Four Takeaways from my 6 Month Co-Op in London

It’s been almost four months since I first shared the story of how I nailed a six-month Co-Op in London. And while it seems like yesterday that I started working at one of the world’s largest private asset management firms, it’s always interesting to look back and see how much I’ve grown on a professional, personal and social level. Anyone who has ever done an internship or Co-Op knows what an amazing experience it is to immerse oneself in a work culture for a few months and soak in as much information, skills and expertise as you can. Even though I’ve yet to reach the end of my Co-Op, I would like to share my four main takeaways from my time in London. 

1. Stop focusing on the ‘how’ and start asking the ‘why’

It’s really hard to tell what to expect from an internship before you start. Most of us have this tendency to think that we are going to get a job and change the entire company and make millions of dollars over the course of two months. And while this is possible, it is highly unlikely. The truth is, most internships are designed to be on par with entry level positions and, like many things in life, you have to build trust with your supervisors and colleagues before you can move up. Put yourself in their shoes, they just hired someone in their early twenties, do you really expect them to send that person out to close a deal that they’ve been working on for months with a potential client? I didn’t think so either. You are only there for a few months — half a year max— and my advise is that you find better ways to make a strong impact on your team. Whatever it is that you’re working on; find a way to be the best at it. I know it sounds obvious but don’t take it for granted. Do things with a purpose and an impact. Find why it is that you’re doing something and always seek to go the extra mile. Get into work before anyone else on your team, take on broad projects outside your comfort zone and always strive for higher ground. Stop asking the whats or hows and start digging into the whys and what ifs.

2. Make yourself memorable. Stand out.

Building off my previous point, my second piece of advise is to be ready to challenge your daily tasks with a humble and proactive attitude. This is extremely valuable in large companies that are more corporate and have a well engrained system and way they go about things. My suggestion is to study up on your job with excruciating detail and learn everything there is to know about your tasks or processes, then start working towards hacking it and finding ways to do it better, faster, cheaper. Maybe your coworker sends out a report that builds off something you could do for her; offer to help out and do it for her. Or why not take a shot at building a macro or do a little bit of data mining and come up with some conclusions that can add value to the team. Read at least one WSJ article a day, watch Khan Academy or take a start-up class.

3. Learn as if you’ll live forever.

No generation has never been more interested in internships or work experience than ours today. We are always on the look out for new things to learn, and with a world more connected than ever, opportunities are available to those who have the will and drive to get after it.  In my opinion, the real value behind an internship is not in the work that you do but rather the skills that your learn, the people you work with and the resources available to you. Getting your foot in the door at a well established company or start-up is an opportunity for you to expand your network. On the one hand I would encourage you to reach out to your colleagues and invite them to join you for a coffee, lunch, or one-on-one where you can get some valuable career advice. On the other hand, I would encourage you to take advantage of  the resources a company invests in acquiring knowledge and research. Take a look at some of the research that has been put together by experts about the how the company operates, where it’s going and why the market is evolving the way that it is. 

4. Make lemonade.

My final piece of advise is to enjoy everyday of it while it’s there. Internships and Co-Ops are not meant to last forever and that is precisely the beauty of it. You’re only committed to a couple of months worth of work experience so make the most of it even though you may come to realize that this isn’t what you see yourself doing in the long term. Be grateful for every opportunity and look at it as a learning experience, even if it isn’t for you. Focus on what you learn everyday and sharpen the skills you might use in the future, like those Excel tricks you can list as “advanced” on your resume. Or instead of email, practice calling people inside the company and try conveying your message via phone – you’d be surprise at how challenging this can be. If you get up for coffee or water, ask the people around you if they want anything from the kitchen. Always greet people in the elevator, the sound of a ‘good morning’ and ‘have a nice day’ has a louder echo than you might think. Bake a batch of cookies and bring them into the office, or get a bag of treats for Halloween. Take a breath, work hard, build connections, appreciate and never forget to look back and share your story.

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Carlos Villa Lobos

Carlos Villalobos (@carlosvivaldi) is a globetrotter and student entrepreneur. He grew up in El Salvador where he went to a British high school that put a lot of emphasis on international experiences. He is currently a Finance & Entrepreneurship major at Northeastern University in Boston and has had work experience all over the world including places like San Francisco and London. Carlos is moved by technology and science. His other interests include coffee, brunch, running, and photography; get to know him at carloseduardo.co

  • Kehinde Ayanleye

    @carlosvivaldi, this is remarkably valuable. Thanks for sharing and sure you had enjoyed the experience ?