Archive for the ‘Career Resources’ Category

Interesting job opening: Director of Alumni Engagement at World Learning

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

I wanted to pass along this very interesting position that just became available: Director of Alumni Engagement at World Learning. As the idea of alumni engagement becomes increasingly recognized–by nongovernmental and governmental entities–as an essential way to extend the impact of exchange programs, I won’t be surprised to see more and more of these kinds of positions being created/coming available.

Note preference for someone who has participated in a World Learning Program.

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Something for you to counter that crap with: an IES Abroad study that shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market:

Parents of returning study abroad college students found the experience initiated a sea-change in their willingness to be more responsible, act independently, and take on the world by themselves.

I place this and other arguments like it in the category of “things I wished I’d known 7-10 years ago when debating my dad about the merits of going abroad.” That I would be gaining “maturity, self-confidence, appreciation for other cultures, and independence,” marketable skills in any profession, would probably have sounded a lot better than, “Well, uh, why not? I know you don’t want me living in the basement anymore anyway…”

In other news, was my study abroad really 10 years ago? Almost. Guh.

Cross-cultural communication, cultural anthropology, and the Human Terrain System

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’m only now getting around to reading the November Atlantic (frequent WW readers already know of my obsession with the mag and its blogs), and one of its 27 brave new thinkers caught my attention: Montgomery McFate. Not only because her fantastic name reads like that of a Bond girl, but also because of the work she’s done as a cultural anthropologist recruited by the Pentagon to develop the Human Terrain System. HTS describes its goals as such:

The near-term focus of the HTS program is to improve the military’s ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region.

The areas of cross-cultural communication, intercultural understanding, and cultural anthropology strike me as particularly ripe for talented, linguistically-skilled and culturally-nuanced people looking for an internationally-focused career —and as areas, as the HTS makes clear, where there is a lot of work to be done:

Iraqi drivers would unaccountably fail to stop when ordered to at checkpoints, and American soldiers, fearing a suicide bombing, would open fire—sometimes killing innocents. One possible reason was a devastatingly simple cultural confusion: the American gesture for “stop”—arm straight, palm out—means “welcome” in Iraq. “This and similar misunderstandings have deadly consequences,” McFate wrote in Joint Force Quarterly in 2005.

Luby Ismail, profiled in Working World the book, runs Connecting Cultures, which facilitates diversity training and cross-cultural awareness for a variety of clients (including the military). A good resource for those interested in cross-cultural work is the Intercultural Management Quarterly and its corresponding institute at American University run by Dr. Gary Weaver, a former professor of mine at AU and something of a legend in the cross-cultural communication field.

An odd new trend in cover letters?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

A quick rant: We’re currently accepting applications for the Alliance’s spring 2010 internship (the deadline is Friday if you’re interested), and I’ve noted with bemusement and confusion a cover letter quirk that I’d seen sporadically before but that now seems to be in full bloom: the use of the full name in the salutation.  As in:

“Dear Mark Overmann” or “Dear Mr. Mark Overmann”

I find this to be really weird. I understand the necessity of not presuming gender, especially with “less common” or “not gender obvious” names—you don’t want to run the risk of calling a Mr. a Ms., or vice versa (hence the “Dear Mark Overmann,” I presume—perhaps Mark isn’t an obviously male name? This could be true, especially for non-American and non-English-as-a-first-language applicants). But seriously, a simple look at my picture and bio, conveniently posted one click away on the Alliance website, shows that, indeed, I am a male, which seems to me permission to go ahead and use the common salutation of Mr. followed by the family name.

And what to make of “Mr. Mark Overmann”? This is the truly weird one to me. If you’ve already determined that I’m male, isn’t it completely stilted and strange to keep my first name in the salutation? Or did my mom and grade school teachers instruct me incorrectly on how to address a letter? Am I being culturally insensitive here? Am I wrong in forcing my American notions of format and protocol on all job seekers, especially if they aren’t American, even though we’re an U.S-based (albeit internationally-focused) organization? Perhaps I’m just being too stubborn and cranky and should take it easy on vulnerable job seekers who are only trying to be politically correct?

