Developing processes that transcend co-op

Yatharth Sejpal (he/him), a third-year Honours Psychology and Business student, guides us through his co-op journey, how to achieve the perfect interview and how putting in the time to go above and beyond has made his experience one of the greatest of his life. 

Yatharth's co-op journey

Work term one: Yatharth’s co-op journey began at Manulife Financial, where he worked as a change and continuous improvement analyst. Here, he built skills in developing dashboards and talking to stakeholders. 

Work term two: Moving into a role at TD for his second co-op, Yatharth worked as a talent acquisition co-ordinator. His key area was analyzing data in the space of human resources.  

Work term three: Yatharth’s most recent co-op role saw him accept the role of compensation consultant at Mercer. Here, he worked within three avenues: executive, workforce and transformation compensation. 

Q&A with Yatharth

University of Waterloo Arts co-op student, Yatharth Sejpal, smiling with his arms crossed.How was the job search process for you? Did you find these roles internally or externally? 

 “My first co-op was found internally through WaterlooWorks, while my second and third co-ops were found externally. While I say that I searched externally for the last two I’ve had, WaterlooWorks was a huge support to me.” 

“I received multiple interviews within WaterlooWorks and they were great, some of the jobs however didn’t exactly match or things didn’t work out. Again however, it acted as unbelievable support throughout the process.” 

“Being an Arts and Business student in Psychology, without any prior experience, a huge company like Manulife gave me a chance within the strategy and operations department, which helped me build the stepping stones for my other co-ops.” 

“Finding these jobs externally was an effort for me to go above and beyond to find something that I’m really interested in, which is down the consulting and compensation avenue. For me to go into strategy and development, for instance, I had to carve my own path.” 

What was it like to have major corporations in Canada take a chance on you and hit the ground running right away as a first work term co-op student?  

“It was the best experience I’ve had in my life. The reason being, I learned the most because of it.” 

“As an international student moving to Canada from India for university, I came here with no actual work experience apart from internships I’ve done back home.” 

“For Manulife to offer me the change management and continuous improvement role was such a huge opportunity for me.” 

“Funny enough, I was offered the job during the interview, and that’s happened for every position I’ve since had.” 

“It's a good and overwhelming feeling when people who have been in the industry for more years than I have even lived on this earth, actually see potential in what I want to do and what I want to learn.” 

“Going into Manulife, I knew very little about the industry of team management and continuous improvement. The four months I was there, the co-op experience helped me create an amazing bond with my mentor who has been in the consulting industry for 20-25+ years and he’s taught me everything I know about the change management space from the ground up.” 

“Learning about dashboards, talking to different stakeholders, maintaining confidentiality, those are valuable skills that are transferable and were developed because they saw me as an asset.” 

The fact that you’ve been hired for all your positions during your interviews is incredible. What’s the key to a perfect interview? 

“I'm glad you asked me this and I tell this to almost all my friends who have asked me the same question. For me it's simple and that is if they are interviewing you, that means they like you. If they like you, you're pretty much selected.” 

“What I've seen other people do wrong is they go into the interview thinking they’re going to be judged.”

“The process should not be a question and answer but rather an opportunity for you to interact with the people you are going to work with for the next four months. I always have that eyesight when I go into an interview and that has helped me do well.” 

“I try to go into an interview with the opportunity to explain and express myself. I feel that’s what differentiates me from other candidates. I don’t go into it thinking that I might not get the job, or that my resume isn’t up to par.” 

When was the moment that you decided you wanted to pursue consultant positions where you're dealing with data and collaborating with a lot of people? 

“Honestly, it was never like, ‘I want to do that.’ It was always the case of getting thrown into it without me knowing what it is and I ended up loving it.” 

“It was all serendipity for me. I got hired for the continuous improvement analyst role, but then I was transferred to the change management department. I had no idea what change management was but spending the next four months learning about the industry, I ended up loving it. I created amazing mentors. It’s a great areaI intends are to do something in that direction.” 

“When I went to TD, it was an admin-based role. It wasn’t a role that I expected to consult or to use data in, but as soon as I went into the company and I had my first interaction with senior leadership, I mentioned what my previous skills were and how I can better the company as a whole. Having people who look up to and give you the free reign to do what you want helps you a lot.” 

“I love every single minute of it and this has helped me understand what I like and what I don't like.” 

