What to look for in an accounting co-op employer

Co-op placements are exciting times for accounting students. Along with often being a first taste of real-world work,
they’re also a valuable resource for professional development.

Vaive and Associates founder Rolland Vaive suggests students arrive at co-op fairs and interviews armed with several questions for their prospective employers to make sure they get the most from the experience:

Where’s the office, and how do I get there?

Many co-op students are still somewhat new to the city and in many cases don’t have a driver’s license. So it’s important to determine how you’ll get to your prospective office. Is it close to transit? In the suburbs? Vaive and Associates’ Centretown office, close to transit and other amenities, has proven immensely valuable for students.

Is there a path to permanent employment?

Most co-op experience looks great on a resume, but it’s even better when there’s a path to permanent employment. Ask how many students they’ve hired full time in the past.

“Will you be there for your work term and then tossed aside, so to speak? We try to hire students who will be with us forever – that’s how we do our hiring,” says Vaive.

What sort of work will I be doing?

It’s crucial to know what work you’ll do – will it be interesting, and will there be a progressive path to more complex work so you don’t get bored? Asking these questions will not only ensure you’ll have a more fulfilling (and valuable) work term, but they’ll also impress your boss.

Will I get unique day-to-day responsibilities?

Will you be an integral part of the firm with access to clients, or be stuffed in a back room and never see the light of day? Vaive ramps co-op students up slowly – first by teaching software, systems and processes, then moving to more responsibility.

“We always explain why we’re asking them to do something,” says Vaive. “We’ll explain the theory behind it, then add more responsibility as they become more comfortable.”

Will I get support when I write my CPA exam?

Accounting students have difficult exams to pass before receiving a professional designation. So it’s vital to know you’ll be supported when exam time comes, either with paid or unpaid time off (or a combination of the two), or technical support in the form of preparatory courses.

“Miss your final exam, and you have to put your life on hold for another year,” Vaive cautions.

Vaive adds that accounting firms need to recognize the importance of co-op students and provide challenging work for
co-ops to truly work.

“It’s not a throwaway position,” he says. “We need their contribution in order to succeed during really busy times. We rely on them to make a contribution that is every bit as important to the firm’s success as our other staff.

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