Co-op at Third SectorA Reflection on the Responsibilities & Resources Available

As a senior in high school, I selected Northeastern University for their emphasis on experiential learning, not knowing then how I would fare in a 9-5 position or taking a six-month hiatus from classes. At Northeastern, co-op is considered part of the curriculum, with courses covering everything you’re expected to know - from how to conduct yourself in an interview to what to wear on the job. In my first week however, I realized that no amount of studying would have prepared me for the transition to a full-time role.

When I joined the Third Sector team in January as the Communications & Business Development co-op, I was aware that I was entering a rather unique situation. The role I secured was much different from that I had applied for initially, as my position had been created during my interview based on a need identified within the firm. In the interview process, team members confirmed that the position would allow me to execute on skills I had developed through my leadership experience and extracurriculars on campus. While the position on first glance appeared to vary greatly from my academic pursuits, the experiences I had in this role, through the work I completed and mentorship I received, resulted in incredible personal and professional growth.

In my position, I worked across two lanes within the firm. This role is intended to split their time equally between Communications and Business Development - something that excited me from the beginning, exposing me to both internal operations, granting me insight into the firm, and  external communications, allowing me to learn more about the field of Pay for Success and outcomes orientation.

There are a few key tasks that influenced my perspective on the work I was doing every day.

These tasks included:

  • Social media management: Skills I had practiced while representing student organizations online allowed me to engage with other players in the space during my employment with Third Sector. Whether it was highlighting the successes of our partners, or promoting awareness for events attended by members of the firm, I had to make decisions regarding what platform to post on and what content to highlight. Each social media outlet is unique in their audience type and engagement level, and it was important to recognize the diversity of our audiences and cater the content being posted to each respective platform.
  • Researching leads and developing grant proposals: Working alongside Managers and other individuals on the Revenue Team allowed me to practice telling the story of Third Sector in a way that was both succinct and engaging. Much unlike my classes, where students are encouraged to write the most to show expertise in a certain field or subject, every character counted here. This skill also proved to be useful proved useful for my work in Communications, when text is best kept brief to appear uniform on the web. Composing proposals, and all the research that led to identifying these leads, helped me not only better understand the funder landscape, but also the unique obstacles to funding systems change in the field of Pay for Success and outcomes orientation.
  • Web page development: Working on the Third Sector website allowed me to put my practice in storytelling to the test, adding another layer of complication: design. At the end of my term, I met with external contractors on messaging and branding. I found these meetings to be incredibly interesting, as our partnership encouraged me to view our work and platform from an unfamiliar lens. Ensuring our content was accessible to individuals not familiar with our work required me to take a step back from what I had been taught at university, where the use of jargon shows expertise in a subject area.

Outside of everyday responsibilities, Third Sector encouraged staff to reflect on their work. In partnership with my Career Manager and supervisors, who provided critical support and consistent feedback, I was able to identify personal challenges and opportunities for growth, voice my interests when it comes to developing projects, and set long-term goals for myself.

  • Career management: At Third Sector, all team members are paired with an individual to manage personal and professional growth. As this co-op was my first, having the time allotted to practice one of the company’s five Rs - reflection - ensured that I was consciously reviewing the challenges I faced on a regular basis. My direct supervisors in the lanes of Communication and Business Development provided feedback throughout the week, one on one, but having a career manager that I didn’t work with directly helped put any challenges I faced into perspective. These meetings kept me accountable to my own goals.
  • Project work: Working on an assignment for quite some time, refining the final product through several iterations of feedback and review allowed me to learn more about my work process and develop my working knowledge of programs and software such as Excel. While at Third Sector, I created a tool to track firm-wide metrics and in turn, got to practice hard skills in Excel while also learning more about the firm’s progress towards their mission.
  • Informational interviews: Close to the end of my co-op I met with fellow team members to learn more about the natural progression within the field, or entering the field from another, as I looked forward to returning to classes. My goal of conducting these interviews was to help me identify potential opportunities in college, whether it be in or outside of the classroom, or leads to inspire my next and final co-op.

As a result of my time with Third Sector, I’ve learned more about myself as a student and as a professional. Working at Third Sector helped me refine my working knowledge of software and social media as well as practice time management and personal organization. As I look forward to classes in the fall, I’m most excited by changes I’ve made to my major, inspired by my interest in the work I completed during my time at Third Sector. Prior to my co-op, I spent hours outside of the classroom involved in student government and other advocacy groups on campus. After learning more about the field of social impact and the role of government, I was empowered to take up another major in the field of Political Science. In combining Political Science with my Business major, I believe that Third Sector’s greatest impact has been helping me shape my studies to best reflect my interests.