Archive for March, 2009

Proposal for improvements to the federal hiring process

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced in the Senate yesterday the Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act (S.736), a bill designed “to help agencies fix the broken recruitment and hiring process in the Federal Government.” Said Mr. Akaka:

The Federal Government is the largest employer in the U.S., but every day talented people interested in Federal service walk away because the hiring process is longer and more complicated than that of other employers. Too many Federal agencies have built entry barriers for new workers, done too little to recruit the right candidates, and invented an evaluation process that discourages qualified candidates.

In the private sector, many employers post job vacancies through a variety of online and other venues and require only a resume and cover letter to apply. Applying to the federal government should be similarly accessible and easy. However, agencies often require substantial essays and other documentation at the initial application stage.

Agencies need to adapt, just as the private sector has, to take advantage of modern technology to boost recruitment efforts and streamline the hiring process to make it more user friendly. Inexpensive outlets such as social networking sites offer agencies an opportunity to expand their profile and post job opportunities without emptying their wallets. It is easier than it was in the past to submit and track application materials during the application process. Agencies should accept candidate-friendly applications such as resumes and cover letters for the initial application and ask for additional information only as needed. Likewise, technology makes it possible to provide automated information to candidates, so candidates should receive timely and informative feedback about the application process.

Timely and informative feedback? Meaning any sort of indication that your application to a federal position was viewed by at least one set of human eyes and didn’t immediately get shuttled into the Internet Black Void of Wasted Time and Energy? What a lovely thing that would be.

I’ve never seriously pursued any federal jobs, but I’ve applied for plenty. The applications were indeed long and arduous and the only one I ever heard back from was a writer/editor position at the Smithsonian—I got a nice rejection letter nearly 9 months after applying. Some improvements to the process would be most welcome.

It’s not the same out there

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Alanna Shaikh at Blood and Milk reminds that development work in DC or any other well-developed city can be very different than when you’re, to borrow a phrase from Rushmore, in the shit:

In country, though, every success and back-step hits you right in the gut. Your life feels like a series of wins and losses. It’s hard to have any sense of overall progress when you just had a terrible meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture and your training just got cancelled. On the other hand, when things are going well, you’re so full of energy and creativity and passion you can push your work to whole new levels of impact.

Why not contact your senators and ask them to support the international affairs budget? It’s easy!

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Every knows (unless you live in a box with no holes) that the President’s first budget is out and about and being batted around Congress like a cat toy. For us folks pursuing international careers and interested in international issues, the international affairs budget (known in DC-parlance as the 150 Account) is probably what we care about most when it comes to the fun that is the federal budget. Congressional budget committees are threatening to slash anywhere from $4-6 billion off of Obama’s international affairs budget request. Needless to say, this is not awesome for our type of programs.

So take a second and write your senators asking for their support of a full and robust FY 2010 international affairs budget. Using the Alliance’s fancy technology and template letter, it’ll take less than a minute, seriously. Type in your zip code and your name and hit send. Boom. Difference made.

For those interested in the gory details of budget procedure, I give them to you in their annotated glory after the jump.


USAID in the 21st Century hearing

Monday, March 30th, 2009

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance is holding a hearing on Wednesday morning looking at USAID in the 21st century. If you’re in the DC area and interested in following policy matters related to international development, this is the place for you. The hearing is at 9:30 a.m. in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, room 419, and open to the public. More details on the hearing after the jump.

Also, for more on careers at USAID, give the USAID careers page a look.


A few Friday afternoon jobs

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Because it’s Friday and because I’m very unmotivated and because I came across a few open and interesting jobs. Enjoy your weekend:

Program Associate, Asia and the Pacific Unit – The Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES): The position will assist in the administration of the Fulbright Scholar Program for the Asia and the Pacific region in accordance with policies and procedures of CIES, the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and the United States Department of State. Check it out on

IREX has a bunch of job openings, including:

Program Associate- EPD: An entry-level program associate for the Education Programs Division to provide support for programs in basic education, study abroad, and exchanges.

