Archive for February, 2009

An evening with four authors—including us!

Friday, February 27th, 2009

A little Friday afternoon self-promotion sounds about right: next Wednesday March 4, the Public Diplomacy Council is hosting “An Evening with Four Authors”  from 6:30 to 8:00 at the DACOR Bacon House, which sounds delicious but is apparently just the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired house, bequeathed to them by one Virginia Murray Bacon. Anyway, it’s at 1801 F Street, NW in DC.

The other two authors are Bill Kiehl and Tom Tuch, both very well known and respected people in the fields of public diplomacy and foreign affairs. The discussion will center on our three new books (Bill: Global Intentions Local Results: How Colleges Can Create International Communities; Tom: Arias, Cabalettas, and Foreign Affairs: A Public Diplomat’s Quasi-Musical Memoir), though I’m sure the conversation can and will take any number of interesting turns. RSVP to if you can come.  We’d love to see you there.

[Random note---I stumbled across a shout-out to this event at Mountain Runner, a public diplomacy blog by Matt Armstrong. Looks like an interesting resource that I'll check out more later.]

Don’t overlook the cover letter

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I was happy to see this Career Couch article in the NY Times reminding us that the cover letter is not expendable when applying for a job:

Cover letters are a graceful way to introduce yourself, to convey your personality and to impress a hiring manager with your experience and your writing skill.

They are also the perfect vehicle for telling your story. One of the most common mistakes in a cover letter (other than sending out a poorly-formatted, typo-laden, and/or generic letter—always, always, ALWAYS tailor every letter for every job you apply for—form letters will get you nowhere) is simply repeating what is in your resume in paragraph form.  Don’t just repeat the jobs, internships, and other experiences you’ve had—that’s all right there in your resume.  Rather, draw your experiences together for the person reading your resume. Don’t leave it to the hiring committee to make conclusions about you and your experience and your suitability for the job—do it for them. Tell your story and show them how the things you’ve done and the person you are make you an ideal candidate for this particular position.

One further point for international career seekers: when attempting to convey in a cover letter why you want to work for that particular organization, simply pointing out that you are interested in international stuff and they do international stuff is not enough. I can’t count the number of times, as NCIV’s internship coordinator, I was put off by cover letters that reeked of the obvious truth that the person was only applying for a position with us because we had the word “international” in our org name.

Rather, make a compelling case in each cover letter why this organization and its mission, and then this specific position within the organization, are particularly suited to your international interests. The more you can show that, yes, you are an internationalist but that you are also extremely drawn to this particular organization and its cause, the more likely your cover letter will be noticed.

Hillary heart Indonesia

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Hillary Clinton said a lot of good things on her maiden trip abroad as Secretary of State that point to an increase in involvement and funding for international education, exchange, and development from the Obama administration.  For example:

On her first stop in Japan, Hillary told 200 U.S. Embassy employees that the notion of peace and harmony was “a good concept for America’s role in the world. We need to be looking to create more balance, more harmony.”

Then, during her last stop in Indonesia, she held a roundtable with Indonesian journalists in Jakarta and highlighted the importance of person-to-person contact and international exchange programs.  She also threw a lot of love at Indonesia and its people (a great people and place for sure, which I know from my November trip there).  Money quote:

I hope we’ll have a lot more exchanges of all kinds, people-to-people exchanges. I think governments have to talk, and that’s important, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m here in Indonesia. But there is nothing that is more effective than having people break down barriers between themselves.

The level of interest here in Indonesia for students studying in the United States has put student exchanges at the top of my list when I go back to Washington: How do we increase more exchanges? Because there’s a great interest in having Indonesians study in the United States, and I think there will be opportunities for American students to do more in Indonesia. And I just had a wonderful meeting with your President, and he was talking about how we can have more higher education exchanges, university-to-university. We should look at all of that. How do we have more healthcare exchanges where our doctors and nurses and hospitals work with yours? The more we can have that person-to-person contact, the more likely it is we can develop better understanding.

I also am very impressed at the way Indonesia has led interfaith dialogues, and also its emphasis on democracy, like the Bali Democracy Forum, bringing countries together that are at different stages of democratic development. So we do see a tremendous opportunity for us to increase our government-to-government cooperation and the comprehensive partnership that I discussed with both the President and the Foreign Minister, but also more on a people-to-people basis.

