My name is Alexandra, I graduated from the University of Helsinki Faculty of Law (International Business Law master degree) in May 2017. In this blog post, I want to take you through one of the most exciting journeys I encountered during my master studies, that is, making the first steps in the career!
During almost two years of my master studies (I started in August 2015), I managed to find my first summer job in Finland, working as a legal trainee across two countries and doing pro bono work as a student-lawyer and then as a tutor of Helsinki Law Clinic. As any (international) student, I was drowning in a flow information about job, internship and trainee possibilities from very first days of my studies at the Faculty of Law, during orientation week. Of course, writing about exciting intellectual property protection cases or tax analysis would be too specific, so I decided to come up with some universal advice that sheds some light on employment possibilities for international students that the University of Helsinki helps to achieve.
Part one. Summer job! My first summer job in Helsinki was a classic example of summer job – full-time fund-raising and promotion work in the capital region and beyond (we travelled also to Hämeenlinna a couple of times). I started applying for summer jobs very early, in December 2015 and signed my job offer in February 2016. The job search, of course, involved overcoming biases – another promoter agency has directly told me that only native Finnish speakers can do this job successfully in Finnish. I found this stereotype to be an exciting challenge to overcome, and already in the end of May 2016 started working almost fully in Finnish. At my job, one of promoters has been learning Finnish only for 1-1.5 years and almost without an accent! His secret was brief – he learned Finnish through his passion, gospel songs.
Part two. First job in a professional field. One may say that getting first job experience in your own field may be too big of a challenge, if you are an international student! Definitely, that is not a case. Focus on your strengths during your job search. Most likely, you speak at least a couple of foreign languages, you are motivated to plan your job search well in advance and your international profile has a big potential to make your potential employer curious about you. How? Learn storytelling techniques for writing your motivation letter, stay active on social media (follow job postings in Facebook, write own articles and participate in discussions in LinkedIn, post actively in Twitter), work on your personal brand that would be tailored for each job application. At the stage, when I had to choose what sphere of law excites me most, I was totally lost in a variety of choices. That is how I started working with mind-maps, to weigh different choices against different criteria (language skills, openness to international markets, need for interdisciplinary skills, balance between written work and communications with colleagues or clients).
Part three (parallel to parts one and two). Volunteering. Of course, you need to survive financially and plan your personal finance well, especially if you live abroad, but do not underestimate the importance of volunteering! In doing pro bono work, you can build life-long connections, find meaning of your profession that would support you at difficult stages of job search and even define new professional interests. For last 2 years I have been volunteering in providing pro bono legal aid to promising start-ups who came to Helsinki Law Clinic for advice. I got a lot of inspiration, and started to learn programming later (check mooc.fi if you are also interested in coding). If you feel that you would need some financial or other material help, browse flamma.helsinki.fi actively for funding possibilities, ask your friends for advise or just make a post in Facebook.
And, of course, the most important advice – always look for information! If you already got a traineeship, use job postings as an orienteer of what skills you can develop to strengthen your profile. If you are looking for the first traineeship as an international student, reach fellow students and establish new connections in LinkedIn. If you feel stressed, google for inspiring stories of others and strategies to cope with stress (as for me, bullet journaling helped a lot).
/Alexandra (international student ambassador)