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Capitalizing on unique personal experiences

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Tips on how identifying what motivates you can lead to achieving your goals faster

As a young girl growing up in Brazil, my grandmother often spoke of the big dreams that she had for me. She gave me the choice between engineering, law and medicine. Knowing how terrible I am at mathematics, plus my queasiness around other people’s blood, the only viable option was law. My personal goal was to work in academia as a researcher and professor; therefore honouring my grandmother's wishes while fulfilling my destiny became a balancing act. I strive to do my best with each challenge that I encounter. Whether I am decorating my Airbnb space or I am applying for graduate school, I have learnt that the amount of effort cannot replace desire. For instance, preparing for public exams took me three years, while completing applications for four different masters degrees in four different countries was done in under six months. Of course there are multiple factors such as deadlines and the difficulty of the tasks that affect the process, but when I reflected on both experiences, I realised that my motivation to complete the former could not rival the desire to pursue higher education.

When I made the decision to study human rights, Brazil was going through a democratic shift. I had always been interested in the topic from a young age - when I understood that I, as a person, had rights in this world. My grandmother exposed me to the literature and developed the foundation to thrive. The classes in my law degree expanded my knowledge of human rights, inspiring me to join the human rights research group at my university. Half way through my degree activities, my grandmother passed away. The experience was psychologically, emotionally and physically difficult to handle because she had been my lifelong mentor and loyal supporter. The pressure of becoming financially stable was eminent so I recommitted to graduating and working as a lawyer.

In 2018, following the the election result that placed Jair Messias Bolsonaro and his political party in office, I made the decision to return to university to study human rights. Bolsonaro’s victory reminded me that the exposure provided by my grandmother was not typical in most Brazilian households and that my country still had tonnes to learn about human rights. After graduation, I found employment as a legal assistant under the mentorship of a female public prosecutor. During one of our chats, I expressed my lack of fulfilment in the career I had chosen. She immediately noticed that whereas I had the talent to succeed in the legal field, I lacked the passion for that type of work. Speaking with a mentor about my personal motives illuminated how deeply my grandmother’s words sculpted the woman I am today. In order to save for the new life I was planning to create, I secured a job as a waitress working nights and weekends, and listed my home on Airbnb. These side-hustles taught me some of the most valuable sales tactics that I continue to draw upon in interviews today; some of which I will share with you.

First and foremost, when applying for opportunities, recognise that you are the persona being advertised. This means that you need to sell not just your qualifications, but also your personality. I often practise pitches in front of my support group before I attend interviews because these people are able to highlight the best and worst aspects of who I am. Establish a support group, not only of best friends, but of people that can provide honest feedback about your choices.

Next, identify the reasons why you are applying for that particular opportunity. You must understand your personal connection with the company or institution in order to convince a recruiter of your value. I remember that the owner of the restaurant where I worked allowed us to try all the dishes on the menu because he wanted us to be able to tell patrons about our experience with the food - to add value for the customer. The idea here is that anyone can read a menu or a curriculum vitae, but it requires empathy to leave a lasting impression on a recruiter. Consider how your personality will fit into their organisation’s culture, then express that in your cover letter and interview.

Ultimately, you need to develop a sense of healthy competition, especially in the field of human rights. Focus on finding the position and organisation that is right for now, not on comparing yourself with other human rights professionals. I personally have no desire to work at the United Nations (UN) so I do not spend time applying for UN positions. I direct my efforts towards the achievements that make me happy. Thanks to this philosophy, I managed to get through the intense qualification process for the double degree program between the University of Padua and the Catholic University of Lyon. The outcomes of this decision will bring me one step closer to a career in academia and miles along in the pursuit of happiness. Remember that your uniqueness is your greatest asset. Find out what makes you stand out from the sea of applicants and enhance those qualities.

Written by Monique Munarini

Edited by Christine Nanteza

Per leggere in italiano, fai clic con il pulsante destro del mouse in un punto qualsiasi di questa schermata e seleziona "Traduci in italiano".


Monique Munarini is in her 2nd year of the MA in Human Rights and Multilevel Governance at the University of Padua. She is an outstanding women’s rights scholar, former public prosecutor legal assistant, Airbnb superhost, speaks four different languages and is completing her final year of the double degree at the Catholic University of Lyon, France. Follow her story on instagram @monamueuropa


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