Impact and Advocacy Specialist, Global Libraries Program: The position will be based in Washington, DC with frequent travel to the country offices in Romania and Ukraine. The position requires managerial experience supervising staff and reporting for international assistance programs.

Deputy Project Director, American Educators for Africa Program-EPD: The position will support a teacher training program to build the capacity of African teachers and education administrators through an exchange program with American educators.

International work in Austin, Texas–the Alliance Abroad Group

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Another entry in my ongoing effort to showcase international work in non-coastal large cities. I met today with some colleagues from the State Department, as well as representatives from several Alliance members around the country, including the Council for International Education and Exchange in Portland, Maine (about whom I posted last week), as well as the Alliance Abroad Group in Austin, Texas.

My colleague from this other Alliance directs their J-1 Work and Travel programs (J-1 being the type of visa that approximately 175,000 young foreigners come to the United States on each year for four months at a stretch to work and travel)—in this role, not only is she immersed in international exchange on a daily basis, but she also gets to travel a good amount. Her most recent trips: Thailand, Argentina, Brazil, and Moldova. Not a bad deal—live in a vibrant city like Austin and work internationally.


Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Geoff Gloeckler, staff editor at BusinessWeek and regular supplier of material for this blog, passed along an article on the new professional social networking and job search site, MyWorkster. At first glance, it seems like a university-centered version of the already-entrenched

A professional networking site that connects students with alumni and allows members to search for contacts in their field who can give them an advantage over the competition.

However, this site offers something LinkedIn does not: job listings. My judgment is pending until I can set up an account and poke around a bit, which I’ll hopefully be able to do in the semi-near future. In the meantime, anyone already use MyWorkster? Give us your reviews if you do.

[And a question to throw out there: how much do users value job listings as part of a professional social networking site? The idea of networking, of course, is that it can eventually lead to finding out about job openings and then, ideally, finding a job. But the intrinsic purpose of networking is not to be trolling for job openings---rather it's to be trolling for connections. If a connection is made that leads to finding out about a job opening (and then even a job), that is terrific. But in fact if you only try to connect with folks who you perceive will be able to get you a job, rather than engaging those people with whom you share common interest and passion, then you're probably not going to be a successful networkers (people can smell bald self-interest from across the room, or across the internets, as the case may be).

So if networking is not primarily about locating job openings, but rather locating contacts, is it necessary to have job openings as part of a social networking site? On the other hand, networking and job searching can and should be done simultaneously, so if your social networking site is also your job search engine, does that just combine everything you need into one and make your life that much easier? I'd be interested to hear people's takes, based either on experience using social networking sites/job search engines or just complete conjecture. I'll accept both.]

A rough time to be an international aid worker

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Michael Kleinman at Humanitarian Relief chronicles all the disturbing evidence on how it can be dangerous to be an international aid worker these days. Kleinman also has followed in great detail the Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s decision to expel first 13 international aid organizations, and now all of them.  His posts from the two weeks or so on this topic are worth a careful read, not only for awareness of the growing humanitarian crisis but also because I think this is an example (albeit a stark and extreme example) of the challenges international development and aid workers face in some of the more desparate and dangerous places in the world. (My point being, of course, not to dissuade anyone from pursuing international development work but rather to encourage anyone considering a development career to approach the work with a clear notion of what it can and often does involve.)

International development: you deserve our attention too

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

It’s been on my mind recently that Sherry and I don’t pay enough attention to the third part of the title of this blog, international development (which, depending on your view, includes or intersects with or is one and the same as international aid). This happens mainly because we both work in international education and exchange, and thus our daily world revolves more around those fields. This is no excuse though. We simply need to stretch further to bring in those perspectives on careers in the development world, a thought that was brought into needed relief by Martin Tillman’s comment in his recent review of Working World that examining the international development field is “not the strong suit” of our book.

