Alumni Knowledge Sharing: Lessons from human rights graduates

Updated: Apr 24


The two-day Alumni Knowledge Sharing event organised by The SET attracted seven successful HRG graduates with expertise spread across gender equality, women’s rights, project management, community engagement, communications, migration, international development, fraud, corruption, and transitional justice. The aim was to bring together generations of Human Rights and Multilevel Governance students to learn from each other’s experiences and find support within our tight knit community. The low attendance numbers reflected the loss of morale resulting from the prolonged effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on a student body that once thrived off the collective enthusiasm of meeting colleagues in the courtyard of Palazzo Bo; however, those that attended participated extensively. The idea proposed by Vera Victoria Moll from the class of 2020, was inspired by a conversation with a friend who had attended a similar event at her alma mater. Vera who had begun her road to graduation amidst the peak of the pandemic, emphasized the importance of transferring generational knowledge to ease the stressful transition into the workforce. “If I did not have my classmates to support me through this period, I don’t think I would have coped too well,” she said about graduating during the pandemic. Through coordinated efforts, The SET and Vera reached out to former graduates of the program and planned the event over the course of four months.

On March 12th, twenty-seven attendees engaged in a virtual meet and greet during which the speakers shared their personal experiences about the postgraduate job search. The consensus from the speakers was that the search is long, difficult, and emotionally taxing. Maria Schiavo, who graduated in 2019, remembered sending 69 job applications before landing an unpaid internship with the UN. “As someone looking at applications [now], the competition is stiff. Sometimes we receive over 400 applications for one unpaid internship position,” she said. For Elifcan Özbek, the hill was even steeper because of her status as a Non-EU citizen which meant navigating the long bureaucracy of renewing her resident permit. However, after months of unfruitful applications, she received an internship offer from the University of Padua thanks to a recommendation from one of her professors. Evidently, the different path to success illustrated by each story is a reminder that each student must identify their personal goals along the way to build upon a strong foundation. Elifcan’s internship helped her focus on environmental rights which became the subject of her thesis and research conducted in Uganda. Vera on the other hand, accepted a lot of unpaid internships before landing a position at the Austrian Development Agency. These internships were opportunities to try different specializations while understanding the type of career that brings her fulfilment. Laura D. Reyes who moved from Colombia said of her initial impressions of the HRG program, “The MA was shocking because I expected more camaraderie and less competitiveness, as well as more workshops and less classroom work.” Sometimes being surrounded by combative, unsupportive and gender-biased environments is part of the process as Alina Cebotari witnessed as a women's rights activist.

Once the speakers had opened up and created a relaxed environment, they dove into the entrèe of the evening - how to find appropriate internships and jobs in the human rights and international relations field. Alejandro Alvarez says to start searching for opportunities as soon as possible. At the beginning he accepted some positions that he was not necessarily passionate about; however, they were good learning opportunities. It was important for him to stand out from all the master’s degree students by increasing his work experience. When we focus on finding the ideal position, we neglect opportunities for example, in the private sector, that can provide experiential growth needed for higher level jobs.

Websites that are useful for your job search:

Inspira (un.org) | ECCHR: Critical Legal Training | Internship – AFD International | UNDP

Jobs | Current Vacancies (icmpd.org) | EuroBrussels Jobs | ILO Jobs | IOM Recruitment | OSCE Employment | Vacancies - ACTED | Impactpool | ReliefWeb Jobs | DevelopmentAid Jobs

Volunteering can also turn into a greater opportunity if you show consistency. Alina says that being an active student and getting involved with human rights issues can help you find your niche and grow your network. This was true for Anthony Chima, who is an advocate with Black Lives Matter Bologna. He joined the HRG program immediately after completing his undergrad at UniPD. During the program, he decided to return to Nigeria to complete a year of voluntary service and conduct his thesis research. He has worked as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins SAIS, then at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome. He advises future graduates to capitalize on life experience such as, playing on a sports team, or escaping an abusive household because these life experiences can reveal qualities that are important to recruiters.

A few of the speakers returned on March 13th for the 2-hour interview and CV prep session. Making the most of a limiting situation, the facilitators divided attendees into breakout rooms for more intimate conversations with the alumni. Applying for positions can be daunting especially after receiving multiple rejections. The alumni suggest signing up for notification alerts on job boards, reading job descriptions carefully to tailor your CV to the skills required, and simply applying even if you do not meet all the requirements. “Leaving sections blank in application portals could reduce your chances of advancing in the selection process,” says one of the speakers, “because the selection process is digitized to search for key words before human resources look at any cover letters or CVs.”

Tips to improve your CV

Does length matter? Yes. Recruiters have a limited amount of time to search through hundreds of applications. Be brief and clear about what you have to offer. As an applicant, you should be trying to make the selection process easier for the recruiter by reading the advertisement carefully and tailoring your CV accordingly. The information included on your CV should communicate what you did, how you did it and the skills you acquired from those experiences. Is a personal statement necessary? Yes. The personal statement wets the appetite of the recruiter. Communicate HOW the skills you possess are related to your future interests in the field. The personal statement should relate to the information included in the following sections and convey confidence. If you are unsure of your intentions, that can permeate through the words used in your personal statement. Is flashy better? It depends. Some positions, for instance in digital media, want to assess your creativity so utilizing flamboyant graphics could be appropriate in this situation. If advertisements encourage underrepresented groups to apply, then indicating that you belong to one of these groups, for instance by adding a picture to your CV, could be beneficial. But generally, try to research the organization’s style to match their standards. Is the cover letter needed? It depends. If the advertisement asks for one, then make sure to include it. However, even if not explicitly stated, try to include one. The cover letter should be brief and clear as well, answering questions about your general interests, your previous experience, why you’re interested in working for this particular organization, and why you would be ideal for the position. To add references or not? Adding references at the bottom of the CV shows that you are prepared and open to proceeding to the next steps. Before adding a reference, send the person a message indicating that you respect their work ethic and would like to have then as a reference. Choose references that hold supervisory positions and can directly attest to your work ethic and quality.

Perhaps the most touching moments of the event were those of genuine hope for the success of future graduates. When attendees appeared discouraged by the long road ahead, the alumni reminded them that empathy and camaraderie with their peers will get them through the tougher moments of self-doubt and fatigue. As Alejandro so aptly stated, “Human rights is a lifestyle, not just a job or a master’s degree.”


Written by Christine Nanteza


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