Every first Monday of the month we post an interview with a TopFem member or TopFem alumna.
Maria Schoenmakers is Chairwoman of the TopFem Board in the Netherlands.
Can you tell us who you are?
My name is Maria Schoenmakers, I am 26 years old and I live in Leiden, the Netherlands. I graduated from Leiden University last May and work as a Contracts Officer at NS Financial Services Company. I was born and raised in Alkmaar and I have a brother and sister. I am the oldest of 3.
When I was younger I used to dance a lot. I started ballet when I was 3 years old; my mom thought it was a good idea to let me express my energy this way instead of jumping on the bed all day. Later I added jazz ballet and tap dance, singing etc. I also played tennis and I played piano for 9 years. I stopped all this when I was 18 and went to university. Now, I love to run in my spare time. It’s the best way for me to relax and to clear my mind. I set goals for myself by participating in races and to try to improve myself all the time.
My friends would describe me as a hands-on, hard worker, problem solver and a team player with spunk.
Can you tell us which study you have completed and what career you were planning to pursue after this?
I finished the Bachelor Law & Business Administration and the Master Company Law at Leiden University. During my Master I spent some time abroad. I studied a semester as an Exchange Student at Boston University (BU) in the United States of America. I took classes in International Business Practice and Leadership at BU School of Law and BU Graduate School of Management. Later, I went back to the States for an internship in New York where I also took classes at New York University (NYU). I always had a great interest in rules, structures, companies and managerial processes. That is the reason I took this combination of classes and courses during my time as a student.
What were you like as a student ?
I was a very busy student. I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities and I did a lot of different things. For example, I was a board member of the students’ association of the Law Faculty (JFV Grotius) and organized a lot of events for law students. Also, I did internships at a law firm and the District Court of Amsterdam to find out if jobs like that would suit me. As a student-assistant I tutored first year students and I gave Moot Court Video Training to Bachelor students. I was a member of a sorority and I took some extra courses that I found interesting but weren’t part of my degree.
How did you discover TopFem?
In May 2013 I received a message on LinkedIn from Suzanne den Engelse. She invited me to apply for TopFem’s Corporate Dinner and she told me about TopFem. I was curious and excited to know more about TopFem so I applied and joined the event. It was a very interesting night. I met new and inspiring women and I met my current mentor there, with whom I still keep in touch. It was the first of many TopFem activities.
How do you experience TopFem?
After the Corporate Dinner I joined the Mentor&Network Programme. I was connected to an amazing mentor, a lawyer that I met during the Corporate Dinner. I really think that a mentor is one of the most valuable assets of TopFem. My mentor helped me to determine my path. I had a lot of doubts with regards to ‘the right steps to take’ on my way to my working career. She is always open to drinking a coffee with me and supports me in my thoughts and the steps that I was taking. She gave me the confidence to do what I had in mind and to not be afraid of getting a different outcome than the one I had planned. During my study and internship in New York during the fall of 2014 I took part of the board of TopFem New York. It was a great experience to develop TopFem in another country and to encounter the differences in networking. Now, I’m the Chairwoman of the TopFem Board in the Netherlands.
Do you have a role model? How and why do they impact your life or inspire you?
I get inspired by a lot of people, but I don’t really have a specific role model. However, I consider my parents as the most important people as I was preparing for my career. First of all, they support me in all the choices I make in my life. Furthermore, my mother taught me to always aim to do a little bit more than you think you can. She is the perfect example of someone that never gives up and that’s a mentality that I have 100% adopted. My father taught me how to have a professional attitude and to stay true to myself. These pieces of advice help me every day.
How did you end up at your present job?
After my graduation I started to think about what I wanted in a job. Through my internships and experiences during my study I discovered that my ideal job would have a combination of legal and managerial tasks, preferably in an international environment. While applying for different types of jobs, I received a message on LinkedIn from a headhunter. She asked if I was interested in a job with legal, financial and managerial responsibilities at a company with its office in Ireland. During the procedure I realized that this job could be exactly what I was looking for and when they made me an offer I was very happy to accept it.
I am a Contracts Officer at NS Financial Services Company. This company, an Irish 100% subsidiary of NS Groep N.V. (the Dutch Railroads), is active as a lessor of rolling stock (e.g. trains) in the Netherlands and Europe and as an agent in the remarketing and sale of second hand trains. I will have, for example, legal and organizational tasks in the drafting and execution of lease agreements. The office is located in Dublin, Ireland. I travel every week to work three days there and the other two days I work in the Netherlands. Up until now I am thoroughly enjoying my work. It is a very dynamic environment and I am learning new things every day.
How was the transition from your student years to your working life?
The first week was pretty tough, energy wise. Especially with the traveling. You’re basically starting from scratch and everything is new. It took me one or two weeks to process all the new impressions, but after that I found a rhythm that works. It is quite a change to go from your flexible student life where you can manage your own time to a working life where the vast part of your day is determined by your work.
What are you doing daily to ensure your continued development as a successful woman?
I am just always trying to improve myself. Looking for new things to learn. Explore new opportunities to grow as a person and as a professional.
What is one characteristic that you believe every female leader should possess?
What are your plans for the future?
During the years I have learned not to plan too much for the future. All the things that I ‘planned’ never really worked. Instead, I learned to find out what I want and to keep my eyes open. That enables me to catch the right opportunity when it comes by.
What is your final advice to young female students and professionals?
Never give up. Try to find out what you want and what your goals are and always work hard to achieve them. I believe that you can achieve whatever you want as long as you work hard for it. Never take no for an answer and don’t make other people make you believe that you can’t. Learn from the things that go differently than hoped and learn to come out stronger on the other side. I believe that bad things happen for a reason and that better things are coming next.