Archive for the ‘Career Resources’ Category

Idealist grad school fairs—coming to a city near you

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Starting next month, is sponsoring a series of Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good all around the country. Idealist says there will be 50-200 graduate programs in fields such as nonprofit management, education, social work, global health, international affairs, law, public policy, urban planning, and more represented at each fair. The schedule is as follows (in paren are the number of schools already committed to each fair): 

Sep 10 – New York, NY (200)
Sep 14 – Providence, RI (75)
Sep 15 – Boston, MA (175)
Sep 17 – Toronto, ON (50) 
Sep 21 – Washington, DC (150) 
Sep 23 – Pittsburgh, PA (50) 
Oct 5 – Denver, CO (60)
Oct 7 – Minneapolis, MN (50)
Oct 12 – Chicago, IL (110)
Oct 13 – Phoenix, AZ (50)
Oct 15 – San Francisco, CA (120) 
Oct 19 – Los Angeles, CA (120)
Oct 20 – Seattle, WA (90) 
Oct 22 – Portland, OR (65)
Oct 29 – New Orleans, LA (60)
Oct 30 – Atlanta, GA (90) 
Nov 3 – Virginia Beach, VA (30)

Check ‘em out! Idealist also has a handful of nonprofit career fairs coming up for those pursuing employment rather than, as my favorite grad school professor used to say, “that piece of paper” (i.e., a graduate degree):

Oct 14 – Portland, OR
Oct 20 – Seattle, WA
Nov 10 – Washington, DC
Apr 13 – Minneapolis, MN

Joining the Foreign Service at 50

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

That Lady There is applying to the Foreign Service at 50 because she’s “always wanted to… — (Doesn’t that sound trite?) — and now think it’s a wonderful time to do so.” She’s counting down the days until her Oral Assessment (the clock currently stands 69 days, 10 hours, 35 minutes, and three seconds—no two seconds—no one second…), a major hurdle for joining the Foreign Service that comes after the written exam and the submission of five personal essays. 

Follow her in her quest—or at least take a peak through her blog, especially if you’re in the process of applying to or considering the Foreign Service. Her real-time, learn-as-you-go thoughts and insights on the FSO application process seem immensely useful: How do you prepare best for the OA? (Practice and repetition, until it’s second nature); How do you overcome nerves at your OA? (Look at it as an interesting way to spend the day rather than a terrifying experience); Do men gain an advantage by wearing wingtips to their OA? (No, unless they really look good in wingtips).

So you think you can write

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Good writing can take you far. Every international job, whether you’re behind a desk in DC or in the field in Uganda, requires solid writing. Sherry constantly mentions superior writing skills as one of the primary criteria she looks for in a new employee. But how do you demonstrate to a potential employer that you’re a strong writer?

In our recent IA Forum interview, Sherry and I discussed the idea of being published as a way to demonstrate writing skills. As Sherry said:

To see something published or that someone was an editor of a graduate school journal, that carries weight with me. I’ll pay more attention to that resume than a similar one without writing/editing experience. 

Certainly I agree with Sherry’s thought here (if you can get published, definitely do it), but I would also add (and, in fact, did add in the IA Forum interview) that it’s not necessary to get published to demonstrate your writing skills (I was never published until WW). So how do you demonstrate those writing skills, if not by being published?

Alanna at Global Health says that you should mention your writing skills and experience in your resume and cover letter, “and then give an example or two of when your writing has been valuable to an employer.” Certainly there’s nothing wrong with telling a potential employer that you have good writing, but any time I’ve seen something like this on a resume, it’s invariably struck me as a bit empty. I think, ‘Why are you telling me? Just show me.’ While certain skills or experiences can only be conveyed to an employer by telling them (if you’re fluent in Arabic or spent two years in the Philippines on a field project, there’s no way to demonstrate this in a job application; you just have to say it), writing is one of the few skills in a job application process that can actually be shown rather than just said.  