National Peace Corps Week

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I know I’m a bit late posting on this, but this week is National Peace Corps Week! Check out more about it on the Peace Corps Polyglot, the National Peace Corps Association’s blog. Also, an article by a returned Peace Corps volunteer appeared in yesterday’s USA Today arguing for a “rebuilding of the Peace Corps” from its current level of 4,000 annual volunteers to the more than 8,000 it sent 40 years ago. Money quote:

So here we find ourselves, celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, a farsighted leader who has inspired millions of young Americans with his call to service. We also find ourselves on the threshold of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s new diplomatic initiative, the exercise of “smart power” in a multifaceted effort to reclaim our moral and political integrity in the eyes of the world. The obvious equation seems written in neon: “Call to service” plus “smart power” equals Peace Corps.

Dollar for dollar, you cannot get a more reliable, cost-effective answer than the Peace Corps when the challenge is to win hearts and minds around the globe.

PS—Apologies for a few days of no posts, but like Sherry had been earlier this month, I’ve been “flat out” this week with the Alliance’s big event, an advocacy day in which our members descend on Capitol Hill to lobby their Members of Congress. I’ll post more this weekend/next week, but will also try to bang out a few latent posts now.

Milestones in Intercultural Relations Conference at AU

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

American University is holding its 10th annual Conference on Intercultural Relations March 12-13.  It seems like an intriguing event, complete with “varied, hands-on experiences for a niche group of individuals concerned with advanced intercultural relations,” and Carol Bellamy, the president and CEO of World Learning and a profilee in our book, as the keynote speaker (she’s pretty amazing). The price tag is pretty steep though, even for alumni.

Check out more on the conference on AU’s alumni website, and on the Intercultural Management Institute website too.

Single country v. multicountry study abroad? The debate rages.

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

After looking at the 2008 Open Doors data and returning from a speaking gig at Notre Dame,  I brought up up the issue of short-term v. long-term exchange programs: which allows for a more in-depth, formative experience, especially for a career in international affairs? An article by Charlotte West in the latest International Educator brings up a related and equally important issue: single country v. multicountry study abroad and, again, which allows for a more in-depth, formative experience?

The article is definitely worth a read (it’s in downloadable PDF format on the NAFSA website, if you’re not a subscriber), as it lays out in plain detail the pros and cons of each model, as well as examples of multicountry study abroad programs that seem to be designed rather effectively, providing much more than a whirlwind tour that relegates students to studying tourists. West lays out the familiar arguments and debate by quoting a student who participated in a multicountry program:

In a single country over an extended period of time, one probably gets the benefits of really grasping the language and deeply indulging in the local culture. Yet, when one gets to see many different cultures they can better grasp the magnitude of the beauty which this world has to offer.

West goes on to comment that “one of the main arguments against multicountry programs is that full immersion is the best way to truly learn a language and a culture. However, studying in a single country is no guarantee that immersion will actually occur. In many cases, foreign students are grouped together in the same classes, held in English, and have little contact with the locals.”

West is right on here. Length does not always add up to a quality experience (I think about the classmate I knew who spent a year in Madrid, yet refused to eat Spanish food the entire time and only spoke Spanish if he absolutely had tonot exactly what the program was hoping for him to do, I don’t think).  Certainly the quality of a programi.e., the manner in which it facilitates deep student interaction with the host country and its peopletrumps the length of time in terms of importance.


My job hunt secret sauce is (apparently) at Doostang, ctd.

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Reader GG doesn’t care for Doostang’s selectivity pitch:

I got the same email from Doostang. My guess is that they aren’t doing so hot. Like you, I created an account a few years ago, but never visited. When it comes to social networking, I’m not sure that ‘exclusivity’ is a good thing. I think it scares more people away than it attracts. Isn’t the whole point of networking to have a large, diverse group of contacts? I didn’t see that happening with Team Doostang.

GG spells out exactly why I think I’m more attracted to LinkedIn: less privileged, more diverse, more open—all of which makes it more likely you’ll forge a connection with someone you’d never have thought to forge a connection with, rather than hobnobbing with a crowd of people who are all exactly like you.

Should I stay or should I go now? ctd.

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

My friend Mike, an accountant in San Francisco, makes some valuable comments on our previous discussions, here and here, of how long young professionals “should” be looking to stay in any given job or with a particular organization:

Mark, I think your questions are what goes through a lot minds in our generation. At the firm I work for (not in IR), we consider the new college graduates to be from even a newer generation, where these questions/concerns are even on shorter timelines. Companies are aware that their younger employees aren’t planning on punching the clock for 40 years and then retire with a pension. That said, I think it’s fair game for a company to review a resume and ask why you’ve changed jobs every 2 years. If there is a good reason, then that should be acceptable to the company if they are interested in hiring you. If a better opportunity comes along after 1 year or 2 years at a job, then you can’t consider the future scrutiny of your resume in your decision to move on. I personally think there is no hard and fast rule, but I would advise someone to not settle for a job (or stay in one) when their passion or happiness is at stake. But it might be a whole other discussion as to whether that is easy to do considering the state of our economy. Thanks Mark, and keep up the good work…

