One challenging and important part of many students’ studies, is finding a company in which to complete the practical training periods according to their degree requirements. In most degree programmes, that means around 30 ECTS, which equates to approximately 5 months in total, although this is often done in two parts – basic and advanced. For some, this process is made easier depending on their field of study. When students have a more defined and narrow field of study, the training opportunities are often clear and less competitive. For example, in the healthcare field, many students have a clear pathway into a training place, often one that has been pre-arranged by the programme. When the field is business, one would be forgiven for thinking that the pathway is so broad that opportunities are simply everywhere, and that employers are begging students to come work for them. In reality however, as the field is so open, there is fierce competition, high numbers of students looking for training, and not always so easy so present yourself in a favourable way to potential employers.
In addition to the challenges of actually finding suitable companies that might offer training places, another challenge for students is how to create an enticing CV if they have no prior work history. Often students are coming straight from high school, having had very little workplace experience or in many cases, none at all. So how can students convince potential employers that it is worth giving them their first opportunity of work through practical training? This is something that is even more challenging if you are a non-Finnish student in Finland.
It helps if students understand what employers are looking for in trainees. Remember, practical training is such that you do not know the work tasks before you start the training, it is the employer’s duty to allocate a training supervisor to help you get started, and to guide you during the training period. Often in working life, starting any new job is daunting even for those with experience, as workplaces differ so much, even if the nature of the job might be the same. Working conditions and practices differ from company to company, so it is always a new experience.
Mainly employers are looking for people with the right attitude, are energetic, and of course that have a willingness to work. Showing this in any kind of communication – be it written or face-to-face – with a potential employer is key to obtaining a position, even for a training place. One way to show this in any kind of first contact is by explaining what you have to offer and also what it is you are looking for from an employer. Describing yourself as an interesting person that is worthy of inviting to an interview is one of the main factors to overcome. If you do not have an impressive CV to present, then writing your brief “story” in such a way that someone (the potential employer) will want to read it is key. Showing who you are and what you want makes you appear much more interesting then just listing factual data on a CV.
One thing to remember when applying for training places is that you are looking for real work and not just a summer job. Also remember to explain how you have up-to-date knowledge from your current studies and explain how that will help the prospective employer. In addition to any prior experience (if you have any), remember to present any projects that you have participated in that can help to describe your abilities and competences.
One of the biggest hurdles for our international, non-Finnish speaking students is lack of Finnish language – although in over 20 years experience, I have not seen any students that could not find a training place – and nowadays more and more companies are using English as a working language. However, this is where students also need to show more convincing arguments to be given the chance of a training place. Showing willingness to use the level of language already learned and being prepared to further develop language skills in the workplace is a great way to push yourself forward. Also promoting yourself and your own cultural background as an asset for a potential employer is to be encouraged. Your own international experience, languages spoken (students coming to Finland speak a minimum of two languages, often more), and new and different insights, can all be potential benefits to an open-minded employer.
So, don’t be put off when it is time to look for a training place. Use your networks, do some research into the companies you intend to contact, and above all, know yourself and remember to promote yourself to the best of your abilities. In English there is a saying, “only you can blow your own trumpet” – translation: you know yourself best, so only you can tell others about you in the best way.
Hugh Clack, Training Coordinator (DIB)