You have your Swiss degree – now what?
Slogging away at a Swiss university for several years can often seem the easy part: when it comes to finding a job, foreign graduates – especially those from outside the EU – need to get used to rejection letters. Fungai Mettler from Zimbabwe tells her experience and gives tips on attracting employers’ attention.
Many graduates have realised that recruiters often like that we are young, but many entry-level jobs have such high expectations that we cannot compete.
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This problem is exacerbated when you are both non-Swiss and non-EU, despite having studied in Switzerland. I am Zimbabwean and moved to Switzerland in 2014. I did a Masters, majoring in politics and governance at the University of Basel. I was excited to graduate, and my goal was to immediately join a company where I could make a difference and gain experience.
Fungai Mettler is Zimbabwean. She has lived in Switzerland since 2014.
She spends most of her spare time volunteering at SwiZimAidExternal link or at Freunde für MatibiExternal link; she is a board member for both organisations.
Fungai also enjoys writing about her experiences and culture shocks in Switzerland on her blog, I Hope u DanceExternal link.End of insertion
I started searching at least half a year before graduation with absolutely no luck! I applied to and reached out to over 200 professionals in a space of three months. For all jobs/internships that I applied to I got the standard rejection email of not being the perfect fit.
My luck changed when I started blind applying for non-existent roles (internships). The internships were all in research at various non-governmental organisations. For an internship at one organisation I reached out to a professor whose class I was taking, and she helped me get a slot supporting research at an institution she worked at. This was a good opportunity for me, but it was unpaid and short-term. In between I took on several short-term back-office jobs through CoopleExternal link (an agency for service and gastronomy jobs).
I kept on trying to find an entry point into my field without success. There was one specific scenario where I was told that my profile was interesting but my nationality was the problem. I didn’t follow up – to this day I don’t know what that meant!
I was then given a contact at another organisation by a researcher/project manager in my network and I reached out to her, asking about the possibility of being a research intern, and after some months I was able to start an internship there. This went well but, again, there were no opportunities to stay.
With the help of another contact in my network, I was linked to someone who helped me get an internship for half a year where he worked. There was then an opening for a fixed position in another department at this company which I applied for and, lo and behold, I was chosen!
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it difficult for foreign students, but many can agree that it’s a combination of things including the fact that it’s intensely competitive out there and even Swiss and EU graduates struggle. In general, I feel the university could have done more to prepare us for the world, but it’s a complex issue.
If someone were to ask me for advice for navigating the job market as a non-Swiss/non-EU graduate, this is what I would tell them:
Don’t wait to graduate to start looking for a job. While you are studying, find internships – even if they are unpaid – to help you gain experience. The no/low salary can be exhausting, but the experience is worthwhile.
Network. Meet people in your area of interest, introduce yourself and ask them to keep you in mind in case opportunities arise. Build relationships. Reach out to them when you see an opening where they work.
Become interesting! You will not be the only graduate with your profile: there will be thousands just like you or even better. Set yourself apart, take on hobbies, volunteer and put that on your CV. Anything outside your organisation skills and degree. I started a blogExternal link and listed it on my CV. Some of my topics were brought up during interviews!
Blind apply. If you are from social and political sciences like me, it will be hard to define what exactly you can do, so matching job ads will be hard to find. Think about what you want to do, find professionals in that field through Twitter or LinkedIn and connect with them. Engage in discussions and be present – it will help your profile.
This goes without saying, but once you make it to an internship, do more than is required. You cannot slack. A six-month internship goes by fast so tactfully check your possibilities in the company and ask for help landing your next role.
Finally, learn German or French, depending on where you are in Switzerland. This will boost your profile and is necessary if you plan to settle here in the long term.
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