It’s great to get Mike’s take on this issue, one that comes from outside the international affairs field but is also completely applicable to all fields, I think. His point about it being fair game for a potential employer to ask about your job switches is a great one and makes for an interesting exercise: if you’re unsure about making a career change/leaving the job you’ve been in for only a short time, ask yourself how you would respond to an interviewer’s question about your job trajectory. Can you clearly and compellingly lay out the reasons why you left your current job for another one after only 6 months or a year or two years?  If so, then it is probably a solid career move and no future employer would fault you for jumping up and taking a better opportunity. But if you can’t clearly lay out those reasons, if it’s not evident to you why you are leaving one job for another, then maybe that move isn’t the best idea after all.

Of course, as Mike says, there is no hard and fast rule, and this is all just an exercise in discussion and conjecture, which is not a bad thing but certainly never ends with one final answer. I agree with Mike that I would never encourage you to refrain from making a career move because you worry how a mythical future interviewer might interpret your resume. Mike hits on a key theme of Working World, a theme I was just posting on, when he says, “I would advise someone to not settle for a job (or stay in one) when their passion or happiness is at stake.” Of course he’s also right when he points out that the state of the economy throws a wrench in everything and perhaps might make it necessary to hold on to a stable though not awesome job for longer than you might want, mainly for the paycheck. I’m all for passion and idealism, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also got way too much of my dad in me not to argue for practicality too.

My job hunt secret sauce is (apparently) at Doostang

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I got an email yesterday from in which they let me know that they, and they alone, have the recipe for my “job hunt secret sauce,” which was a relief because I’d been wondering. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Doostang is a job and career social networking site, in a similar vein as a place to create an online resume and profile, connect with various webs of professionals (by field, by interest, by alma mater, etc.), and hopefully get some tangible results, i.e. a job.

The difference with Doostang is that, since its inception, it seems as though it’s been a bit more…selective. Unlike LinkedIn, which anyone can join, Doostang has made it clear that it is “an invite-only career community started at Harvard, Stanford, and MIT” and requires that someone who is already a part of Doostang invite you to become a member. Now it seems that one can join Doostang not only through an invitation, but also through either a company or university network—although both of those lists of corporations and schools are very short and very selective. Indeed, if you go to Doostang’s homepage, you’ll find that they boast that half a million elite graduates are using their site, which makes me wonder what it takes to be one of the elite.  Sounds oddly like it could be an online Skull and Bones (I’m not the only one who thinks so: check out Liz Strauss’ three reasons why she wishes she hadn’t joined Doostang).

I’ve had both LinkedIn and Doostang accounts/profiles for about two and a half years. I use LinkedIn regularly, but logged into Doostang for the first time in months only after they sent me the secret sauce email, which I pasted below after the jump. I have 102 connections on LinkedIn, but only 4 on Doostang. I always encourage young professionals to join LinkedIn, but have never done so for Doostang. For whatever reason, I’ve found LinkedIn to be the more enticing option of the two, the one that feels more like a natural community rather than a secret society. It could be just that more people I knew were using LinkedIn, and so my network there grew faster and thus it became more enticing to use. It could be that in the “jobs we think you’ll like, Mark” section of my profile, Doostang recommended I check out both hedge fund associate and risk analyst positions, proving that they actually don’t know shit about what I’ll like. But I also can’t help think that some of the downfalls of Doostang that Liz Strauss points out aren’t also part of the reason I haven’t been more attracted to Doostang as a career resource.

But I’m certainly no expert on either one of these resources. What has worked for you guys? Do you find one of these career social networking tools better than the other? Or is there another, better tool out there that I’m completely missing?

And now, after the jump, the long awaited Doostang secret sauce email:


Talking careers at the NCIV conference, ctd. again

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Ariel Schierer, an old colleague of mine at American University’s Center for Asian Studies and now a doctoral candidate at Columbia, attended Friday’s session and had this to say:

One thing I think applies to many of us exploring international exchange/education/development is that we are interested as much in who we want to become, as what we want to do. I think Working World’s discussion of professionalism is particularly relevant to this concept — and I think any sequel (I do hope you have a sequel) might profit from a discussion of shaping yourself and your field.