So, thus begins a more concerted attempt to engage more fully the world of international development. To start things off, varied advice from around the blogosphere on getting a job in international development:

Chris Blattman at Yale University offers a few posts on getting a job in ID. A few of his points:

  • “Get a technical skill needed in developing countries.”
  • “Going wherever you are assigned is the key in the beginning. After you ’stick it out’ for your first assignment, you can begin to pick and choose situations that appeal to you.”
  • “You need some experience in the developing world for at least 6 months, ideally a year-plus. It should be in a region where you want to work, or a ‘hardship’ place.”

Michael Kleinman at Humanitarian Relief gives his perspective on finding a first job in development:

“There’s also no substitute for being there. Given high turn-over in the field, it’s often easier to find a position the closer you get to an emergency.” (My friend Beth who works in development had her first substantive experience in the field volunteering in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.)

“It seems to me many of the people who do the interesting stuff just go somewhere and find some interesting opportunity after they’re there.”, a great search resource for development jobs, lays out their take on the ID career world:

  • DevEx says there are basically three types of jobs in development: technical expert, project manager, and researcher.

In addition to reading the above development-career specific posts, put those sites, as well as the following, on your regular reading list, not only for possible job leads and career tips but to stay engaged in the field and to get a very vivid sense of what it means to be an international development/aid worker (especially in some of the more volatile regions of the world):


Self-promotion alert: Working World review in International Educator

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Yes, I know: yet another self-promotion. But this one is perhaps a bit more self-less—because in directing you to the (quite positive!) review of Working World in the March/April issue of International Educator magazine, I’ll also encourage you to check out some of the other articles in the issue, especially the feature on “nontraditional students” (minorities, adults, those with disabilities, and gay and lesbian students) engaging in education abroad. An enlightening read.

International work in Portland, Maine–CIEE

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I had lunch today with some colleagues from the Council on International Educational Exchange in Portland, Maine (they were in DC for a conference). About two years ago, CIEE moved from Boston to Portland, and many of the staff members made the move with it. Both of the colleagues at the lunch had made the move and while the adjustment Boston to Portland was tough in some ways, they have both been enjoying the different (and often more affordable life) that a smaller city like Portland offers, while still being able to do international work and travel often. As one of them said:

I never thought I could do this kind of work in a medium-sized city.

CIEE is one example of a thriving international organization operating not in Washington, New York, Chicago, or San Francisco.

Four generations in the workplace

Friday, March 20th, 2009

A friend who works in HR for a large association is organizing a training session looking at how to manage four generations in the workplace. One of the participants actually sent in the below with his RSVP.  I thought it was a particularly funny and apt way to characterize the stereotypical response from each generation:

Silent: Will be there at 14:00 hours prepared to identify opportunities to downsize costs.

Baby Boomer: Sounds great; we can combine it with a fun run and a community project.  However, we need to make sure that this is morally pure.

Generation X: Another requirement for my calendar.  I’ll be there, but I don’t get any reward for this extra work (as usual), and I’ll never have a decent standard of living.  We’re only starting to get respect, now that we are the 2/3 star flag officers.

Gen Y (Millenial): DUDE!  Sounds cool, and I will work it in between the company paid advanced computer training and my revision of my resume for my continuous job hunt.

[The Millenials might also organize an after-session cornhole tournament in the parking lot.]

Job opening at Americans for Informed Democracy

Friday, March 20th, 2009

When Sherry and I do career presentations for Working World, I invariably notice that, at the end of the presentation, only when we’ve finished waxing on about theoretical approaches to building an international career and finally give some specific career websites and other resources for people to check out…only then does the note-taking commence with serious fury. I manage to convince myself this phenomenon isn’t because people weren’t interested or weren’t listening—instead, I think it indicates that when it comes to the job search and career planning, people appreciate the tangible and the concrete. “Where can I look for jobs?  What websites?  Tell me!” I get this.

