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How to sell your IDBM know-how when job hunting

One of the questions we often hear at Klubi is “How can I best explain what I’ve learned at IDBM when looking for a job?”. That's a good question, as what we learn at IDBM can often feel very abstract. In addition, every IDBMer’s study path can look very different, even if they come from the same school and discipline.

To help answer the question, we interviewed Jukka Malkamäki, Senior Designer and Team Lead at Gofore. Jukka is an IDBM alumnus who, like many other IDBMers, has had a winding career path that includes jumping from one discipline to another. He currently works with topics like UX Design, Service Design, Strategic Design, and most importantly, design recruitment. Having changed jobs right after graduating from IDBM and then spending a lot of time sitting on the employer's side of the recruitment table, Jukka has gained lots of insight into job hunting – useful for any IDBMer regardless if you’re from BIZ, TECH, or ARTS.

Helena: “As an IDBM alumnus who is now also involved in recruitment, how would you describe IDBMers as candidates?”

Jukka: “When you're studying in IDBM it sometimes feels like you don’t really learn anything – but that's only because you sort of learning everything. It's a program that caters to a wide range of interests and different disciplines, and the students get to do a lot of course shopping from different schools. In addition, if you think about the purpose of a Master’s degree, in my opinion, it's not to teach you so many specific hands-on skills anymore, but to raise your thinking to a more strategic level. I’d say this all leads to IDBMers often becoming generalists. In working life generalists are awesome, but like all things, being a generalist does come with its pros and cons.”

“The ability to see the big picture – understanding other fields and disciplines and how they connect to each other – is a huge asset that IDBMers have. And also, since IDBMers take deep dives into many areas, they manage to create this high cognitive ability to adapt and deal with ambiguity and different situations. That is definitely super valuable wherever you end up.”

“Also when you have wide interests you always think about what to do next. That keeps you driving forward and always learning. However, at the same time, there’s the risk of slowly becoming a jack of all trades master of none – knowing a bit of everything but not being able to convince employers you’re really good at anything. When you are interested in so many different things, it might be difficult for the person trying to recruit you to understand what it is that you actually want, and can do.”

Helena: "What do you think makes for an excellent candidate? What is it that you’re usually looking for when reviewing an application?"

Jukka: “From a recruiter's viewpoint the truth is that hiring comes with risks. It might seem callous, but from a business perspective employees can be expensive, and if you end up with a wrong hire it’s going to be a situation where neither employee or employer is happy. That’s why I’d say that appearing as an excellent candidate is all about your ability to build trust with the recruiters. They simply need to be able to trust that their decision in hiring you is right. The fewer doubts they have the higher the chance you get the job.”

“Applying for jobs is of course about you and what you can do, but in your mind, it should actually be even more about them: you need to be able to clearly explain what it is that you can do for the employer. How can you help them succeed? What is the value you bring to their business? Then you’ll need to explain how you will actually do it in practice. You’ll also need to be able to prove what you just said by providing examples of your previous successes, suitable background, case examples, and such. If you can do all this in a convincing manner, you’re building a very strong case for yourself and making it easier for them to hire you.”

“On the other hand, If your profile is a bit of everything for everyone, it’s going to be hard to get a clear picture of what you’re good at. It’s good to remember that a recruitment process is always a very short time to truly get to know someone. That’s why my advice would be to keep your profile simple: even if you could do a hundred things, it’s easier to build a convincing case within the time you have by focusing on a handful of key areas. It might sound counterintuitive, but the recruiters are also only humans with limited cognitive ability. Especially in interview situations. If you try to explain 10 things, they'll probably remember only 1. If you explain 3 things, you'll have a better chance of them remembering all 3.”

Helena: “As many IDBMers have very wide interests and can do a lot of things, I think a lot of students can relate to what you said about appearing as a jack of all trades and master of none. Do you have any advice on how to find the key areas to emphasize?”

Jukka: “I personally like the concept of a T-shaped person, and have used the framework myself when looking for a new job.”