Regardless, I’ll admit my first reaction when I see these odd salutations in a cover letter tends to be: the applicant hasn’t done enough research on the position and the organization to know who it is they’re writing. And I don’t mean research on me here—my ego isn’t so big that I expect internship applicants to have my career details committed to memory before applying. But I do expect applicants to have a good idea (or at least to convince me that they have a good idea) of why they are applying for this particular internship versus the many others out there. I know that most applicants are applying for this internship among many others. That’s totally fine and to be expected. But what makes one application stand out from the others is when the applicant has taken the time (even just a bit of it) to tailor their application to our organization and to make us believe (no matter how true it is) that they really want to work not just anywhere that does international stuff, but here and with us.

And to me, the salutation is a small but somehow still important indication of whether an applicant has done this or not. If you haven’t even taken the time to understand at least a little bit to who it is you’re writing (and Google makes this, on average, pretty darn easy to figure out), what other details are you going to neglect or plain ignore?

A few catch-up links RE: the Foreign Service

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Struggles of interns to get clearance at the State Department: a “long, difficult, and frustrating process” during which you are apparently required to disclose every non-American friend on Facebook you’ve ever had. As if this were even possible.

State’s Hometown Diplomat Program helps you receive a hero’s welcome at your high school.

Selling the Foreign Service in Canada. Again, as if this were even possible.

The professional networking blowhard

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I myself have ranted and railed in the past about my dislike of “networking events”, my discomfort with and general poorness at the entire of concept networking, and how if you do go out networking, try not to look like a dirtball (I even once ventured into the parallels between networking and food). So I thoroughly enjoyed this post on the prototypical DC “networking blowhard” from why.i.hate.dc:

If you’re like me, you hate the entire idea of these sorts of things. Does anyone really believe that some dude you meet at a happy hour and exchange your “program assistant” business cards with will really be able to get you a job somewhere? There are a few problems with this logic, the first being that anyone who has the power to truly influence hiring decisions won’t be going to a networking event at the Front Page. Second, if you do have any sort of influence at your organization, you aren’t going to go out on a limb for someone you barely know. Third, the economy is in the toilet and there’s 500 people applying for every job opening in this town.

As such, these events are often attended by the person I’ll describe as the professional networking blowhard. This is the guy (or girl) who absolutely has to tell you about how amazing his job is, and how much he has accomplished in the 23 years he has been alive. Did you know that he went backpacking in Asia and is so tired of seeing temples that he will be happy if he never sees one ever again? Also, when he studied at Oxford, his flatmate from Mehhh-He-Ko (Mexico) taught him about the perils of the Zapatistas? What does he do now? Well, he works on an important program at [prominent non-profit]. You’ve never even heard of where he works, but don’t worry, he’ll tell you all about it. If you work for another non-profit, or a government agency, he’ll have a story about how just the other day he ran into the executive director (or cabinet secretary) of where you work. “Yeah, I totally ran into Secretary Chu downtown and we talked about renewable energy. He’s a nice guy.”

Sherry and I have often emphasized the point why.i.hate.dc is getting at: networking events that seem more like adult versions of high school mixers are far less worthwhile than those events or occasions at which you are actually engaged with people and a subject you really care about:

You’ll find the real people to “network” with at events that have some sort of meaning, or that revolve around something you are actually interested in. Reach out to people who write things you enjoy reading. Attend a community meeting about a topic that you feel is important. Volunteer for something that’s a bit obscure and isn’t filled only with people trying to deal with liberal guilt.

Rock Star in Dhaka

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Follow the trials and tribulations of a 25 year-old Foreign Service officer currently stationed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (She’s kind of a big deal.)