What skills have you gained through these jobs that you wouldn't have gained if it wasn't for co-op? 

“I feel the majority of what I’ve gained relates to hard skills. I'd never been in the corporate environment before co-op, so something as simple as using Excel for me was an absurd task at the time and now my day to day revolves around it.” 

“I learned all of this through YouTube videos and online training courses. By the end of my first co-op, I built a Power BI project for the company from the ground up and that was a huge project.” 

“My managers have given me a lot of freedom too. They allow me to go ahead and go online to try and figure out how it's done. At the same time, however, I have connected with multiple people in the organization that know how different software works.”

“It’s ultimately what I’ve become known for, my Excel dashboards. Some of them have even been implemented department-wide at TD.” 

“No one asked me to make them, I just know that a lot of companies look for those who are proficient in them. I realized that they’re something companies want.” 

“It’s finding something you can specialize in through self-training that can make the difference. That decision to approach dashboards led to me becoming the first co-op in the department at TD to receive a full-time offer.” 

“It’s all about how much self-drive and motivation you have.” 

Was being given the freedom to craft skills independently like anything you’d experienced before? 

“The first time I experienced the style was at Manulife. The key is to experience trial and error on your own, but to also have support to fall back on, and they were very supportive.” 

“Learning how to build a dashboard, I had questions such as, ‘how does this work?’” This was the first time I ever learned it. My supervisors gave me feedback on what worked and what didn’t. It was when I got to TD that I was able to show them what I was capable of.” 

Staying on brand with thinking outside the box, what can other co-ops do to maximize their full potential early in their work terms? 

“Co-op is not about finding what you like, but about what you don’t like, as that helps you omit the avenues that you should not pursue.” 

“Starting in my latest work term in Vancouver, for the first couple of weeks I scheduled a lot of coffee chats, something I was appreciated for at Mercer.” 

 “I grew a little infamous for it because I remember in one week I had about 15 coffee chats, rounding out to four a day. Yes, I would go for coffee four times. As over-caffeinated as I was, the purpose of the gesture was to network and get to know those I am working with.” 

 “That is what a co-op can do. For the first two weeks, just make sure to open your calendar and send out an invite to every single one of your colleagues, or at least a few of them.” 

 “What's the worst they can say? ‘No, I'm not going to meet you?’ That rarely happens.” 

 “It’s a rarity to find a company that's not welcoming to a co-op. So just go in there, schedule 20 to 30 minutes to have a chat.” 

 “It’s worked so well for me that I’ve had the chance to make connections with partners of our company. People in Calgary, Los Angeles, Toronto, coast-to-coast, all because I went ahead in the first week to take the time to explain who I am.” 

“I made them realize that I am not just a co-op staying here for four months. ‘Give me work,’ I am always looking for it.”

 Have there been any accomplishments within your co-op that you're proud to have been a part of?  

 “It's generally difficult to pinpoint on some specific ones because there have been so many, but if I had to, number one will definitely be building dashboards because that was something that came out of the blue for me. Specifically for TD, I had no idea it would grow to the potential it did.” 

 “That particular dashboard is now being leveraged by the assistant vice president and the vice president of the company. The scale it has reached is major.” 

 “My second highlight was a meeting that I was a part of in TD. It was an annual strategy meeting, where you create strategies for the upcoming year. I had just started working for TD, and I remember sitting in that meeting with around 16 others, who were all senior managers and vice presidents. Everyone had more years’ worth of experience within the industry than I’ve even been born for.” 

“I was really appreciative of being included in that meeting. I even had the opportunity to answer a data-based question and everyone took my feedback. Having them being interested in what I had to say was memorable.” 

“That goes into the third thing I am proud of which is the connections I’ve made. That to me is probably the most important one. Managers and directors at TD and Manulife for instance, I’m so glad I can call them my mentors because if I ever get stuck in any industry, there are people who can help me out.”

 What do you envision is next for you on this journey? 

“I’m not sure if I'm going to be able to answer this now, and the reason why is because I didn't expect any of these co-ops to happen.” 

 “I just need to keep on applying, applying, applying and if it's meant to be for me, then it's meant to be.” 

 “I have been offered a full-time role from Mercer and I’ll continue to work for them part-time while I am on my study term.” 

 “I'll make sure that I'm the most efficient and the most effective co-op they have ever seen.” 

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