“The idea is rather simple: the long vertical bar represents your primary competence. The horizontal bars represent things you’re also good at, but not necessarily an expert in. The beauty of the T-shape is that it efficiently forces you to narrow your wide experience down to 3 things. This is simply much easier to understand and digest in a short time than trying to explain all the hundreds of skills and interests you may have.”

“One important thing to keep in mind here is that from a recruiter's perspective your primary competence is often the thing you have the most evidence of. It’s important to be able to prove what you’re trying to sell. If you say your primary competence is marketing, but your CV shows least amount of experience in that field, then it might simply not be as convincing as you’d wish – even if you’d really knew everything there is to know about marketing.” “To help you choose which competencies to rely on, I’d recommend analyzing your past experiences:

  1. Start by listing your courses, projects done (industry project!), and other previous experience you may have from work, school, hobbies etc.

  2. Think what were some of the concrete things you did? What skills did you use?

  3. Emphasize the ones you can prove. E.g. do you have something to show for what you did during your industry project? Can you explain what kind of results you got from past endeavours? Have you already spent some time working in a specific role?

  4. The top 3 most provable things are the ones you can likely build the most convincing T-shape with.

Helena: “What about when one is thinking of switching domains – something relatively common in IDBM? How should one go about it then?”

Jukka: “It can sometimes be a tricky situation if we already have lots of experience in something, but would want to build a convincing case for doing something else. In the end it once again comes down to being able to prove your worth in the new domain. I'd start by thinking which of your current skills are transferable and how to prove it. If need be, you can always beef up your CV by completing related trainings, certificates, doing practice projects, and so on."

"I've also seen some people simply start over from Junior level if the gap between the old and new domain has been very big. If you've already gained experience in your old domain this can mean a significant salary cut though, so not everyone is able or willing to do it."

"In that case using a "Trojan horse" strategy can also be an option, and I've personally done this in the past: get hired to a position close to one’s current skill set and then try to sneak into new areas once inside the company. The success of this strategy depends a lot on what type of overlap there is between the domains, how well your skills transfer, and so on. It's also crucial to choose a company where you're sure you get good learning opportunities for growing into new areas. There's always a risk you end up stuck in a strictly defined role after all."

“It's also good to keep in mind that switching domains can sometimes require sacrificing some hard earned skills. For example, I had plenty of experience making videos and really liked doing them as well, but the role I was applying to had zero use for videography skills. Extra stuff like that can be a nice bonus, but in the end they're not something that gets me the job or determines the salary.That’s why it can be worthwhile to think about how useful any extra knowledge you want to emphasize actually is for the position you're applying to."

Helena: “Once you’ve framed your skills and have a better understanding of your strengths as a job seeker, what are some of your tips for communicating them when applying?”

Jukka: “It is easy to sound too buzzwordy, so avoid using too many vague adjectives in your application. It’s nice to hear you’re a “talented and highly motivated self-starter” but I’d rather you prove it by telling me a story of a real-life example when you took initiative and solved a complex problem. Humans are hard-wired to respond to stories, so storytelling is a wonderful way to get a recruiter to remember what you’ve done and provide them with interesting discussion points. Instead of just reciting the bullet points in your CV try to think of what your professional narrative looks like. Where did you start, where are you going, what happened along the way, what challenges you faced, how you handled them, and so on. Which brings me to another point: it can be hard to come up with good interview answers on the spot. Many times we end up thinking about all the things we should have said only after the interview. So rehearse your pitch, think of possible answers to common interview questions, and plan which case stories from previous experiences you’re going to tell. Also, while you still can, use Aalto University Career Services! They offer a variety of useful trainings, interview practice, CV and LinkedIn clinics, and more. Highly recommended.”

Helena: “Thank you so much for these practical tips! Would you like to share any final thoughts?”

Jukka: “Even though finding a job – and especially your first job – can be difficult, just keep at it and try to take every rejection as a learning opportunity. Always ask for feedback and use that knowledge to improve your pitch and candidate profile for the next place you’re applying to. During an interview it’s also good to remember that the recruiters are always on your side. Every recruiter wants to find that perfect candidate and see you succeed. And if you ever get a different vibe from them, run while you still can and apply somewhere else!”


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