In this article, we continue meeting with SSMS alumni's to learn about their experience and journey after graduation. This time we are interviewing Rafael S., who graduated from SSMS in 2020. During his years of study, he was an active participant in all the extra-curricular activities of SSMS and occupied the position of President of Centuria Study Association during the 2017-2018 study year. Rafael is not only a very interesting person to talk to but also a great example of a successful SSMS student who managed to find a job in the same field he wanted. Therefore, we hope you would enjoy reading this interview as much as we enjoyed talking to Rafael!
S: Why did you choose to study SSMS?
R: I have been interested in security since I was a kid. The first study I did was psychology, but since I discovered SSMS, I decided to switch. At that time, SSMS was the only program in Europe offered in English. I think there are further options as well, but they also mostly related to criminology. Now, of course, you have another program in Leiden, but at that time, it was the only option. And of course, I have to say, The Hague or the Netherlands was a very interesting place for me to study.
S: And when you started SSMS, what did you like the most?
R: First of all, the content of the study. And obviously, the names of the subjects were very interesting for me, which caught my attention. The minors, for example, Applied Intelligence or Counterterrorism, did sound very appealing too. Also, The Netherlands is a great country to live in. And of course, I stayed because of the teachers. I don't know whether you have the same experience, but at least my friends and I had a great experience with the teachers and mentors. And last but not least – the number of practical projects we did in the program.
S: Can you remember which project was your favourite?
R: We had more projects than the students after us. We had them from Module 1, and the first project was entirely theoretical. It was about Nigeria and security issues there. I also enjoyed working for Tesla and Phillips. We had two industrial projects with them, which were interesting as well. I remember we also had to prepare a security plan or security measures package for G20 Summit. I cannot remember all of them... It has been a while…but I do remember that we did projects for Amazon and Financial Intelligence Unit here, in the Netherlands. I think these projects are great opportunities to work with an actual client.
S: So, you are obviously full of praise for SSMS. But if there is something that you believe should be improved?
R: My major critique that remains until today is regarding the technical abilities. Yes, we have many projects, and we can learn from them, but we are not really ready for the moment when we enter the workplace. For example, it would be nice to learn how to create interactive dashboards or at least some data analysis basics. If you do security – it is all about data. You have to analyse it somehow and be able to make it visual and accessible for people. I think the emphasis should be more on that.
S: Rafael, did you always know what you want to do after you graduate?
R: Well, I knew it initially, and in the end, it was still in my mind. That's not very common, but of course, I was older than the rest and knew exactly what I needed, what I wanted and didn't need time to think about it. I knew that I wanted to work in investigations and open-source intelligence and therefore worked towards it. I think SSMS gives you a lot of directions to go. From physical security to safety and international security. I think safety and security specialists are really in demand these days, especially during Corona...a lot of companies realise then need more people like us, as many of them were not prepared for a crisis like it.
S: Do you have any tips for SSMS students who just about to start with a program?
R: Yes, just keep trying. I wasn't the best student at the beginning, I have to say, even had a couple of 5.5s and stuff like that, but in the end, after putting enough effort into it, I was able to be on the top of the class and had really good grades. Basically, do not give up. If you keep going, it is not that difficult.
T: Tell a little bit about your internship in year 4 - what kind of internship did you do?
R: I did an internship as an intelligence analyst for a big company based in the Netherlands. I worked for the corporate security department and was basically monitoring global threats that may affect the operations. The company has a presence almost everywhere. Of course, different crises were happening at that time that had to be monitored and updated, so I had to keep the corporate security department up to date regarding these conflicts.
T: And when you started with your internship, did you feel prepared, like, did you have enough necessary skills?
R: Well, I have to say that I had to rely a lot on my own experience, on the things that I learned on the side by my own initiative. Because in a way, I wasn't ready to work with open-source intelligence from the things I've learned at school, but in the end, the internship is to learn, right? I think I was prepared in a way that I knew how bureaucracy works (which you learn in the Public Governance course), from a structural perspective, or thanks to Policy Making and other subjects, you learn how difficult it is to change the company's policies, how security works and everything. I think it was very much appreciated that I had that our background. Also, when they talked about something, and I would know what they mean - I think that is really nice. They didn't expect people, even now in my current job, to be so interesting with such an original background.
T: And what did you like the most about your internship?
R: Le me think about an answer to this question...although I had the working experience, working in a corporate security department during this internship was very enriching in the sense that people were very assertive. Some of them worked in the security field for more than 20 years. They would say like " cut it off, I don't care about your reports at school - I want just one sentence". So, the business way things work, I really learned from there.
T: if you had to start with an internship again - what kind of tip you would give yourself?
R: Well, definitely work on your technical skills. You should know how to use Excel very well. If you are good at presenting, that would definitely be an asset. Learn how to analyse the data and to make something out of this data.
S: Could you tell us a little bit about your current job?
R: Okay, well, I work for an organisation that fights counterfeit. My tasks are basically monitoring, investigating, collecting information, processing data, converting it into something that the decision-maker can use, and later presenting or disseminating the information, in this case, intelligence.
S: That sounds very cool!! When did you start applying for a job?
R: I started before I finished my thesis in April. So, actually, one month before I finished. So I would recommend applying as soon as you can, as it takes some time.
S: Do you have some tips for writing an application and the parts that belong in that? I guess that is different from applying for an internship or exchange.
R: Hmm...if you do not have much experience, take the projects that you did in SSMS and frame them. Describe what the projects are about. If you frame it correctly, it sounds amazing. All of them. And they will love it.
T: That's a great tip!
R: Seriously, and describe also the minors. Not just mention them, but say what you have learnt from them.
S: And do you think the Master's degree is important in the field of Safety and Security, or Bachelor's degree is enough?
R: If you want to do it - sure. I think it is a personal preference. If you believe it is useful for you and you want to learn more, go for it. You will earn more money, of course, and be able to apply for more different jobs because some only accept Masters even though this may be changing, at least in the private field. You definitely can find your way with or without a Master.
S: These are all the questions. Thank you very much for this interview🙂
R: You are welcome!