Alanna does say, “Make sure your cover letter and your resume are good enough to stand up to your claim.” But I think you need to take it a step or two further. True, your resume isn’t really the ideal format for showcasing your long-form writing, but absolutely ensure that it is clean, precise, and without error. Your cover letter, on the other hand, does present you with an opportunity to show your writing ability. Too often job applicants make the mistake of believing a cover letter is a place to regurgitate the experiences listed on their resumes. Instead, the cover letter should be a place in which you weave a story about you—who you are, what you’ve done, and what has brought you to this point at which you are applying for this particular job with this particular organization. Don’t restate your resume; rather, interpret your resume. Bring it all together for the person or people who will be looking at your application—do the hard work for them. This type of cover letter is not only more effective in conveying why you are a solid applicant for this job, but it also gives you a chance to showcase your writing in a more dynamic way than if you simply re-listed all of your previous experiences. (Certainly telling the “story of you” in a brief, one-page cover letter is difficult, but if you do it effectively, this even further showcases your writing skills.)

In addition to your initial contact with a potential employer, any and all of your follow up contact is yet another chance to display your writing skills. Follow-up email contact illustrates the way you write in a day-to-day professional context—the way you compose an email to follow up on a job application is a good indication of how you will compose your emails for this job should they decide to hire you. So, take the time to ensure that your follow-up correspondence is well-written and mistake-free. At my previous job at Georgetown, the person who hired me later told me that when my application initially came in, it went into the “maybe” pile. When I sent a follow up email, however, reiterating my interest in the position and asking where things stood, this colleague said he really liked the tone of that message and the way I composed it, so he decided to give me a second look. He liked what he saw on second glance, moved me into the “interview” pile, one thing led to another, and I got the job.

Two last ways to showcase your writing: 1) if asked for a writing sample, think carefully about what you send. Don’t simply splice a three page section of a paper from college and send that if you don’t truly believe it represents your best work. If you don’t have something already prepared, consider writing something fresh (an op-ed type piece) that relates to the job you’re applying for.  2) If you’re interning or volunteering for an organization you’d like to work for someday, make sure ALL of the writing you do there (even emails) is your best. If you think of an internship or volunteer stint as a three-month interview, you’ll set yourself up very well to succeed when it comes time for the actual interview.

Careers in international aid

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Humanitarian Relief just ran a series of posts from the indispensable Alanna Shaikh on charting a career as an international aid worker. Definitely give them a read if this is an area of career interest. Topics include: organizational culture in various aid agencies; characteristics of a good aid worker; and, my favorite, how to find you first bad job. A sweet excerpt from this last entry:

What you want to do is find that first job in aid, and then immediately start trying to find a better one. It really doesn’t matter how bad that first job is – how soul-crushing, badly paid, or meaningless. You just need to get it on your resume as proof that you understand the profession and won’t freak out in the field [...]

Luckily, bad jobs are easier to find than good jobs. No one likes bad jobs, so they leave after six months – just like you probably will – so organizations are always trying to fill them. For someone trying to get a first job in relief and development work, that is a blessing.

In theory (and an ideal world), I would recommend against taking a job that you know you want to leave as quickly as possible. But in practice, in order to move your way up, you’ve got to get in. And it’s no secret that it can be very hard to get in. So if getting in means that you start in the shit and claw your way out…well, I say, do what you’ve got to do.

Teaching abroad as continuing education

Thursday, August 6th, 2009 reports on the merits of teaching abroad as a form of post-graduate education, and a way to build skills for your career and become more comfortable and effective in a globalized world. Read for the intriguing idea that “those who teach abroad can learn more than in a real job or graduate school;” stay for the quotes toward the end from me at my most earnest.

Preparing for a career in public diplomacy

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner points to a lengthy, online discussion from this past June among the well-known and respected “old guard” of U.S. government public diplomacy (mainly retired foreign and civil service officers from the now-gone U.S. Information Agency). Take some time and read the whole exchange if you’re particularly interested in the discipline of public diplomacy and the debate behind PD in theory versus PD in practice. 

For some careers in public diplomacy related insights, scroll down to the very bottom of the comments. Matt picks up a question from a recent college grad looking to work in public diplomacy:

As someone who is intensely interested culture and not necessarily policy, I have found the idea of graduate school incredibly daunting. In today’s climate, it is extremely difficult for a recent graduate to enter their chosen career path, and more and more jobs require at least a master’s degree if not many years of work experience. What sort of educational programs would be beneficial for those wishing to enter the field? I agree that academia is not the only component in PD, but for those of us looking to get our foot in the door, the degree can weigh more than our skills.

Another commenter answers:

There are many ways to enter and gain experience in the field of public diplomacy, so don’t despair. In terms of preparation, I’ve found my academic and practical experience equally valuable. I studied international relations and journalism as an undergrad, and hold a master’s in international relations, which provided a valuable theoretical grounding. Having a solid understanding of the culture and language in which you are working is also extraordinarily valuable, and there is certainly an academic component to that. However, it’s hard for academic experience to substitute for time actually doing public diplomacy work.