Life after JET—

Thursday, September 17th, 2009, a site for the Japan Exchange and Teaching program alumni “freelance and professional community,” profiles one its members, Shannan Spisak of the Institute of International Education. Shannan describes her career since her teaching abroad experience and how she found her way into interesting international positions:

After I came back from JET, I moved to New York City with a friend and worked at a private Japanese company for 2 years. I decided to switch careers to move into the international arena; the United Nations in particular interested me. I went on a number of informational interviews with fellow former JETs working in the field and they all recommended graduate school. I decided to study Peace Education and International Exchange at Teachers College, Columbia University. In order to finance my education, I took a job working as Assistant to the President of Barnard College while attending classes part-time. During the process of completing my M.A., I realized I had grown more interested in the education component of my degree than its relation to UN work. Consequently, my focus shifted towards seeking a career in international exchange in higher education.

[Now] I work at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in the Global Scholarships Division. The IIE is a 90 year-old non-profit organization that runs over 200 programs around the world, including the Fulbright. I manage three international scholarship programs through the GE Foundation and the Chubb Insurance Foundation. I organize the review and selection of applications, notify finalists, award grants, and manage special components of the scholarships such as Leadership Development Seminars and Career Workshops. I also coordinate the global communication and program initiatives between our offices in each of the participating countries. Our programs serve undergraduate and Masters students in 14 countries, chiefly studying science and business. Right now, I’m looking into new ways of managing our student alumni network – which aligns with what I’ve been working on for JETAANY as Alumni Database Manager.

Jetwit also has job postings and other career resources for JET alums.

Boren Scholarships and Fellowships

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The opening of the 2010-11 academic year competition for NSEP David L. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships was just announced by IIE.  Boren awards provide “unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to become more proficient in the cultures and languages of world regions critical to the future security of our nation, such as in Africa, Asia, Central & Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.” A former colleague of mine was a Boren Fellow in Russia and thought the experience was invaluable. (Side note: David L. Boren: former governor of Oklahoma, U.S Senator, and now president of the University of Oklahoma. He was the longest serving Chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, hence the focus on languages and regions important to national security. Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Boren Scholarships, for undergraduate students, provide up to $20,000 for an academic year’s study abroad.
Deadline: February 10, 2010 

Boren Fellowships, for graduate students, provide up to $30,000 for language study and international research. 
Deadline: January 28, 2010 

Applications and detailed information on the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are now available.

Diplomats in Residence as career resources

Thursday, September 10th, 2009


Sixteen senior Foreign Service Officers, known as Diplomats in Residence, are assigned to different universities throughout the United States in order to help recruit “the best and the brightest” into the Foreign Service. On DipNote, Barbara Cummings, Diplomat in Residence at Howard University here in DC, discusses her role as a mentor for young people wishing to join the Foreign Service, as well as a number of opportunities available to those interested in international careers, including internships and fellowships.

Find out more about Diplomats in Residence and locate the one nearest you.

On to new ventures

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Alanna Shaikh is leaving as the lead blogger and editor at Global Health. Seasoned readers of Working World will recognize Alanna’s name as one that cropped up into important discussions rather frequently. I’ll miss her incisive posts and her direct, well-reasoned, and unsentimental voice. I’ll especially miss her every-Wednesday posts on careers. And even though she’ll be gone from Global Health, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Alanna. Sherry and I wish her the best in her new ventures and hope she remains active in the international blogosphere.  

Check out her last global health-related career post on where to find global health jobs.

Alliance for Peacebuilding

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Sherry mentions to me that the Peacebuilder’s Forum, the online community attached to the Alliance for Peacebuilding, is an interesting source of job announcements and openings. Access to the Forum is for members only, though the fees are quite reasonable: $25 for student members or $50 for regular members. AfP might also be of interest as a professional networking and career building opportunity for those interested in international peace and security issues. Check it out.

Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Fellowships for students of “superior academic ability” who want to pursue an MA or doctorate are available under the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program. Recipients are selected on the basis of “demonstrated achievement, financial need, and exceptional promise.” Note that area studies, foreign languages and literature, and linguistics are all eligible fields. 

Applications just became available on Friday and are due October 5, 2009. More detailed info is available on the Department of Ed site via the Federal Register.

How fluent do we really need to be?

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Retired Foreign Service Officer Ken Yates, writing at WhirledView, provides an interesting and well-reasoned take on the necessity of linguistic fluency to be an effective FSO. Despite passionate calls from the Hill and other places for more FSOs to be native in several languages, for Yates, it’s not feasible or reasonable to expect that the majority of FSOs will have the time or resources to become that fluent in one language, let alone several:

For me, training in Japanese, Korean, Dari, Icelandic and Mandarin Chinese, in that order, resulted not in approaching the desired level aspired to in Congressional speeches, yet it did help to sensitize me to the important cultural and personal understandings that were essential to developing and maintaining professional contacts.

[...] It soon became clear to me that just about all of my most important contacts had English competence far beyond what I could realistically hope to achieve in my scant months of study of their language. After all, many had studied English from their early school days, or even studied abroad. My linguistic struggles were more effective as an “icebreaker” than as a means to communicate substantively. When real substance was discussed, I found it essential to have a competent translator on hand. The advantages to that was a more formal discussion at a slower speed that could focus better on the issue at hand than on the imprecision resulting from my usually lesser competence in their language than they had in mine.

The full post is worth a read. Having studied a few languages myself, I would agree with Yates that “fluency” is a ridiculously tough thing to achieve—and it’s very subjective. I’ve had people, after seeing me speak in French or Chinese, comment, “Wow, you’re pretty fluent, huh?” I would shrug and say, oh so modestly, “Well, not really…” But the truth, of course, is that I’m not even close to fluent, in a professional sense, in either language. [Why do people think I'm fluent? Most likely because 1) they don't speak that language at all so don't have a frame of reference and 2) when I do speak my intermediate Chinese or my once-advanced but now intermediate French, I do so in a confident way that makes it seem like I really know what I'm doing.] Despite my lack of fluency, my language studies and skills have helped me in my career in, as Yates notes, cultural understanding and ice breaker type situations. But certainly in professional settings, especially when using Chinese, I’ve always, without question, relied on my counterparts to use English or on translators. 

So, getting back to the main issue, is it a bad thing if our FSOs aren’t native-level in several languages? Not necessarily, it seems. As Sherry noted in a discussion we had about this article and this topic, she has often thought that genuine curiosity and keen interest in learning about others (including their language) are even more critical to success than fluency in a language. Of course, she said, we want our FSOs to be as proficient in languages as possible—but other skills (such as cultural and historical understanding) are also essential. That’s not to say that we don’t want Americans studying languages to the point of native fluency—we certainly do. But it’s just to note that 1) it perhaps doesn’t need to be a requirement of all FSOs to be fully fluent in the language of the country in which they are serving; and 2) just because you aren’t fully fluent in a language doesn’t at all mean that the knowledge you do have of that language and the effort you’ve spent studying it is wasted.

What’s it really like to work in international aid?

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Michael Bear at Humanitarian Relief is running a series of posts profiling what it’s really like to work at various large international aid and humanitarian organizations. Something we harp on quite a bit here at Working World is the need to look at the full picture when it comes to a job or an organization. Yes, the title sounds important, but what really will you be responsible for in this job? Will you enjoy and thrive on your daily activities? Is there room for growth? Yes, this particular organization has a mission you admire, but does its organizational culture match the working environment in which you see yourself? What about professional development? Salary? Benefits? Safety and R&R (aspects unique and important to aid jobs that might send you to dangerous and difficult locations)?

So Michael is right on in delving into the depths of these aspects of international aid work—knowing the full picture is important. Start with CARE, then IRC, then Oxfam. Michael says more, including UN agencies, is to come.