Caleb Schaafsma, a second-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo doing combined business and math degrees, was not surprised that working as a staff accountant gave him an opportunity to use both of his courses of study.
He was surprised that being an accountant wasn't at all what he expected.
"I applied because BDO has a pretty big brand reputation," he said. "It was definitely an eye-opening experience into what accounting actually is versus what the stereotype has been, and what people said it would be like. It was pretty cool to be able to learn the key skills that you actually need to be an accountant versus what people think―'oh, you're just crunching numbers.' The biggest aspect of my job was problem-solving."
"Accountants don't just sit at their desks, either. As a co-op student specializing in accounting and assurance, Caleb met clients later in his work term, an experience that offered wins—and lessons."
A win, according to Caleb: "It was definitely interesting to see what was going on in a lot of these companies. It was a big eye-opener into why we were doing, say, the audit tests that we were running or other different kinds of procedures that we go through. I could understand: ‘Oh, okay, I see, in this company they have a motivation to do this―now I understand how their processes work.' So, I think it was really crucial to be able to actually go and meet those clients, and then fully understand what their processes were, and how it truly worked in their company. The expertise they provided was a great insight for us into how we account for things."
A lesson: "It was definitely a lesson to think about the ways in which you should be interacting with the clients. For example, if you're going out for lunch with the clients, what you should be doing is trying to get the clients to talk about themselves, and what they're really keen on and interested in, and what their business is really about. That was one crucial point I learned from the senior I was on the job with."
Communication was critical in Caleb's first co-op placement: "As a junior, you don't know everything you're doing on the job, and you'd often be asked by the senior to go ask for information, or you'd be running a separate test they set up for you. There would be a few points where I needed to go and ask for information, but I wasn't completely clear on the test that I was running. It's really important that you fully understand what test you're running, so when you do go to the client you can actually understand what's going on. Also, for the future, you're going to have an easier time running that test and talking to clients about it."
Clients talked to Caleb with the same respect they extended any other member of the team, and were "really willing to help you out, to sit down with you, and walk you through where they got a number, and what it means."
Caleb's colleagues at BDO also proved to be an invaluable source of information: "At BDO, you get set up with someone who's your ‘buddy' at the start, and with a coach, often a manager able to answer those bigger questions that you might have―even questions about your career. It's nice to have those two levels internally to be able to go to for different kinds of questions, whether it was the bigger, broader questions, or the more basic questions—ones other people might have had when they first started—that you don't necessarily need to go to a higher-up for."
Caleb will return to BDO for a second work term, and from the perspective of someone a little higher up, he encourages other university students to consider a placement at BDO Canada.
"Go in and see what you can be doing in a professional-services firm like BDO, the variety of work you can be doing," he suggests. "I don't think there was a single job that I had where I didn't have a question, that didn't challenge me. Go in and try it, see that it is a different experience than you might expect."
Learn more about co-op placements at BDO.