The purpose of the Peace Corps

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Alanna examines the Peace Corps from a global health perspective:

You have to remember that it’s not an international development organization. It’s a US public diplomacy agency, and a powerful opportunity for personal growth and development. But you don’t join Peace Corps to do international development work, and the organization will tell you that itself.

The opportunity to experience life as though you were poor can give you powerful insight into development and its obstacles. It’s probably the equivalent of a graduate degree in development and what it may or may not mean. But Peace Corps volunteers don’t have the resources, support, or often knowledge to have a long-term impact on the problems they are experiencing. Once again, that’s not a criticism of the volunteers, or of the Peace Corps – it’s just not what the program is designed to do.

UPDATE: One of Alanna’s readers makes the point that the benefits of the Peace Corps are not necessarily found in tangible development results, but rather something much deeper:

I would argue [the Peace Corps] can help people do what the Twitterati, bloggers, and others in business and life have discovered helps them get the job done – form relationships with people that create goodwill over time – which consequently can inspire and support development.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, I admit that only one person in my family and a few close friends had even heard of the country before I lived there.  Now, they all speak about Mali as if it were their own backyard, and the concentric circles of people that they are friends with all know about my experience.  By making the world seem a little bit smaller, there may not have been direct lives saved because I lived in a village for 2 years, but the ripple effect continues because those people want to participate in causes that they know something about.

Interview at International Affairs Forum

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The good folks at the International Affairs Forum just posted their interview of Sherry and me in which we discuss careers in international affairs. Check it out, but more importantly check out the broad array of content all over the IA Forum site: more interviews with fascinating professionals, opinion pieces, essays, articles, etc.—all of this is great content that’ll broaden your knowledge of the international affairs field writ large. The Forum is an incredibly worthwhile place to spend some time, whether you’re in a job search or not.

Also, check out the Center for International Relations, the IA Forum’s parent organization. CIR’s goal, using the IA Forum as its primary tool, is to increase dialogue surrounding international affairs issues and to groom young leaders in the field. 

Many thanks to Dimitri Neos, CIR’s Executive Director, for taking the time to interview us and learn more about Working World.

Getting a job at the UN

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

A reader recently asked:

Will you write an entry on how to get a job at the United Nations? I understand that getting into the UN is incredibly difficult, especially if the applicant is American.

I’m by no means an expert on the employment system at the UN, so I turned to an old high school friend who spends all of his (professional) life traipsing the halls of the UN headquarters and in the field working on UN peacekeeping issues. Based on conversations with him, here’s what I know:

First, employment at the UN varies a lot based on the nationality of the applicant. The reader is right: it can be quite challenging as an American citizen to get regular work at the UN. It also varies greatly, of course, depending on what part of the UN system one is applying to (i.e. Secretariat vs. the Funds and Programmes; HQ vs. the Field). [My friend's experience is mostly with the Peace and Security components of the UN system--the departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping/Field Service.]  

Even with a good graduate degree, an applicant (especially an American) will find it extremely challenging to get into the UN system without relevant field work experience. To get this experience, one can try simply applying for jobs in UN peace operations—but for P3 jobs (the lowest professional position for which they recruit), you need five years of work experience.

If you don’t have this relevant field work experience, a better route is perhaps starting out in the UN Volunteers program. This is field-based and pays a stipend. Many UNVs can transition after a couple years into field-based P (professional) positions. Experience in the field greatly helps anyone applying for work at HQ (if that is where you ultimately want to be).

My friend also advocates trying to form relationships with people at the UN currently, perhaps starting with alums from your grad school or undergrad school. Those on the inside get vacancy announcements first and, depending on the contact, can move resumes to the top of the stack.

For Americans, a great web resource is the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs. They have updated lists of international organization vacancies. For non-Americans, checking with your governments to see if they sponsor JPOs (junior professional officers). These are typically two-year positions within the UN that are sponsored by their home governments. The US doesn’t do this, but many European governments do.

Also (and this is my recommendation, not my friend’s), as you’re looking to get your “in” with the UN, make sure you are well-read and informed on the goings-on of the UN system (just as you should be well-read and informed on any field/organizations in which you want to work). I’d recommend the UN Dispatch and Inner City Press as two solid sources for your UN watching.

