Wanted: Waterloo co-op students
Microsoft exec shares why co-op is a “win-win” for both students and employers
When Cheri Chevalier interviewed at Microsoft Canada as a fourth-year Waterloo St. Jerome's University co-op student, she was surprised by the ambitious task assigned to her.
Chevalier was given a shiny ornament and asked to build a business plan for this unfamiliar object. She delighted in the chance to impress her potential employer because she knew, then and there, that she had to work for this dynamic company.
“I thought, wow, if this is how this company works – valuing out-of-the-box- thinking, creativity, innovation — I want to be a part of that,” Chevalier recalls.
Not only did she ace the interview for the co-op work term, Chevalier was offered a position after graduation, and soon became a full-time employee. Today, Chevalier is a global director at Microsoft.
“Not many people can say they are still with their co-op company 22 years later,” she says. “Doing a work term at Microsoft gave me an opportunity to see first-hand how my skills could be used in the workplace. I was able to hone in on the things I was passionate about and align them to the opportunities available within the organization.”
Waterloo has developed the world’s largest co-op program of its kind, and has been called a “win-win” for everyone involved.
For students, the skills and experience gained through work terms can advance their careers after graduation. For employers, the program can significantly contribute to future business success.
Last year, Deloitte Canada conducted an economic impact study on the University. In their research, co-op employers stated there are several motivations to participate in the program including having access to a pipeline of talent, new ideas and innovation.
“It is so important to have the fresh perspective of students,” Chevalier says. “My experience as someone who has been in the business for more than 20 years is very different from someone who is just coming in. They naturally see things differently, so they can come to the table with new ideas.”
Waterloo students have a diverse range of experience and exposure. In particular, co-op students in senior years of their degrees often have work placements at multiple companies within an industry, which can provide a unique lens on business challenges employers face.
This diversity of experiences is exactly what Chevalier looks for in her team. She says, “The more diverse thinking you bring to the table, the better your solutions are going to be when you leave it.”
Time and time again, businesses have used co-op as a tool to develop a pipeline of talent. Employers are able to view and evaluate potential hires up close, and empower students with the specific skills they need to be successful team members in the future.
And now with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the way in which we conduct businesses, Microsoft is committed to keeping that pipeline open.
Carolyn Byer is the head of human resources for Microsoft Canada and explains that, “As a technology company with roots in this community, Microsoft has a responsibility to provide skills training to Canada’s future generation of workers.”
“Co-op students also contribute enormously to the culture at Microsoft,” Byer says, “They bring fresh thinking to big challenges and often question the status quo. The co-op program offers an important talent pipeline and it’s never been more important to have the best talent to drive innovation.”
Microsoft is a large co-op employer, and since Chevalier’s days as a Waterloo student, they have launched the Microsoft Aspire Experience — a two-year development experience for those who join Microsoft after graduating from an undergraduate, master’s or full-time MBA program.
“Our recent university hires work in a variety of roles across the company, and they are invited to be part of our Microsoft Aspire Experience when they join Microsoft,” she says.
Microsoft’s mission behind the two-year Aspire Experience is to empower its university hires to achieve more. It’s designed to build their network, accelerate their growth and discover opportunity — in their role, on their team and beyond — along with thousands of their early career peers.
Microsoft looks to those who join the Microsoft Aspire Experience to become agents of change and champions of its culture. Microsoft also looks to these bright, talented individuals to bring diverse perspectives, to help shape the future of the company and spark disruptive innovations.
“There are lots of benefits to hiring co-op students,” Chevalier says. “It gives us exposure to potential full-time talent and it gives us an opportunity to bring fresh thinking, energy and diversity to the table. We think differently about problems because we are bringing in people with different points of views.”
Chevalier has witnessed how students bring creativity and energy to an organization. They are often curious and ask questions about business processes, shining a light on opportunities for improvement.
“It is an amazing thing when a manager hears from a student, ‘Hey, I looked at this process, I think we can save time or money or both by doing it this way,’” Chevalier recalls. “Being curious and willing to contribute to the business, beyond your core role parameters, is where growth really happens.”