An internship or co-op is often the perfect—and most practical—opportunity for students and recent graduates to get their foot in the door. But while internships are meant to provide inexperienced and young professionals with many of the skills they’ll need in their industry, there are some things a placement simply can’t teach.

Some things need to be learned from experience and also, unfortunately, error. Three entry-level employees reflect on their first year in the workforce after completing an internship.

On landing the “big job” and transitioning from intern to full-time employee:

Jamie Crawford-Ritchie, Corporate Communications Associate: My first few weeks were easy, but the months after were more intimidating. I realized that I really needed to find my place at this organization. No one was going to do it for me and I was no longer going to have someone holding my hand. I started attending and leading meetings without my co-workers and taking on projects of my own. It was scary but also very empowering.

Brier Thedorf, Events and Employer Development Assistant: I found the transition extremely easy, only because the company I was doing my co-op with offered me a full-time position halfway through my placement. They slowly transitioned me into the position and so throughout my co-op term, my responsibilities and workload increased. Once I became a full-time employee on payroll, I was confident in my abilities and understood my role.

Ryan Beckford, Digital Integrations Specialist: My transition was quite smooth. As an intern, I had to constantly discover new ways to keep myself busy, which led to innovative ideas favourable to the company. Once I was hired as a full-time employee, there was a lot more work for me.

On the biggest challenge faced during their first year of work:

Brier: I felt I wasn’t effectively using the tools that I learned in school. I was so concerned with having a full-time position that I stayed in a role where there wasn’t much growth for me. As time went on, I became more and more unfulfilled in my role. I eventually built up the courage to ask for more tasks related to my education however, the company felt I was excelling in my role regardless of the tasks and were unable to provide me with any communications-type work at that time. This ultimately led to my departure.

Jamie: My biggest challenge was proving my competency and gaining the respect of the internal and external clients that I worked with. Showing them that they were in capable hands. It took a few months to really establish a strong and trusting relationship with them and it was hard to get them to reach out to me first as opposed to my co-workers. School taught me how to work well with others but it couldn’t have prepared me specifically for that challenge.

On making those “rookie” mistakes:

Brier: I sent an email with an attachment that had confidential information to a client. I was lucky that I caught the mistake right away, protected the confidential information and informed the client not to open it and to delete the e-mail. I felt extremely embarrassed when I had to explain the situation to my manager. What it taught me was to be more careful, review my work even if it is just as simple as an email and to not rush things, even if it’s a small task.

Jamie: I was two weeks into my co-op and I was covering someone who was on vacation. Human Resources, a big internal client, asked me to help them with something urgent. Although I knew how to upload content to our internal site, I was unclear as to exactly what they were asking of me. The content that needed to go out to the organization was regarding a policy change, and so I updated the policy in our server. I later found out that they also wanted a written announcement about the changes. With much back and forth, some hostile words and my hurt pride, the announcement went out. This mistake taught me to always ask for explicit instructions. Even if the question seems trivial, I’d much rather ask someone to clarify something than to do it incorrectly.

On the journey so far, evolution and growth:

Ryan: I’ve definitely learned and evolved a lot. Advancing in the “real world” is a little scary, especially when working for a private or public company that counts on its bottom line. But it’s sink or swim.

Brier: There were a lot of highs and lows. I went from being bored in the “real world,” to feeling very accomplished, to feeling like I had plateaued in learning. Through these experiences, I feel as though I’m more aware of my skills and how I want to use them. I’ve realized that I had to put less focus on the financials and having a “steady” position and place more focus on my career growth as well as my happiness in a position.

Jamie: My journey has been about finding the confidence to stand behind my choices, defend them and ultimately make the best possible decisions for how to communicate things to an organization of 500 employees. My advice to other young people who are just entering the workforce is to be patient, always ask questions, look for opportunities and if you want something – ask!

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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