Alum-spiration: “The Corona crisis can be seen as an opportunity for transformation”

Veselina Angelova on why it sometimes helps to adapt one’s goal to the current reality.

Since graduating from the Hertie School in 2008, Veselina has worked as an Alumni Relations Manager for an international university and as Policy Officer at the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. Since 2016, she has been active as Communications Officer and Digital Leader at the European Commission Representation in her native Bulgaria. She is also volunteering for the NGO sector, as well as in the framework of the Hertie Foundation mentoring programme.

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

Yes, graduating in 2008 was certainly not a great starting point. I actually got lucky because I did not really need to compete in the open market, so to speak. My first job after graduation was for an organisation that I already knew well, and – more importantly – they knew me professionally. Back in the day, we did not have to write a master’s thesis in order to graduate, but instead a student project for an actual client organisation that needed advice on a certain issue they were facing. So the organisation I started with was the same organisation I did my internship with the summer before and I did my student project for. They were happy with the product (organisational development strategy) and hired me to implement it. So if there is any advice that I can deduce from my experience that could work for the current generation of graduates, it is to nurture meaningful long-term relationships, even if they start off as non-paid or if they don’t seem an immediate opportunity. The real selling point is to actually have the possibility to demonstrate what you are capable of.

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

As hard as it may be, flexibility is key in a situation like this. You have to be ready to adapt your dreams and career goals to the current reality and be ready to start small, probably much smaller than envisaged. You should be open to start at smaller, lesser-known organisations, in sectors you haven’t previously considered, or in a less desired location, or even from a distance. Also, be logical – if your dream job is in a sector that is among the hardest hit by the crisis, maybe it makes sense to reorganise priorities and approach similar organisations in other sectors that haven’t suffered as much. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we are so set on our goals that we can’t see it so clearly.

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

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to this. Every opening is different and requires a different set of experience and skills. The key would be to find ways of demonstrating that you have the closest possible “collection” to the one required for the job. And that does not necessarily mean reciting the job ad requirements word for word, rather analysing the job description, formulating your own list of qualities required to perform well and explaining how you acquired these skills.

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

Perseverance. One has to train it, there is no other way. You need to be prepared for any possible outcome, so disappointment does not throw you off your path. And another thing, as difficult as it may be, one should try and not succumb to peer pressure. Comparing oneself to a friend who got hired immediately while you have a string of rejections does not help, it only aggravates things. Every case is different and taking longer does not mean you are worth less. You just need to push on and concentrate on your own game with confidence.

...the sooner we realise we can only control so much (and in this crisis even less!), the better we would feel about ourselves and the more efficient we would get, in my humble opinion. | Veselina's post-it mantra.

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

Well, back in the day there was not much of a Hertie network (I was only the second class graduating), so I can’t really say that it did. But the situation now is different and I can only recommend to use as many opportunities as the Hertie network may offer – events, alumni, networking, mentoring programmes etc.

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

Well, this does not only relate to the job hunt situation, but to everything in life – the more you struggle, the sweeter the victory. And I would add, the more valuable the lesson.

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.