Helsinki Times gets four experienced professionals from different fields to share their story on how they entered the labour market.
Whether related to our academic background or not, first jobs always provide us with a sense of how ‘real life’ works. One of the most difficult challenges is learning how to tolerate others, and of course making ourselves tolerable to them.
Although these early work opportunities can constitute the beginning of a long and successful career performed in the same area of business, most of the time they are more like a transfer zone in which we seek shelter while figuring out what we are good at and where we want to go next. The following poll illustrates both cases.
Jessica Wawoe, Global Network Director at an international Digital & Direct Marketing Agency.
What was your first job? My first college summer job was in Telemarketing. I think I was 19 or 20 and studying International Marketing. I never thought I had ‘sales’ in me, but I managed to sell a local newspaper subscription to a foreigner who didn’t yet speak the language. Not only did it teach me to always first understand who you are talking to, and listen for clues, but also that when telemarketers or helpdesk people ‘bother’ me now, I am not as rude because I know there’s a person behind that phone line who is just doing their job.
Did it match your expectations? I had little expectations from that job. I chose it because it was related to my studies and it was in Amsterdam.
What were the most important lessons you learned from the experience? Often concluding that something is not for you can be a good thing in your journey of finding out what you do want to do. That job made me realise that sales is not my thing, and that I needed a dynamic environment with constant change. I am now in a company with that kind of dynamic, and a role where I often need to use that same cultural sensitivity which sold the regional Dutch newspaper to a non-Dutch person.
What do you think of the current situation of getting a first job? The situation is definitely different from when I started in the dotcom boom in 1998 where I had five solid job offers after having worked less than a year at an Internet start-up (which I had applied to as an intern, but got hired as a Client/Project Manager). I do believe internships are a good entry point, but you need to understand your chances for advancement within that company, even as an intern. And even though the working world might seem daunting, I think you should go with your gut and pursue a job in an area you enjoy and are passionate about. Then success will come naturally.
Vivikka Richt, Head of Communications at City of Vantaa.
What was your first job? My first one was a summer job working in the cafeteria of a psychiatric hospital. Kind of an unusual place to start, I have to say. I was a good match there, though, as most of the patients who came to the cafeteria thought I was one of them! Yet, my first “real” job was around the start of my university studies in journalism: a paid internship for the university radio station. It was just great. I got to do everything from news programmes to feature stories, from radio documentaries to hosting live radio shows.
Did it match your expectations? It was more than I ever could have imagined. I learned every trick of the trade by doing it, while being mentored by experienced teachers.
What were the most important things you learned from the experience? The job made me realise how awfully great it is to work for the media. You can always use your medium to make a difference in the world. It also gave me valuable connections, which are still of very much use to me.
What do you think of the current situation of getting a first job? Internships can still be obtained, but nowadays they’re not usually paid ones. It is not easy to find a job that really can give you an instant boost in your “dream career”. You can always find some work though. Be it cleaning, or selling strawberries at the outdoor market, it always says something about you: that you have energy, and drive to move forward. It is always better to have something in your resume, than to have a completely blank work history. Having done nothing speaks loudly, too, but not of good things.
Some interesting data on youth employment in Finland:
• Young people are most often employed by the trade market. About 40,000 people under the age of 28 were employed as salespersons in 2010.
• Typical work places for young people are cafeterias, bars and shops (also office work and construction work are popular).
• 39 per cent of the employed under the age of 28 have worked part-time.
• Medium age for entering into the labour market (the age at which over 50 per cent of the age group are employed) is 24 years for men, and 35 years for women with no education after the comprehensive school. For people with higher education the medium age is between 19 and 22.
SOURCE: Statistics Finland.
Maari Fabritius, Interactive Media Designer at Kide Concept Inc.
What was your first job? My first ever job was as a summer telephone central operator / receptionist in a mid-sized electronics company. I think I was about 14 or 15.
Did it match your expectations? My parents worked there, so I had been to the place and knew the people already. Many had given me the conference room cookies when I visited there as a kid. Working at that post was challenging and hectic, with multiple calls coming in as well as people from the door. I don’t think I really had any expectations, but was excited to have my first summer job ever.
What were the most important things you learned from the experience? I learned that in stressful situations the right attitude toward others can make all the difference, especially when things are not going as planned. People are willing to support you, if you are sincere and positive, even when the situation is not ideal. I learned that communication skills are essential. These are things that have been crucial for my career ever since becoming an entrepreneur.
What do you think of the current situation of getting a first job? I was lucky to have people around who trusted me for this very first job. Having worked from this early age, I gained confidence and I’ve never had trouble getting work – both when freelancing as student and later on with my own design company. I think having self confidence helps a lot when competing for a position. I do believe the competition is getting harder though.
Sini Castrén, Crisis Management Consultant, team leader/ Peace Support at SaferGlobe Finland
What was your first job? My first job was at the Botanical Gardens (Kaisaniemi, Helsinki). I was 15 and still at school doing official “Preparation for work life practice”. I worked as a laboratory and general assistant for the research team. My tasks included sorting out and cleaning glass tubes in strange machines, organising collections or anything else given to me, wearing a white coat and not breaking anything valuable.
Did it match your expectations? It fully matched my expectations: an atmospheric, romantic building with forgotten well-preserved plant collections and an amazing world of science. However, it was a bit dull as it was about plants, not about people.
What were the most important things you gained from the experience? I learned to respect systematic, slow and dedicated work, something happening behind the scenes, like salvage and research work.
What do you think of the current situation of getting a first job? I consider the first job today as a combination of luck, good school background and networking. In other words, it is about many other qualifications than sheer ‘suitability’ to a particular position. I believe the situation has not changed since the early to mid-1980s (which I was describing above), but only there are maybe even fewer jobs. I also think workers’ rights, such as minimum pay and other ‘good practices’ have not necessarily gotten much better in the past 30 years. State and city councils may have better codes of conduct and follow the labour laws and rules better, but I think in the private market the situation may leave much to desire. Young people tend to be the ones whose rights are not primarily protected by the (elder) rights lobbyists at labour unions.
LEHTIKUVA / MAKKU ULANDER