Use your language skills—be a spy

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

While yesterday’s thought that language study is not just a means to an end (i.e., a job) still stands, if you’re good at Pashto, Dari, Urdu, or other less-commonly taught languages and want to do intelligence work, your study of a foreign language might well get you a job. The CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies could certainly use you.

An unpaid internship during the job search

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I felt guilty and depressed just sitting at home looking for jobs that didn’t exist.

So says Becki Gibney, a 28 year old who was laid off three months ago. Instead of sulking, she went out and got an unpaid internship.

The Wall Street Journal profiles young professionals looking for work while simultaneously gaining experience and keeping busy in an internship. An important point to keep in mind if you pursue an internship as a more experienced candidate:

To land an internship after working elsewhere, you’ll need to explain why you’re willing to take a step back, says Constance Dierickx, a management psychologist at RHR International Co., an organizational-development firm in Wood Dale, Ill. “You need to talk early about the benefits of hiring you,” she says. “It works well to say that you’re looking to make a career change or to learn something new. It doesn’t work well to say I lost my job and don’t have anything else to do.”

Summer and fall internships at the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy in Des Moines, Iowa (which has a nice compilation of career resources on its website) is looking for two interns (unpaid) for this summer and fall. I’m told that hours and days are flexible.  Contact Diane Rasmussen at 515-282-8192 or for more information.

Fall internships at Business for Diplomatic Action

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Business for Diplomatic Action, a “private-sector led initiative aimed at mobilizing the United States’ business community for public diplomacy efforts” and founded and led by advertising guru Keith Reinhard (of McDonalds “You Deserve a Break Today” fame), is seeking two unpaid interns for their New York office for fall ‘09. The application deadline is July 24, and selections will be made within a week, by July 31. Clearly they’re not messing around.

Use a temp agency to get your foot in the door

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Temp agencies are often viewed as a last resort, the refuge of those who have gone as long as they possibly can without work and now desperately need a paycheck. This might be the case for many (and there’s no shame in it), but temping can also be viewed as a practical way to make some money, gain some experience, and maybe get your foot in the door.

I met this week with a representative from TSI Staffing in DC who told me that their company is seeing more and more recent college graduates and other young professionals seeking temp work as a way to get experience in and gain contacts at international organizations, experience and contacts that they hope might lead to full-time jobs in the near future.

“Young professionals are increasingly seeing temp work as a great way to get their foot in the door,” the TSI rep told me. “You get direct and relevant experience, meet people working in the field, show a potential employer that even when you’re unemployed you’re still willing to work, which looks good, and you get a paycheck on top of it all. What’s not to like?”

And are there possibilities to temp for internationally-focused organizations?

“Oh absolutely,” the rep replied. “Especially in DC, there are lots of international organizations looking for temporary help.”

The TSI rep did emphasize, though, that not all staffing agencies work like they do—that is, trying as best they can to place temps with organizations that match their interests. According to the rep, some staffing agencies won’t go to this trouble. I can’t speak to the veracity of this, but it does seem to me that this is a vital point to consider when searching for a staffing agency to help you find a temp position: will they help you seek, as much as possible, positions in the field you want to pursue professionally? A worthwhile criteria to keep in mind as you also consider the broader idea of temping as a way to get a foot in the door.

Don’t get caught questionless at the end of an interview

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

You know your interview will end with the inevitable, “So, do you have any questions?” but you still don’t know what to ask. Alanna suggests 10 questions to fill the void. Her focus on using that Q&A time as opportunity to find out if the job and the organization are good fits for you is right on, I think—the interview is a chance for potential employer to see if you’re right for the job, yes, but don’t forget that it’s equally an opportunity for you to judge if this is somewhere you want to work. As Alanna notes, the simple question of “What do you like about working here?” is easy and a good conversation starter, and can also be quite revealing.

One other question I would add to Alanna’s list: ask of your interviewer, “So, how did you get involved in this work?” Everybody likes to talk about themselves, and it’s never a bad thing to show that you’re interested in others and that you recognize the work you will potentially be doing is not just about your skills and contributions but also about being able to work within a team. And you might learn something interesting about your interviewer’s career path or career decision-making process that you find helpful down the road.

[On another note, apologies for the slow pace of posts lately, but I've been deployed on Alliance business, first in Boston and now in Portland, Maine. More normal posting to resume when I return.]