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When It's Time To Speak Up At The Table

Halle Hughes

Age: 24

Job: Sales Operations Program Manager Intern, Microsoft

Location: Helsinki, Finland

Meredith, a YoPro we interviewed last month, and Halle are friends from college. Realizing her interest in international business early on, Halle took her degree and traveled across the pond to work for Microsoft in Finland. Even with some difficult transitions, she has an incredibly positive outlook on her experience and knows that whatever is meant to happen will happen in time. Meanwhile, she's just enjoying life working in another country and hanging out in Finnish saunas (see end of story for details).

Give us a brief background on yourself. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and then moved to South Carolina to go to The University of South Carolina. USC has a great International Business program and I knew that was what I wanted to do even before school. I was always attracted to the idea of working for an international company, so at the end of my junior year, I decided that I wanted to get my Master's in International Business at USC after studying abroad. I received two Masters in two years, so I spent one year studying at USC then moved to Helsinki and got another degree at Aalto University here in Helsinki. Currently, I have an internship position at Microsoft working as a Sales Operations Program Manager in the Business and Sales Operations unit and within the Microsoft Finland subsidiary. I chose to graduate this past September because of timing with immigration. I didn't think that I would be able to get a residence permit unless I was still technically enrolled in school.

What are the next steps in your career path? My position ends at the end of June and I'm still trying to decide if I want to move back to the U.S. or if I'd like to stay here. My boyfriend went to school in the U.S. but is Finnish, so we have been thinking of the future and what that looks like for both of us. I think after my internship ends I would like to start working full-time at Microsoft, but I also understand that it’s hard applying to jobs and it doesn’t just happen overnight, so I am going to apply to several places.

What has it been like being a young professional in a different country? I'd say it's probably pretty similar to being a young professional in the US. People still come to me with questions about how to work technology, so that’s still the same. In my specific role, I build PowerBI dashboards and reports for other people on the sales teams. People come to me for help all the time, and it has allowed me to be more comfortable as a professional. I may not have as much professional experience or real-life experience, but I feel like I can bring something to the table because of my age.

Can you think of any big distinctions between you and other Finnish Young professionals?

A lot of people that I work with speak English as their second language, so although Finnish people have very superior English skills compared to a lot of other countries, it's still difficult communicating with them. I also think one of the main differences between Finnish people and Americans is that Finnish people are very humble and reserved and Americans just aren't. I find that it's a lot easier for me to speak up about something compared to my peers.

What is a hardship you’ve faced since moving to Helsinki and how did you overcome it? In general, I think wanting to stay here but not knowing how to do that has been a challenge for me. I also moved here in August 2018 not knowing a single person. I think that takes a lot of guts to do, especially in a country that speaks a different language. I don't speak Finnish and it’s actually a really difficult language to learn, which caused some issues at the beginning. I was surrounded by a good group of acquaintances from the start, mostly with international backgrounds which was really helpful. Finnish people can be sort of closed off and more to themselves, so it's kind of hard to make friends with them. I have never really had an issue with making friends, so that was sort of a wakeup call for me, and gave me a push that I had to really work for it if I wanted to make friends.

What do you like about being a young professional? I like that we have after-work events. Microsoft Finland is planning a Finnish Young Professionals Forum, which includes a list of many of the major Finnish companies. In the actual workplace, work is so flexible. I can work at home any day or be in the office. Maybe it’s just how it is in Finland, but I like the work-life balance here.

What is something that motivates you? What really motivates me is seeing other people happy and watching them succeed. We actually had a meeting yesterday where we talked about Microsoft's values with our Marketing and Operations Department. We talked about integrity, respect, and accountability, three of our core responsibilities and values here. It just really made me think about my own values. Seeing other people realize their goals and realize their potential is so cool to watch, so I guess that's what drives me. It's funny to say that because I don't have that much work experience, but I think I have enough to know what motivates me at this point. This is actually one of the reasons I was interested in joining Microsoft. When I first started researching the company, I noticed the mission of Microsoft is to empower every individual and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I talked about this in my interview and how I loved that their mission is to empower other people. I'm starting to try to live that more and more every day.

Are you a podcast or book person? What's your recommendation? I like both but I have always been a reader. Right now I'm reading two books. I just finished The Testament which is the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, and I'm currently reading a business book which is actually written by Microsoft’s President Brad Smith. Tools and Weapons is about how technology has become a tool, but it has also become sort of a weapon, so it's up to big technology companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Amazon to pave the way. If you're interested in how things like A.I. and other new technologies play a role in society and how these big companies have shaped society, then this is a great book for you. It's actually pretty crazy to see how much influence they have over governments.

If I were to go to Finland tomorrow, where would you suggest I go?

Oh, you have to go to a Finnish sauna. Finnish saunas are very traditional Finnish experiences and they have been part of its culture for years. I would take you to this place called Löyly. It's on the water and there's also a bar-restaurant there. You can go back and forth from the sauna to the sea and you would think people are crazy for doing this because the water is maybe 30 degrees, but it’s very traditional here.

Any last-minute words of advice? I would just try to be flexible and be open to trying new things. I never thought that I would end up in Finland. Be open to trying new things and new opportunities because you never know what will happen next. Everything is meant to be in time and things will happen eventually for you, so don't worry and don't stress too much if something isn't going your way at the moment because it'll happen for you later in life.

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

– What it looks like to work abroad

– The DL on international internships

– What you can bring to the table despite your age

– Organizational culture cues to pick up on

Check it out: University of South Carolina Business School, Microsoft, Aalto University, Tools and Weapons, Löyly

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