A conversation with Raissa Gakuba on working in the public sector and how to decide what career path to take

Q- Tell us about yourself and what you do

A- My name is Raissa Gakuba. I am a twenty-seven year old Rwandan living and working in Kigali. I have been working as a Senior State Attorney in the International Justice and Judicial Cooperation Department at the Rwanda Ministry of Justice for the past three years. Prior to that, I had completed my LLB at the University of Kent in 2015 and went on to pursue an LLM in International Law and Human Rights at the University of Kent’s Brussels campus.

I have lived in three different countries aside from Rwanda since the age of fifteen (Kenya, the UK, and Belgium) and that has definitely shaped my interests and world view. Moving around sparked a love for learning new languages and exploring new cultures through travelling and reading. I finally moved back to Rwanda in 2017 and although I thoroughly enjoyed my short-lived nomadic lifestyle, I have loved being back home engaging with my roots and spending time with family and loved ones.

In my current job at the Ministry of Justice, I am in charge of human rights and treaty body reporting. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling journey so far and I have loved working in the Rwandan public sector at a time when our country is an example to so many of good governance and leadership.

Q- What made you undertake the LLB Law degree? 

A- I first considered a degree in languages and international relations as I have always felt intuitively drawn to those fields, and knew I was quite good at both. It wasn’t until I took law during my A Levels that I started considering a law degree. The class fascinated me from the very beginning. It was unlike any other class I had taken thus far – intellectually stimulating, complex, diverse and constantly evolving. It also helped that we had an incredibly charismatic and encouraging teacher who pushed us to consider pursuing law as a career and I hope he’s reading this. The more I thought about it (and the closer university applications drew), I realised how laws, policies and regulations are such a pervasive and all-encompassing aspect of our lives, perhaps even more than most of us acknowledge.

As I filled in my LLB applications,  I believed my degree would give me the tools to better understand the workings of society, and maybe even help me contribute to the improvement of the lives of Rwandans.

Q- Do you feel like doing a masters is necessary and what benefits do you feel it has added to your career? 

A- I believe a masters degree is a useful but not a necessary prerequisite to career success. For me, a masters gave me a more in-depth understanding of my specialty and that sharpened my critical and analytical skills. It was also fascinating to have classmates of all ages and from various walks of life during my LLM – it gave me insight into the diversity of a law degree. I would therefore recommend a master’s degree to anyone interested in it. However, if you feel more inclined to jump right into the working world after your degree, to take a sabbatical, or to work towards getting qualified in your home country, those are all great options too.

Q- What advice do you have for our members on deciding what career path to take? 

A- It’s not often easy to settle on what you want to do for the rest of your life, or even the next few years. I am definitely still navigating my way around the labyrinth of career decisions but based on my experience over the past few years, I can suggest the following tips:

Start with self-reflection and ask yourself the following questions: What am I passionate about? What will I enjoy doing every day? What are my strengths and aptitudes? What do I want from my career? Where do I feel I could make the most impact?

After you have identified your interests and career goals, test it out with various internships. An internship in the field can give you real life experience to base a career decision on. Your satisfaction or lack thereof will help guide your career choices. Focus on the ones you felt most fulfilled in when making your decision.

Consider your country’s development and priorities and try to align them with your skills. How can I help/ is there any demand? Consider the gaps in your national public sector and see if there is anywhere you could plug yourself in.

Look for a job that has growth potential. What does the career ladder look like? Are there people to learn from and observe?

Strike a balance between passion, impact and practicality. Of these, which is most important to you? Give each the weight you feel is appropriate and use that to guide your decision.

Remember that a law degree opens many doors and you don’t have to become a lawyer just because you did an LLB. A law degree can give you the skills to be successful in almost any profession.

A career decision doesn’t have to be final. Give yourself the room to change your mind and consider options you hadn’t thought of before. In my mind, your career can and should evolve just as any other aspect of your mind.

Q- What languages do you speak and what are the advantages of knowing multiple languages in this current job market? 

A- I speak French, English, Kinyarwanda and Spanish. I am a native French and Kinyarwanda speaker and I learned English after attending high school in Kenya. I also took Spanish classes throughout my high school and undertook a three-month language course in Barcelona after my undergraduate.

There are obvious pros to being multilingual:

It makes your CV look good. Fluency in more than one language can be a significant competitive advantage in the current job market; a bilingual has much greater chances than those who speak only one language. The demand for bilingual professionals is rising exponentially and very soon with the rapidly increasing global economy, Spanish and Chinese speaking skills will be highly sought for by recruiters.

I also believe that acquiring a foreign language conveys that you are intelligent, motivated and disciplined. It will also enhance your confidence and sense of achievement.

It’s fun. Speaking several languages makes travelling (even for work) and meeting new people an exciting experience and gives you access to stories, places and people that you might not have otherwise had.

Q- Did you do any work experience or internships during your studies and how did this prepare you for the world of working? 

A- I did internships every summer since I was in A Levels and I would strongly recommend it. As I mentioned above, internships help you explore a career path and decide if a particular career is a good match for your personality, goals, etc. For example, I did an internship in a commercial law firm one summer and it was then that I realized that I preferred human rights to commercial law. That internship helped me avoid wasting time on training for a career that wouldn’t really work for me in the long-run.

Internships also contribute to developing many skills needed in the workplace, you get to learn work habits, witness first-hand the day-to-day job duties while at the same time mastering soft skills like punctuality, time management, teamwork, communication, etc.

They can also help you start to build a professional network with professionals in the field, mentorship and secure good references and recommendations as you pursue a full-time job. Make sure to shadow experts in the field while you are interning to learn as much as possible from them and get their honest feedback on the job.

Lastly and perhaps obviously, gaining valuable work experience helps you build a strong CV and give yourself an edge in the job market.

Q- What advice would you give to your 18 year old self before starting your undergraduate studies? 

A- Step out of your comfort zone and go with the flow. As an 18 year old it can be tempting to stick to what’s comfortable especially when you are out on your own for the first time. So I would recommend my younger self to put herself out there and branch out.

Take a leap of faith in yourself. You will never know the limit of how much you can achieve until you believe in yourself and try. Invest in yourself.

Q- What is your life motto? 

The Golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated.

Also (I couldn’t help myself): learn new languages!

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