Hi, my name is Máire Slater, and I am an Arts co-op student in English Rhetoric and Communication Design, in the Major Research Paper stream.
I am a content designer at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
I chose the co-op program at Waterloo because I wanted a mediated entrance to the world of work. Partly because I’m autistic, and partly because I hadn’t been part of the work force during the 15 years I was raising my children, I believed I was unemployable. I was afraid to apply to jobs, afraid to interview, afraid that any work experience would be a negative one.
I took the job I was offered at the CRA - mostly because the interview process had been so time consuming that I didn’t want to risk having to do it for a second round. CRA, I thought. Bo-ring. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got to exercise the writing and editing skills I’d been building in my classes, I learned something new every day, I met people from across the Agency doing all kinds of different jobs, and I worked with an amazing team who taught me, encouraged me and celebrated my wins. The co-op program gave me that.
One of the most challenging moments I experienced was the first time I was given a project to work on. My manager suggested I “take a look” at a certain file. I had just finished the onboarding and I’d learned all about the job, but I hadn’t learned how to actually do the job. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for, or what I should do if I found it, and I wasn’t sure where to find the line between taking initiative and asking for more guidance.
I think I probably stumbled around clumsily on that first, and even subsequent, projects, but I got a lot more comfortable asking for clarification.
I also got a lot more comfortable with networking. Shortly after I started, I set myself a challenge to have a “coffee chat” with someone new every Friday. Throughout the week, when I met someone virtually or through email, I’d ask if they had 30 minutes to let me interview them about working at the CRA. I interviewed HR people, project managers, program experts, directors and more. I let the conversation take whatever direction it wanted to, but at the end of the 30 minutes I always asked the same two questions:
What can I learn to become a more valuable employee? What piece of advice can you give me that I won’t hear from anyone else?
I got some really interesting answers and some new perspectives on a company I was still getting to know! The co-op program gave me those opportunities to learn and grow.In terms of rewards, I loved getting a pay cheque and I loved having evenings and weekends free. I also loved realizing that I was good at the job, that my skills are valuable and that people truly appreciated my input. Best of all, I have gained the self-confidence to know that through hard work and perseverance I can succeed wherever I land. The co-op program gave me that, too.