Beric Farmer (Computer Science ‘94) has discovered the secret to hiring top University of Waterloo grads: get them before they graduate.
“You need to hire them early or they get snapped up by other companies,” he explains.
Farmer is the co-founder of XE, which provides international payment services and is the world’s most popular currency website and app. He is quick to dispel the notion that co-op students spend four months learning the ropes only to leave the workplace as they finally become productive. This simply hasn’t been his experience.
Co-op students can do a lot of great things. They can be very productive and help an organization tremendously. It’s not ‘they take four months to ramp up and then they’re gone,’ as many think. They can be productive very quickly.
Inspired by how greatly Farmer benefited from his own co-op work terms, XE gladly offers this same opportunity to others. XE hires approximately six students every term. This isn’t just paying it forward, though. The company truly believes in the value co-op students offer.
“Co-op students are a phenomenal pipeline for acquiring skilled talent. Work terms are like a four or eight-month job interview.”
When it came time for XE to launch its currency app, the company knew just where to turn. Under the supervision of XE staff, UWaterloo co-op students both built the app and maintained it during the first several years of its existence. To date, it has been downloaded over 70 million times.
When it comes to hiring co-ops students, XE looks to students in junior years as well as senior.
“It’s part of that whole pipeline thing. They are potential third and fourth year students down the line,” Farmer explains. “A lot of companies hire students early and then invite them back, instead of losing them to someone else.”
Another co-op myth dispelled by Farmer is the perception that students shouldn’t work every placement at the same company. All his co-op jobs were with the same employer, where he gained invaluable experience performing several very different roles.
When hiring students, Farmer places strong emphasis on them being highly motivated, personable and able to grasp complex ideas. It’s not important that they know exactly where they want to go in life.
“People look at me as a highly successful entrepreneur whose company created a brand and product used around the world, but back in university I had no strong clarity, no thought of being an entrepreneur or starting a company,” he explains.