Ariel gets right at a theme that Sherry and I tried to bring out in Working World the book, and still attempt to highlight in all our sessions on careers. That theme relates to the fact that we start the book by noting that it, and careers in these fields, are for idealists.  It relates to the question Sherry so often encourages job seekers in these fields to consider: “How do you want to spend your days?” While figuring out what you want to do is very important, for sure, as Ariel says, thinking about who you want to be is the equally important, if not more important, question–for all job seekers, yes, but somehow I think it takes on particular importance in the fields of international education, exchange, and development. Or maybe I just want it to take on that particular importance. Regardless, it is an important thing when plotting your career, or even just looking for a job, to give at least some thought to not only the question of what you want to do, but also the questions of what kind of life you want to lead and what kind of person you want to be.

Talking careers at the NCIV conference, ctd.

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Lauren Jacobs reminds me of another great part of last Friday’s discussion that I forgot to include in my round-up:

To add, if I may… there was a good discussion about everyone’s favorite sport: networking. Networking doesn’t have to be an occasion where you put on your finest suit, defy your shyness, and dole out business cards. One suggestion was to network within the group of people you already know and work with. You can rely on the fact that people usually like to talk about their work experiences to keep conversation flowing. Ask current colleagues to lunch and find out their backgrounds/career trajectories. Or, keep an eye out for opportunities with friends – you’d be surprised how many people you know have positions like “recruitment associate.” As Sherry suggested, a group of people can look at many more job opportunities than one person alone.

This also reminds me of a comment during this networking discussion offered by Ayesha Quirke, now the Program Director at the Miami Council for International Visitors in Miami, FL. Ayesha and I met at the NCIV conference two years when I was still on staff at NCIV. To be quite honest, I don’t remember exactly how we met or why we got to talking, but we did and when I found out she was from Miami and looking for international job opportunities there, I thought MCIV would be a great resource. So Ayesha followed up with me and I put her in touch with Annette Alvarez, MCIV’s fantastic executive director. And from there, funny and fortuitous things happened.

Not that it always works out that cleanly but: 1) for god’s sake, follow up on random networking encounters when they happen (just a simple email) because 2) you never know who you’re going to meet where and what it might lead to.

Don’t forget about

Monday, February 16th, 2009

In response to a recent post about online job resources, reader Adam Garrard comments:

Another worthwhile mention in my opinion is It’s good to see what’s out there if you are like me, searching for a ‘way in,’ for want of a better phrase. There’s lots out there.

He’s absolutely right. Idealist is a fantastic resource for all nonprofit job seekers, including international education, exchange, and development. If you’re not checking Idealist already (and chances are good that you are), then start right away.

How do you say “Please recycle” in Italian?

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

In latest issue of the Atlantic, Barbara Walraff offers a novel way to learn new languages: by reading the fine foreign print on clothing tags, cat food packages, product assembly instructions, and other things found around the house. I’m not sure knowing how to say “turbobrush”in Finnish and Greek is all that practical, but I suppose it never hurts in our fields to know as much in as many languages as possible.

Talking careers at the NCIV conference

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Sherry and I were privileged to have a full house yesterday afternoon at our presentation on careers in international education and exchange at the NCIV conference. Lauren Jacobs, my good friend who works at the USDA Graduate School’s International Institute, introduced us and moderated the session, and Sherry and I gave our spiel on Working World the book, how it came to be, the intergenerational aspect of the book, and some of the main career-building concepts in it. The best part of the session, as always, was the audience participation during the Q&A. It’s always gratifying when, not only do participants ask great questions and get engaged, but also when others in the audience begin to add their own perspectives and answers to these questions in addition to or instead of Sherry’s and my answers. We’ve always maintained that these career topics are better approached from multiple angles and viewpoints, and the Q&A parts of our sessions never fail to confirm this.

Anyhow, some of the topics covered include:

How do these concepts of career building relate specifically to the fields of international education and exchange?

I have to admit I felt a little sheepish that this was the first question, as you’d think we would have already covered that in a session on international careers. But as Sherry then emphasized, the career concepts that we discuss in Working World, while typically tailored for international careers, could be applied to careers in most any fields. But we did then mention a few things that careers seekers in these fields need to keep in mind that are particular to the IR world, including:

–While we all got into this work because of our love of travel and ideally want to have international travel as a part of our jobs, those jobs are tough to come by. But just because a job doesn’t have international travel doesn’t mean it’s not a solid building block for your international career.

–Sherry’s admonition that career seekers think about “how do you want to spend your days?” takes on particular importance when considering an international career. A career as a Foreign Service officer may sound intriguing and sexy on the surface, but is a life on the move, transplanting from country to country every few years the kind of life you want? Working on the ground with an international development project may sound exciting, but life can be very difficult in the areas where you may be asked to serve (my friend Beth who worked in southern Sudan comes to mind– her daily life was incredibly challenging). Is this how you want to spend your days? Sherry and I brought this up not to suggest this shouldn’t be how you want to spend your days, but rather that it’s important to consider these issues.