In the same vein, it’s also interesting to note that on the heels of this blog’s torrid Doostang discussion (here, here and here), in which most people, me included, ripped the career networking site a proverbial new one, one commenter came in late and fought back:

Fine, but Doostang actually has job postings (some of which I haven’t seen on other sites) Does LinkedIn post jobs? That’s the key.

Point taken. While my main beef with Doostang is its promotion of an exclusive rather than inclusive style of online networking, I’ve admitted that I don’t appreciate that the jobs it recommends for me are typically financial in nature and of no interest to me. But I guess that is Doostang’s main focus, and it can’t be faulted for serving up what its users want.

The larger point of this post, though, is that while Sherry and I both believe it’s very important to not just focus on getting a job, but rather to engage your career from a broader perspective and to stay informed of the larger issues that concern your chosen field (here, international stuff), we also both understand that having someone tell you the best places to look online for jobs, and to even let you know when specific jobs open up, is incredibly useful.

It was in this spirit that Sherry suggested we try to post more job openings that we come across through our respective networks.  So, starting today, we’re going to try to do more of that. I don’t know how thorough or systematic we’ll be able to be, but when we come across an open position in international ed, exchange, and/or development, we’ll post it.

Today’s job posting is a big one: Executive Director at Americans for Informed Democracy (Seth Green, the founder of AID, is profiled in Working World—an amazing guy and a great organization). Application deadline is April 17, and the full job description and application details are after the jump.


Getting accredited to teach English abroad

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I was talking yesterday with Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia, and she mentioned that a young family friend was looking for an abroad experience teaching English in South America, hopefully Peru. He wanted to know how and where he could find a program that would provide him with TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification and then place him abroad, so Nancy asked me for some guidance.

I’m certainly not an expert on the topic, but I know that many English teaching positions abroad (both volunteer and paid, but especially volunteer) do not require any kind of certification. But, from what I’ve heard anecdotally, having a TEFL certificate does make you more marketable for paid positions (not to mention that it actually trains you to be an English teacher, which is not as easy as it sounds—after being plopped down in a classroom in a small town in northeast China with only a pat on the back as my training, I realized a little more guidance as to what the hell I was doing would have been nice; teaching English is not as easy as being able to speak it…but I digress).

None of this is to put forth an opinion about whether a certificate is the way to go—I’m not qualified enough to say yes, get one, or no, you don’t need one. It also needs to be pointed out that TEFL certificates cost—in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. This might be a determining factor for some (I know I wouldn’t have been able to spend this money just out of college, but perhaps it’s a solid investment if it leads to a good, paid gig). I’d be very interested to hear opinions on this from those more in the know than me.

Even so, I do have a few resources that should prove useful for Nancy’s friend and others looking into teaching abroad/TEFL certification:

  • Start with the incomparable Dave’s ESL Cafe. This site has been around for awhile—it was the go-to resource for expats teaching abroad even six years ago when I was teaching in China. Since then it has only gotten better, and bigger. A slew of English teaching positions worldwide are posted daily. More information about TEFL certificate courses can be found, and the message boards might be a great place for some further research on whether a TEFL certificate is needed or recommended.
  • Then go to Transitions Abroad, which has a voluminous list of programs offering the four-week TEFL certificate course and either direct placement in a teaching position or at least placement assistance.

In addition:

After the jump, a few quick definitions for those who get confused about the different between TEFL and TESL and TESOL (like me).


Self-promotion alert: Working World is a finalist for the ForeWord Career Book of the Year!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

You may have noticed the little golden seal that was recently installed over in the righthand column of this blog. The reason for said little golden seal is that Sherry and I just found out Working World is a finalist for the 2008 ForeWord Magazine Career Book of the Year—an honor that is totally unexpected and, I can’t really help from saying, totally freaking cool.

Our competition in the Career category includes a number of titles that look really intriguing, including but not limited to:

Unfortunately the ForeWord awards aren’t like American Idol and you can’t vote for us at 1-866-WWORLD-07, but we’re unendingly grateful for your support, and your readership, nonetheless. Winners will be announced on May 30, so stay tuned…