By Lilly Rowe, BCom student

I should have realized from the unconventional interview that this co-op would be different, to say the least. As I was sitting at my desk on the first Friday of my first work week, I suddenly realized how different work cultures could be. From that moment onward, this idea about my future was different from what I thought it would be, and I was delightfully surprised about that.

While I was applying for co-op positions last spring, a friend of mine from my LinkedIn network reached out to me about an e-commerce and marketing position at a company called Batten Industries. When I got to the interview dressed in business formal, I noticed that everyone around me was wearing t-shirts and jeans and socializing around the office. I was passing a ball to my soon-to-be boss’s dog while explaining my life story – and then I got the job.

I always thought that the “office life” meant black slacks and 9-5 shifts. Most of my past work experiences were more traditional. For example, at my first co-op in the summer semester of my second year, I wore business casual clothes every day, worked exactly 8 am – 4 pm, put my head down, and silently got to work. When appropriate, I asked questions and had small talk, but otherwise, it was a jam-packed summer of learning and working independently. Although I learned a lot from this experience, in my current co-op, I quickly learned that that wasn’t necessarily what “office life” has to be, nor was it what I wanted. This culture I had previously called “office life” might be the traditional model, but there are alternatives that are drastically different.

My new co-op has a polar opposite working culture. The hours are more flexible, there is no particular dress code, and there is always a conversation going on an earshot away. I never realized that there could be such a fun environment while working in that “office life”! Whenever I am in a drought, I can go spark up a conversation and brainstorm with the person next to me, or even go for a walk upstairs and talk with different departments. This “brain break” allows me to be more creative and work harder once I come back to it. This balance of work/play is something I had no idea was available to me in an office setting – and finding it has made a massive change in my future job searches. It is imperative to me now that I find a job that fits my personality and that I fit right into the culture.

I remember learning in Leading People and Organizations II that we are meant to interview our employers while they are interviewing us to make sure the culture is the right fit – I don’t think I quite understood this until I’ve had this great culture fit at my current co-op. Whether it is your first job, second, or third, I encourage everyone to try to find the right work culture, interview the interviewer and get a feel for how your coworkers interact before you start. You could ask things like, “could you tell me more about the work culture at the office?” Or “what does the office do for fun or team bonding?” From my experience, I have learned that questions like these are key to finding out if the job is right for you. Working in the right environment will help make sure you get the most out of your work experience and help you grow as a person.

From this experience, I have learned to seek out this culture in every future job opportunity that arises. In addition, I have learned that I thrive in environments that are a bit noisier and are a bit less traditional. Lastly, I have learned that a 9-5 office job can be more than what you’d expect. This vision I once had about “office life” was much different than reality and different from what I originally wanted in a job – but isn’t that the point of co-op?