Inspiring alumni: Belén Barberis

Every experience counts, especially the challenges.
Belén Barberis

Belén Barberis is positively brimming with ideas to help students embark on a successful career. An International Relations alumna who received an Utrecht Excellence Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at Utrecht University, she has participated in alumni mixers and career coffees organised by the UU alumni office for the past four years. “It is important to close the gap between university and the professional world.”

Paying it forward

“I got involved with the careers activities because I felt it was a nice way to give back to the university. To pay it forward, so to speak. But once I attended my first event, I actually found it really gratifying. It’s nice to be around younger people! Students are more idealistic, and their enthusiasm helps put things into perspective. Definitely worth the few hours a year I put in.”

Alumni can offer valuable insights

“I always tell students to be realistic and pro-active. You have to look to the future and search for what you want. No one ever said it was easy to get the job you want, but most students know they have to start at the bottom. It’s more a question of how to get to that starting position. Even entry-level jobs require experience, and a master’s degree just seems to be a box you tick nowadays. That is why it is so important that students get access to the perspective of different professionals. What do companies look for in a new recruit? How did they go about getting their foot in the door? As working alumni, we can offer valuable insight.”

It is good to connect with young people and see how they approach things.

From student to professional

“A lot of students who attend the career events have practical questions. What do companies look for on a CV? How do I dress for an interview? And international students are also concerned about getting a work visa. That kind of practical advice can really make a difference. I remember when I had just finished university I was doing internships, but it was difficult because I lived in a house with only full-time students. They would come knocking on my door to go out and party when I was already in bed because I had to be up at 7 for work the next day. I wish someone had told me to look for accommodation with other working students or young professionals. Simple stuff like that matters.”

Understanding the future workforce

“Of course these career events are useful for students, but they are just as beneficial for the alumni who participate. It is good to connect with young people and see how they approach things. How do they view the market? What changes are happening in the field? After all, these are the people who will come after us, so it is good to know how they see things and what challenges they face. One day we will be working alongside them as bosses, colleagues, or even subordinates. Personally, I think if I ever become a boss, it will be important to understand young people’s mind-set.”

Belen Barberis

The role of the university

“I think it’s great that the university is actively working to reduce the gap between academia and the professional world. They take a creative approach; speed-dating for career advice, mixers with small groups of students and alumni, and even pizza nights. In the future these career events could explore ways to add even more value for students, alumni and businesses alike. For example, in the US companies attend career events to scout for potential recruits. We could have a recruiter or HR manager visit to talk about the hiring process, the do’s and don’ts of a job interview, how to write a CV and a cover letter, the right way to use LinkedIn, the importance of networking and so on.”

Students need to hear about failure and success

“A lot of alumni feel that they need to be quite accomplished before they can offer career advice to students. After all, who wants to talk about their challenges, disappointments, unforeseen career changes, or even failures? But these stories are actually the most important of all. Students need to hear them. A lot of people embark on a particular career path only to find out it doesn’t suit them. They realize they hate public speaking or cannot bear the endless meetings their new job requires, so they change careers. By sharing the challenges we have faced and how we dealt with them, alumni can help students create realistic expectations for their own careers.”

What I like most about the career events is the fresh perspective they give me on my own job.

A fresh perspective on your own career

“What I like most about the career events is the fresh perspective they give me on my own job. Sometimes I get frustrated with my work and feel like I’m really not accomplishing that much on a daily basis, but then here are these younger adults looking up to me when I tell them what I do. It’s like a reality check, making me remember to appreciate what I have and the important work I am doing. I’m on track. That was me a few years ago, looking up to other people, and look where I am now. That’s why I keep on coming back.”