Hertie School alumni share experiences and advice about starting a career in Berlin.
How do you turn a Hertie School degree into a fulfilling job? On 16 September, a group of international Hertie School alumni who work in Berlin gathered for a “Professional Perspectives” panel to answer questions and discuss their personal career paths.
Even though all panelists graduated recently and all work in Berlin, their industries and professional paths were very different. They gave their individual takes on topics ranging from networking and selling your Hertie School degree to whether knowing German is necessary to start a career in Berlin.
The panelists were Isabela Vera (MIA 2017), Consultant at SEEK Development, Gaurav Ganti (MPP 2019), Climate Policy Associate at Climate Analytics, Maria Paula Gutierrez (MPP 2014), Banking Operations Associate - Banking Operations Excellence at N26 and Shoshannah Richards (MPP 2017), Manager Internal Communications at Zalando SE.
Panelists emphasised the importance of networking to their job search. In some cases, that meant joining Facebook groups that feature job offers. In others, it was drawing on professional connections developed in student jobs.
One question that came up repeatedly was how to reach out to potential mentors or professional connections. On this point, the panelists, some of whom get more of these requests than they have time for, emphasised the need to be concise and specific and suggested reading more about the person you’re reaching out to. It’s also worth making clear why you want to speak with them specifically, and what you want to speak about.
“It is key to do your homework,” Gutierrez said. “You have to be very straight to the point on something that interests you.”
The language question
A common question discussed was the importance of mastering the German language. All panelists work in international positions that don’t require a deep knowledge of German; in some fields, fluency in other languages can be even more important.
But even though the panelists’ working language is English, they agreed that speaking German has been an asset.
“I would say I didn’t need German to get the job, but having German—I have B1—certainly helps me to be a lot better at the job, just because of the nature of it,” Richards said. At Zalando, which has over 10,000 employees, she is part of the internal communications team.
For Gutierrez, who speaks German at the B2 level and works at digital bank N26, it has been helpful to be able to read German regulations, for example. She also sees German as a useful asset for a longer-term career in the German financial sector, and continues to learn German in her free time.
“I think here in Berlin it might not be super-important, but maybe some jobs or some industries or entities in Frankfurt, for example—there, it might be,” she said.
Pitching yourself to employers
Hertie School students come from an eclectic mix of international and professional backgrounds, and the school itself is unlike any other in Germany. The panelists noted that this non-standard background can be a major asset.
“The reality is that the world is changing, and I think that Hertie gives you both a generalist mindset but also the ability to merge different fields,” Richards said.
This asset should be convincingly explained during a potential job interview. Ganti underlined that just naming what school you went to is never enough.
“I think most people are interested in your education as a signal, so they want to know what this means about you,” he said.
Richards, who has interviewed Hertie School applicants in a previous position, also noted that these students sometimes struggle with explaining how their degree is relevant to a given position.
“Many Hertie students present themselves in interviews based off of things that are not necessarily related to the job, or don't necessarily contextualise what they've done in terms of how it's related to the job,” Richards said. “We don't go that extra mile and say ‘I took this class, and from taking this class, this is how I can contribute to the role.’”
During the panel, the speakers reiterated the importance of taking risks and not doubting oneself too much.
Vera, for example, recounted her experience of self-doubt when she was choosing whether to accept a temporary position in Algeria instead of immediately starting a full-time position. She saw it as a risk at the time, but in retrospect is glad she decided to take it. Now, before every opportunity, she asks herself two questions: “Will this enlarge me as a person, or will it diminish me as a person? And will it enlarge my network or diminish it?”
Amidst all the talk of taking risks and being assertive, Gutierrez also struck a more soothing note. She underlined that Hertie School graduates often feel a need to rush into a career as soon as possible, but everybody needs to follow their own rhythm.
“You don't necessarily have to enter the working force right after graduation,” she said. “If you want to wait, that’s okay, too. You'll be working your whole life.”