Workplace Adjustment

Career Services provides the information below to help you make a smooth transition from campus life to your co-op work assignment. If you have additional questions, or you encounter a roadblock during your co-op experience, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Relocation and Housing

You will likely relocate for your co-op assignment. Employers may pay for car mileage, meals, or motel costs, depending on the distance, while you search for adequate housing.

Employer housing assistance varies widely. Some companies may supply housing or provide housing stipends, but most often you will be responsible for your own housing. Most employers are happy to help their employees with housing searches, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.

How do I find housing?

If the company doesn’t supply housing, there are several steps you may take in your search:

  • Contact current and past students who previously worked with the company. You may contact Career Services for assistance in contacting these individuals.
  • Check local newspapers or the Internet.
  • Contact local real estate agencies.

Preparing For Your First Day on the Job

What to Know Before You Arrive

  • Know the dress code of the workplace. Avoid being over or under-dressed.
  • Time the drive to work during rush hour traffic to avoid showing up late.
  • Know where and when to report.
  • Bring the necessary documents. Typically, a driver's license, Social Security card, and/or birth certificate are required. These are to process paperwork through the employer's human resources office.

What to Expect When You Get There

  • The first day will likely be spent in the Human Resources office completing the necessary paperwork for employment.
  • A drug screen and/or physical at the employer's medical services office may be required.
  • Many employers provide a brief orientation to the company as a whole and to your department in particular. Although procedures vary from company to company, larger co-op employers often assign one contact person, usually within the Human Resources Department, to provide you with information on the company's history, philosophy, policies, and rules. If there isn’t a formal orientation at your company, request any applicable employment information from your supervisor or the company's co-op coordinator.

Your Work Space

  • A workspace will also be provided. Depending on the company, a desk, phone, and/or computer may be provided. Remember that these are owned by the company and they are likely monitored in accordance with strict policies regarding usage. In other words, do not use company equipment for personal reasons.
  • Take a tour of the facility. If a tour is not arranged by the employer it is still important to become acquainted with the new setting. Be sure to do so within the expectations of the company's culture. This is a good time to become familiar with the company's culture as well as the new surroundings (i.e., restrooms, cafeteria, copy and fax machines, and meeting rooms).
  • Obtain necessary safety equipment immediately.

New Co-op Jitters and Adjustments

It is natural to feel nervous or excited in starting a new job. The logistics of moving and settling in will move by quickly. The co-op experience is the opportunity to find out what is involved in a chosen field beyond the classroom experience. 

Students who are beginning their first work assignments are often quite eager to jump into a project and apply their classroom knowledge in the work environment. However, basic tasks will, often, be assigned first in order to prove reliability and competence before inclusion in higher-level projects. No matter how menial or trivial the early duties appear, one's best efforts should be given. 

The spirit of tackling one's initial tasks will be carefully noted by fellow employees. Failing to take those tasks seriously, may have a detrimental effect on the progression of one's assignment, and, possibly, one's career opportunities. 

While routine duties may be assigned initially, being busy will become the norm. Industry changes rapidly, and some students report that their work levels may be very slow at some points, and then incredibly busy at other times, due to new, unexpected projects and timelines.

During the "slow times" one can seek out other projects, even in different departments of the company. Initiative and work ethic rarely go unnoticed, and there is the opportunity to gain more knowledge about the company and industry.

If, however, there is a significant lack of meaningful, job-related work, please contact Career Services to discuss work related concerns. The staff can only offer assistance and intervene when made aware of difficult circumstances. 

Your Employer

It is important to remember that although you’re a student, you’re also working as a company employee. Primarily, you should be working for your employer through the instructions given to you by your supervisor. Also, be aware of the chain of command in the office. If you’re having problems, follow the chain of command. First talk to a coworker, then go to your supervisor, and if further action is needed, meet with your human resources representative.

Sometimes enthusiastic young employees ignore or circumvent their superiors in an attempt to get things done and to progress more quickly in their assignment. Things may move a little faster that way initially, but sooner or later you will learn that such tactics are not tolerated in most organizations. It is to your advantage to work for your employer by following the instructions of your immediate supervisor. Your supervisor determines your evaluation and rates you on your ability to operate within established guidelines and protocols.

Many companies offer a variety of benefits to co-op employees, such as health care coverage, credit union privileges, housing, transportation allowances, or financial assistance for course work, i.e., your co-op credit tuition. Consult the personnel or human resources department of your company regarding benefits for which you may qualify, but remember that these are privileges granted to you by your employer. Don’t feel entitled to benefits that regular employees may have. Because you are a student and an employee simultaneously, your situation differs from that of a full-time employee.

If you’re assigned to a project during your co-op position, try to tie up any loose ends with that project before you leave the company. If you’re unable to complete your project, or if it’s ongoing, discuss the status of the project with your supervisor or the person who will be responsible for continuing these duties after your departure. Don't just dump a pile of papers on someone's desk on your way out the door.

Your Supervisor

Since your supervisor will be selecting your job assignments, you can expect him or her to make a significant contribution to your professional growth and competence in acquiring skills, tackling problems, using time efficiently, and communicating well with others in your area. Your supervisor should call your attention to any problem areas or weaknesses in your work habits or attitude.

Your supervisor may be called upon to account for, defend, or explain your activities to management or to coordinate your duties into a larger plan, so keep the lines of communication open. While your supervisor will be an important influence on your development and progression in your work assignment, be careful not to solicit minute-by-minute directions and approvals; do your own thinking and seek out your supervisor when you genuinely need assistance with a problem or procedure.