preparation suggestions:

  • Finding an apartment:
    • Ask the Cooperative Education Manager for suggestions on local living arrangements
    • Check newspaper advertisements and check with local colleges
    • Consider utilizing a locator service
    • Contact other Kettering University Students
  • Review lease information carefully
  • Be prepared to have names, addresses, and phone numbers of parents or other relatives available as references
  • Security check - have information on financial status available for a security check

Being a Team Player

As a new employee, it is critical for you to learn (as quickly as possible) the NON-task related elements of the job that determine whether a person succeeds or fails. (The Journal of Career Planning & Employment; Spring 1992)

These include such challenges as:

  • Fitting into the new culture
  • Earning respect and credibility
  • Learning the politics of the organization
  • Discovering what the unwritten expectations are
  • Building effective working relationships
  • Becoming accepted as a member of the team
  • Learning the informal structure and methods of the company
  • Understanding the power and reward structure
  • Learning how to get things accomplished within the organization

Just showing up for work does not mean that you have gained membership in an organization. Membership is earned, not granted, and it evolves over time. For a co-op student, this means that each new assignment is like starting a new job, where a psychological contract must be built between the organization and you. The cost of failure in this process is substantial and long standing to your future. As a co-op student, your initial focus should be to develop subordinate savvy. The relationship you establish with your new boss is very different from others you will acquire. The key for you is to make yourself easy to manage and to try to become an indispensable part of the team. Strong initiative and a winning attitude regardless of the assignment will usually get you off to a good start while illustrating to the boss your desire to make him/her look good.

A final thought - as a co-op student, you are under a magnifying glass because your employer wants you to do well and to be a top performer. Will you make the cut?

Understanding Your Employer

As a new co-op employee, it is important, you have a thorough understanding of the goals of your employer. Much of this information should be obtained during your research of the organization before your interview. The remainder should now be available to you as an employee. As you gather information on your employer, consider the following list:

  • Does your co-op employer have a mission statement?
  • Brief employer history (significant dates, events, developments)
  • Size (number of employees, plants and locations)
  • Present ownership
  • Union (if any - give details i.e. name, local # affiliations)
  • Products/Services
  • Customers (Who buys the product/service? Where are they located?)
  • Financial Figures (available from the annual reports of public companies only) Sales, net profit, earnings, latest stock price (newspaper)
  • Future Directions (new products/services, new markets)

In addition, do you know what benefits your employer will provide to you now and in the future?

(This information should be obtained from Personnel/Human Resources)

  • Vacations
  • Overtime Compensation
  • Flex Time
  • Education Assistance (Grad School)
  • Worker's Compensation
  • Company Pension
  • Long Term Disability
  • Suggestion Plan
  • Medical Plan
  • Dental Plan
  • Vision Plan
  • Profit Sharing
  • Stock Purchase Plan