Christopher Jackson reports on a moving success story on the Finito bursary scheme
Very often mentoring can deal with minutiae – the creation of a LinkedIn profile, the process of CV-writing, and all the small steps which, taken together, move a job hunter into the category of employee. These things are very important, of course, but they can seem to be a long way from the daily drama of news headlines. But everything we do in this life has a historical context; we can’t escape history even if we’d sometimes like to.
This truth was brought home to us at Finito by the arrival on our bursary scheme of Ukrainian refugee Valeria Mitureva. Valeria grew up in eastern Ukraine and says of her upbringing: “I grew up as a curious child. From early childhood I was interested in books, other countries and cultures. At school everything was interesting, so in my youth I was faced with the fact that it is very difficult to choose one thing and move in that direction.”
Valeria’s instinct was towards broad enquiry and international travel, and in ways which she couldn’t then predict, these wishes would indeed be granted. But initially, she decided that it would be better to specialise. “I decided to enrol in a technical specialty at the university – technical information security systems,” she recalls. Characteristically, she didn’t leave it there. “I additionally studied French and English in my free time,” she recalls. This latter decision would prove useful, again in ways she couldn’t have imagined at the time.
So what happened after university? “I accidentally got into IT in the sales field while finishing my bachelor’s degree,” she recalls. “But I was still ready to explore the world and decided to change my career to the design sphere, and I am glad to have been doing it for four years now and I see incredible opportunities for my development,” she says cheerfully.
All this might have proceeded upon the expected track, and Mitureva would have continued her progress towards a design career within Ukraine. But, as the world knows, Vladimir Putin was gearing up for his 2022 illegal invasion of Ukraine – that appalling violation which would upend so many lives, including Valeria’s.
Valeria recalls the terrible ructions which took place a year ago. “I did not plan to move: everything happened very tragically and quickly. A full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into the territory of Ukraine began in February 2022. We call it full-scale, because in 2014 the Russian Federation already occupied part of the Eastern region of Ukraine, where I grew up, and where my home is.
Therefore, for my family, this is already the second war.”
Valeria was proactive during that terrible spring. “I read about the Homes for Ukraine program and decided to apply. I contacted my future sponsors (my British family!), packed my suitcase and all that was left of my courage and landed in Heathrow on April 30th.”
It is impossible to imagine her emotions on being forced to leave her homeland and making the leap into the unknown. So what were Valeria’s initial impressions of the UK? “It felt as if it was my second home. The culture is familiar through books, films, music. It’s also a very friendly and open people, with incredible stories – and, of course, I was shocked in a good way by the incredible support of the British people. You have a beautiful country and incredible people.”
When Valeria refers to her British family, she is referring to the family of Amy le Coz, the founder of Digital Media Services, who immediately took to Valeria’s infectious and optimistic spirit. “In those first few weeks when she lived with us, my husband and I were immediately very impressed and delighted with her work ethic and proactive attitude both for her job for her Ukrainian employer, as well as around the house,” Le Coz recalls. “We were both also profoundly moved by all that she had had to endure and at such a young age.”
By good fortune, Le Coz met Finito Education Chief Executive Ronel Lehmann at The Spring Lunch which raises money for Conservative Marginal Seats and Women2Win soon after Valeria’s arrival in the country. Valeria recalls: “My sponsor met Ronel at the event, who explained to him that they were hosting a Ukrainian woman and he immediately offered his help. I was impressed with the approach, professionalism and, most importantly, the structure of the organisation. Finito has a huge team of mentors with a wide variety of expertise. It was indeed like a guiding light for me at that time.”
Le Coz recalls that Valeria was “buzzing with excitement” upon hearing of the opportunity – and it was certainly one which she took with both hands.
Valeria worked mainly with three mentors: “I worked with Robin Rose, Claire Messer, and Kate King. I’m grateful for their support, ideas and that they let me work it out myself, rather than tell me exactly what to do. Sometimes we would discuss my hobbies – so, for example, Robin gave me links to music events, which was helpful for a person who had just moved to a new country.”
Mentorship is sometimes really a kind of friendship. But the pair also got down to work.
Initially, Rose held two Zoom meetings in order to get himself up-to-speed on Valeria’s situation, and began to carve out a plan. “We needed a workable strategy to find her a role in web or graphic design at a level which matched her experience and which would provide sufficient income for her to fund an independent lifestyle,” he recalls.