Do I need a Master’s degree in these fields?

We’ve fielded this question many times and, at the moment, seem to be answering it in the same ways each time. Sherry always encourages those in the IR fields to get as much education as they can as early as they can. “It’s always harder to go back the older you get,” she advises. I mentioned, as I have before, that it realistically seems more and more necessary to have a Master’s in the fields, given the huge increase of those applying to and entering MA programs in IR. As more of your competition for jobs gets higher degrees, it becomes increasingly necessary, I think, that you have one as well.

But I also think that, at an early point in your career, several years of experience is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than a Master’s degree. I mentioned the shock I had when I came out of my Master’s degree program with 1-2 years experience and had tons of trouble trying to find anything but an entry level or nearly entry level job. I figured that my MA made me ready for a higher position: program associate, program officer, etc. But it turns out that while my Master’s made me attractive as a candidate for sure, it did not replace the fact that I didn’t have several years of experience working in international education or exchange. (I’ve talked with many young people, both at the NCIV session yesterday and at other sessions, who had similar experiences, thinking their MAs would take them a lot further right away than they actually did).

However, I’ve also come to see that as I’ve progressed in my career, my MA has come to mean more and more. I truly believe I wouldn’t have landed either my last job or my current one without a Master’s. This seems to show me that having that Master’s and coupling it with the experience I am constantly gaining will be a very beneficial thing for my career down the line. So while a Master’s might not be absolutely essential at first for a young professional (experience can be just as important), it seems that adding an MA to your resume eventually is a wise thing to do.

Is getting a Master’s at an international university a good idea?

Sherry and I deferred to those in the room who had done their graduate degrees abroad to answer this question. One participant who did a Master’s in IR in Ireland mentioned that doing graduate school abroad was a fantastic opportunity for her, and she had many experiences she wouldn’t have had if she’d studied in the U.S. She did say, however, that it was particularly difficult to get engaged with her U.S. netowrk upon graduation, simply because cultivation of that network had been difficult from abroad.  And while she did cultivate a network in Ireland, getting a job there had its own complications based on her status as a foreigner. So her conclusion was that there are many pluses to doing a Master’s abroad, as while as minuses, and in the end it’s up to the individual and what he or she wants.

What kinds of skills should I be looking to learn for positions in international affairs? What if I have broad interests? Can I pursue those or should I be looking for narrowly-tailored positions that will teach me very specific skills?

I think everyone in the room agreed that it’s both important to do what you like to do (that is, have your daily work be tasks that you enjoy and that utilize skills you are good at) and to always be trying to gain new skills, to be looking for growth opportunities within your job and when you decide it’s time for a new job. Certainly there are skills that are extremely beneficial and often necessary in international affairs jobs–whether those be intercultural competency, language skills, writing, proposal construction, budgeting, project management, etc.–but there is no reason not to pursue something that you enjoy simply because it doesn’t seem to “fit” into some kind of an international rubric. One participant summed this idea up quite nicely when she mentioned that she has a degree in chemical engineering but now works in international education. A perfect example that you should follow your interests and your passions and not try too hard to plan it all out, because it’ll never go according to that plan anyway.

90 international organizations across the country

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Sherry has been buried in work for the past month and a half preparing for the NCIV National Meeting, which kicked off tonight in DC with an entertaining presentation by Rick Steves, the globetrotting author of more than 30 bestselling guidebooks and the host of several public access TV and radio shows (I wrote about him after he spoke at Georgetown back in October). The NCIV conference is definitely a unique meeting of international relations professionals and volunteers from across the United States. The common thread that binds them all together is that each of their organizations hosts visitors from the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Yet many of NCIV’s 90 plus member organizations also have many other functions in the IR world: as World Affairs Councils, as Sister Cities members, as intercultural consultants, etc.

It’s often said that international organizations are only in New York, DC, LA, or San Francisco. And while many of them are, NCIV’s members prove that many, many communities throughout the U.S. are not only internationally engaged in a serious way, but also offer opportunities for jobs, and even careers, in international education, exchange, and development.

So check out NCIV’s member list and, if you live in or near one of these communities and are looking for a way to get more deeply involved in international activities but maybe don’t know how, contact the org in your area. They are the ideal partner to help you find out more about what is happening internationally in your community.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Sherry and I will be giving a Working World presentation at the NCIV conference on Friday afternoon. Attendance is for registered participants only, but if you’re near 999 9th Street in Chinatown in DC around 3:45, I’m sure no one would mind if you slipped in…