My first summer co-op was after my first year of university. I worked at a school and helped teachers create online course resources. Though I already had work and volunteer experience in customer service, I was so nervous about my first “real” 9 to 5 job! At the end of my term, the only negative thing on my evaluation was that I never came out of my shell at work. Now that I’ve completed 6 co-op terms, I’m no longer so anxious at starting at a new job. Here is the number one tip I would tell my first year self…

Ask questions! This is the biggest hurdle I (and many of my friends) faced when starting at a new workplace.  It took me until my 4th co-op term to figure this out. This tip might seem obvious – most employers will even tell you to ask anything you want during training. I used to hear this and still not ask because I thought my employer was just being polite and my questions might be silly or have obvious answers. Now I know better.

When you’re starting a new job, you need to know what your company and team work on and what exactly your role is. Most workplaces run differently and it’s perfectly okay to not know everything about what’s going on during your first few weeks. During my first few work terms, I was always intimidated by how easily my co-workers talked about the day-to-day operation and felt like I couldn’t ask them for clarification or help. After all, wasn’t it my job to know as well? But when I was training new employees, I found that I never thought badly of trainees who asked questions. In fact, I appreciated their questions because it made them seem enthusiastic to learn and reminded me of things I forgot to explain. 

Even if you’ve finished training, you should still be asking questions. If you don’t ask questions you can’t do your job. I actually realized that when a friend was telling me about their struggles at work because they didn’t know how to do something but didn’t want to ask because it had been explained weeks ago during their training and they forgot. Instead of asking again, they spent weeks putting off the tasks that they were confused about until they piled up! When I used to have questions that I was too nervous to ask, I would just make a guess and keep working. Obviously, this method backfired a few times when I made the wrong guess. I’ve learned that while it might feel embarrassing, asking questions really isn’t something to be embarrassed about and something everyone needs to do to do your job. Afterall, I’d rather ask and get the correct answer than do something incorrect and have to redo it later.

And not only can asking questions benefit you, but it can benefit the company too! Asking questions can spark conversation. If you’re confused about why exactly you’re doing something, ask! It can start a conversation and lead to changes to the team’s workflow, or you can realize you and your teammates can collaborate and make the job easier! Though you may be a co-op, your opinions are still very valuable, especially as a new employee who’s looking at the work with fresh eyes.  

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you by now how valuable it is to ask questions and keep asking them whether it’s in school or at work!

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