But there were initial headwinds, partly due to the uniqueness of Valeria’s situation. “Valeria had had a good education and relevant training throughout her career in Ukraine. She is personable and speaks good English,” Rose continues. “However, recruiters and HR people were unlikely properly to appreciate her potential from just seeing her CV when evaluating her documentation against other candidates particularly at junior or entry level. She had sent off over 50 applications and had had just one video interview.”
Rose looked hard at the situation, and made the following assessment: “This shotgun approach was unlikely to return any result for the time invested and continuous rejection was likely to sap her confidence even further.” Rose saw that the starter salary jobs in the sector – typically around £20,000 per annum weren’t a fair reflection of Valeria’s experience in Ukraine: “I felt that Valeria was, in reality, better experienced and should have been competing for jobs in the £30-40K bracket. She had, however, an understandable confidence issue with this approach.”
This meant that Valeria needed confidence training: “She needed to re-establish her belief in her own abilities. We needed to set up exploratory meetings with people working in the industry so that she could see how she would be of value. I thought that this activity in itself might lead to opportunities.” Rose also suggested that the pair conduct web research to identify at least four organisations she’d like to work with.
In time, Rose worked closely with Valeria to make more targeted approaches, and provided her with a list of London-based creative agencies. Meanwhile, Valeria was also paired with another Finito mentor Claire Messer, who worked with her in August 2022, casting an experienced eye over her CV.
Messer says: “I explained to Valeria that recruiters look at CVs for an average of six seconds, and so it was important to make sure we had complete clarification over what kind of visa Valeria had obtained, right down to the number of hours a week which she was able to work. I also worked on clarifying the CV, and making sure that her work experience was tailored to the companies she was applying to.”
Valeria was beginning to realise that she didn’t want to work for a large company but for a smaller graphic design or creative agency. Claire explained to Valeria the valued of LinkedIn Premium, and showed her mentee how direct messaging of creative agency owners might be to her advantage: “I suggested that messaging owners and CEOs might have traction,” Messer recalls. “This is because some smaller agencies tend not to use recruitment companies as the fees are too high for them. I told Valeria they tend to work by word-of-mouth referrals.”
In time, Valeria was put in contact with another Finito mentor Kate King, and this led to her first interview. “She felt that the interview went well but that the actual role was outside her technical skill,” King recalls: “It was a great practice interview and helped her to increase her confidence.”
Her confidence had in fact been transformed and Valeria was then well-prepared when she had the interview with the design studio where she now works, as she had hoped she would: “I’m currently working as a graphic designer at a company called Spark,” she tells us. “I mostly do packaging design but also I do some motion graphics and am learning to use new software as well.”
Most of all, she feels part of a team. “I am participating in design studio brainstorms and I learn from my experienced colleagues how to deal with nontypical issues. I am happy to have the opportunity to be involved in most of the projects the studio creates. I simply love what I’m doing now as there are a lot of training and a lot of challenges.”
So how does Valeria see her future now? “The main task is to keep enjoying my job and do everything possible for it. I want to be a worthy professional and to be proud of my projects. For now I’m concentrating on feeling more confident in my role in the UK, studying the culture, the people and concentrating on developing as a designer.”
For Ronel Lehmann, Chief Executive of Finito Education, this has been an important mandate: “I myself finally got to meet Valeria in person at a Women2Win Business Club dinner in Fenwick of Bond Street. The guest speakers were Gillian Keegan MP, who was at the time Minister for Care and Mental Health and Virginia Crosbie MP. It was particularly apt to be able to listen to two Parliamentarians speak about overcoming adversity. I felt that it resonated with Valeria who is simply inspirational”.
The support which our bursary scheme has given to Valeria would have been impossible without the generosity of one donor in particular.
We would therefore like to thank Dr Selva Pankaj, the CEO of Regent Group, who says: “As CEO of a UK education group, I fully appreciate how difficult it can be to take those first steps onto the career ladder, especially in the volatile landscape during and after the pandemic. Hopefully, by supporting this initiative, we can help more individuals find the path that is right for them.”
That’s certainly the case with Valeria, who now has a bright future ahead of her. We will continue to help her in her career journey and report back in these pages on any developments.