Alum-spiration: “Building resilience is key”

Hannes Klöpper shares insights on how to deal with setbacks after graduation.

Hannes Klöpper, 2009 MPP graduate and CEO at HelloBetter, a platform for innovative digital mental health solutions in Berlin, is responsible for the company’s overall strategy and corporate financing. He was previously co-founder and CEO of start-up iversity (now part of Springer Nature), an online platform specializing in higher education, and co-author of the book “The University in the 21st Century”. He studied International Relations at the Technical University of Dresden, Liberal Arts at the European College of Liberal Arts, and Public Policy at the Hertie School in Berlin and Columbia University in New York.

You graduated from the Hertie School during the global financial crisis. What were the main challenges you had to face?

After I returned to Berlin from New York in the summer of 2009 I started to look for jobs here. I only found one that I was interested in, but the person I would have been working for left the company, so that never happened. I continued to work on my own projects which ultimately led to me publishing a book and founding a company – something I may never have done had I found a well-paying job straight out of university. So actually I’m quite grateful for not having gone down that path. 

Do you have any advice for graduates searching for a job during a global crisis? How can they navigate the job market?

If you can (loans, of course, being a big “if”) stay in student mode. Don’t increase your spending. Being able to live off €1000 a month gives you a lot of freedom. I didn’t start to earn a regular salary until two years after graduation. But I also did not adjust my spending habits.

“Separate the challenges that you cannot do anything about from the ones that you can do something about and then make a plan for how to tackle those challenges.”

What are the most important skills to highlight in an application?

The ones you actually have! Don’t say that you are a good project manager, when you are happy about the friend of yours who always organises the group vacations. Don’t say you are a good communicator when you find it hard to get your point across. Take a close look at the things that you enjoy doing and excel at in your private life and extrapolate from there. Your work you is not that different from your private you. If you have a vast circle of friends and acquaintances and are the life of the party, business development might be something you would enjoy. If you have a reputation for being meticulous, find a job where that is considered a strength. 

Do you have any tips on how to deal with setbacks?

Building resilience is key. That’s precisely what we teach people in the stress training of the company that I am building right now. Separate the challenges that you cannot do anything about from the ones that you can do something about and then make a plan for how to tackle those challenges. If you want to learn more about this approach, we have adapted our stress training specifically tackling the issues people are facing in the coronavirus pandemic and it is currently available for free.

Hannes' post-it mantra (keep reading for the story behind it)

In what way was the Hertie School network beneficial to you during your job search?

Since I did not really look for jobs at the time, it wasn’t useful to me. But it was useful after we had raised funding for my first company. Michael Knoll, who was working for the Hertie Stiftung at the time, generously enabled our team to work from Hertie over the summer as we were waiting for our office space to become available. This was super helpful and I am very grateful to him and the Stiftung for the unbureaucratic support they provided us at the time. 

From your current standpoint, how has the difficult situation after your graduation set you up for the career you pursued? Do you have pearls of wisdom you would like to share?

My dad’s business partner used to say: “If you shit on my pancake, I will still cut off the edges”. Gross as it is, I like the attitude expressed here. I guess the less catchy version of this is: always look on the bright side. There may be a lot of opportunities that are NOT available to you right now, because of the crisis. Go look for the opportunities that are ONLY available to you right now, because of the crisis. If you find yourself one of those, chances are you found something interesting. Maybe you will look back one day thinking “If it had not been for Corona, I never would have…”. I certainly wish all of you the best of luck!

A GIF you think best encapsulates looking for a job in a tough and challenging climate


In this series, Hertie School alumni speak about what it was like to enter the job market around the time of the 2008/09 financial crisis, offering words of wisdom to the Class of 2020, which is facing similar challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.