Selena Yin, a second-year Statistics and Actuarial Science student, shares the beginning of her co-op journey including struggles, helpful tips and motivational words from a student just starting out in the workforce.
Selena's co-op journey
Term 1: East Asia Futures Limited in Shanghai as an assistant analyst.
Term 2: Swiss Re in Toronto as an actuarial assistant.
How did you come across these job opportunities?
Due to the pandemic, Selena could not travel back to Canada at the time of her first co-op and had to arrange her own job near her home in Shanghai, China.
Selena found her second co-op through WaterlooWorks and was matched in the second round.
What’s it like working in these positions?
At East Asia Futures Limited, Selena took on an assistant analyst role and did a lot of work with asset management. Her job mainly focused on working with Excel creating graphs for the software programmers to integrate into code for the financial analyst app her company was working on.
Selena knew that since this was her first co-op the work may be a little tedious and boring at times, but she would gain great experience in many different ways. She learned the value of communication in the workplace as she was the bridge between the software programmers and the financial analyst.
Selena’s second co-op placement was at Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, as an actuarial assistant for the property and casualty team. She worked on Excel reports calculating how much money client companies would need to save on insurance.
“I'm satisfied with the job. This is a precious opportunity to apply the actual knowledge that I learned in school in a real field and work with a talented team of professionals.”
What are some highlights of your job?
The highlight of Selena’s co-op was learning new skills that she couldn’t learn in school from her manager taking the time each week to give her a tutorial. She learned skills like coding software, pivot tables and the ins and outs of reinsurance.
“I'm currently still learning. It's quite different from university. There isn’t a professor teaching you throughout and giving you assignments. You have a manager who is responsible for your work but is usually busy, so you must learn fast.
“It is basically a highlight because I'm learning new stuff every day.”
How were you able to manage work life and your personal life?
During Selena’s second co-op in Toronto, most of her stress came from her change of lifestyle and trying to learn work-life balance in a new culture. She struggled to manage taking an online class, renting a place of her own, doing her own laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping while also having to work each day.
Selena created two “to-do lists” every week in order to keep organized and help her remember everything. She made one for work tasks and another for her home/study life.
“You might have a lot of small mental breakdowns because it's stressful. You need to cook every day for yourself. You're living on your own, you're alone. But don’t worry about it, it’s all great experience. You will find your place and learn how to deal with stuff. After all those breakdowns, you will become a better person.”
How did you deal with stressful situations during your co-op?
Another stressor on Selena’s mind was the fear of making mistakes at work. To help control this, Selena would record the weekly tutorial her manager gave her to reflect on later in the week when she needed help or couldn’t remember how to do something regarding her weekly project.
“If you’re on co-op feeling lost, try to keep all the tutorial recordings and make to-do lists. It's really helpful.”
What did you enjoy about your company’s culture?
“My colleagues are super busy. Sometimes if deadlines are approaching, they don't even have time to go to the bathroom. I hate to bother them that much, but they're really responsive and responsible. They are always glad to answer my questions and try to find a time to teach me more.”
Selena also enjoyed the flexibility of the remote workplace.
“You don't have to log in at nine o'clock, you can log in whenever you want. You just have to finish your work. It's really different from school. They don't care or keep track of your login time, stuff like that. But you just need to finish your work.”
How did you feel when you were first starting co-op compared to how you feel now?
Selena explained that the co-op culture in China is much different from here. It was very hard for Selena to arrange her own job there because internship opportunities are only for fourth-year students.
She said that the co-op culture in Canada is more accepting as a lot of companies are used to it and it was easier to find a co-op here using WaterlooWorks.
Do you have any advice for other co-op students?
“For other students, they are probably like me who submitted a lot of resumes to many companies in all the cycles of WaterlooWorks and they didn't get any responses. It's okay. Don't worry about it. It happens to everyone.”
“Sometimes you'll get like ten interviews. And if you didn't get an offer or ranked, it's fine. Just go into the next cycle. If you don't give up, if you keep going, you will finally find the opportunity.”
Selena was adamant that students should not give up on co-op when it gets hard because although it is tough, the experience is worth it.
“The more interviews you do the more familiar you will be with all the interview skills and techniques. You should also try mock interviews because if you practice more, you will finally be an expert on interviews, and interview skills are really important.”
“Also, it’s important to write cover letters. Cover letters are really helpful and it will boost your chances of getting an interview. Please do it!”
“Once you have co-op experience it is easier for you to find a job for your next co-op.”
“They want to see what kind of person you are and how you will fit in this position. You don't need to be extremely smart.”
“They don't want a perfect person. All those successes came from failures. So, if you've got failures, that means success is close so just don't give up.”
What’s next for you?
“What’s next for me is probably preparing for the actuarial exams and also for my next year of in-person school which is a different challenge for me because I've never taken classes in person. For my next co-op, I’m probably going to return to the company I'm working right now if it is possible or find a job in a different company.”