Originally Posted on the MIIS Center for Advising and Career Services Blog.
While the stereotypical spring breakers head to far-flung destinations to absorb sun and fun, about 60 MIIS students got themselves to Washington DC where the MIIS Center for Advising and Career Services (CACS) and Alumni Relations Office collaborated to arrange 32 distinct events for MIIS students to network, learn, and develop their careers. These events included mostly information sessions and site visits at various organizations, government agencies, and companies – but also an alumni reception and a career fair. The trip was designed mostly for students and alumni of the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSIPM) – so employers were largely in the international development and humanitarian assistance, non-proliferation, and business/trade sectors.
US government agencies:
US International Trade Commission (USITC), Dept of Homeland Security, Dept of State Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration, US Agency for International Development – Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), US Department of the Treasury – Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) , US Department of Commerce , Congressional Research Service, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) , Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) , and NASA
International development NGO’s and private companies:
DevEx , Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), Relief International, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Save the Children , Creative Associates International, FHI360, the Asia Foundation , and InterAction
Private companies, think tanks and multilateral organizations:
OPower , Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Ploughshares Fund, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, World Bank Group, Thomson-Reuters Special Services, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Mexican Trade Commission, and General Electric
Students were also encouraged to make their own private appointments with alumni and other connections. One student’s uncle works for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and several students tagged along and got an impromptu tour of their offices on Friday. Overall, students were exposed to over 30 different organizations and their representatives. Several of these representatives are MIIS alumni themselves.
I personally went to 13 events, 11 of which I had planned myself. 8-10 MIIS students and alumni attended most of my sessions; they got a great overview of the international development industry. For me, as someone who worked in the industry for eight years, it was nice to run in those circles again. My goal for the trip was to make sure that students were exposed to a core group of DC-based stakeholders – including NGO’s (Save the Children, Relief International, FHI360, etc.), private contractors (DAI, Creative Associates), donors (USAID/OFDA, Dept of State), and trade groups (InterAction and DevEx). I was pleased to see the students get excited about places like DAI and Creative Associates, because as private, for-profit USAID contractors, not a lot of people know about these organizations outside of the industry. However, they receive hundreds of millions of dollars from USAID to do large-scale, ambitious development projects that help millions of people. More importantly for our purposes, they have robust internship programs, most of them with compensation.
Additionally, for my Trade students, I wanted them to get a preview of what their final semester will be like when they move to DC this summer. There are many active and motivated DC-based alumni from the MIIS Trade and Commercial Diplomacy programs working for places like the Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission. I attended the USITC session, and was very pleasantly surprised with how affable and happy the employees were; they are tasked, usually by the US Congress, with writing complex, 50-plus page reports on esoteric topics (paper products from Australia, electrical tubing produced in Appalachia) on short notice, but were engaged and happy in their work and were able to articulate that to MIIS students. One Trade alum with the Dept of Commerce was very proactive, Skyping into my career management class in early March, then hosting students at his offices in DC and then attending the Friday career fair, all before hopping a plane to Turkey the night of the career fair.
I am so proud of the students that attended all my events – they had their game faces on, were polished and asked great questions. Most students lingered after events ended, to chat up the various recruiters and future hiring managers – I heard lots of painstakingly prepared elevator pitches and saw business cards exchanged. Many of the students had been planning for this trip for several weeks, I’d met with many of them one-on-one to help them craft their resume and messaging. Students largely paid for this trip out of their own personal funds, while some received limited conference funding from MIIS. That made it more impressive to me, that students would drop upwards of $1200 to invest in their own career development. That motivated me to help make this trip as meaningful as possible.
Employers were very positive on their experience with MIIS students. One Senior Advisor from DAI said in an email, “It is always interesting for us to see what the latest talent looks like from top schools like yours, and to have the opportunity to interact and understand the perspectives and views they hold. We welcome any applications for the rotation-internship program.” It was rewarding to see a spark in the employers when a MIIS student would ask a good question. Overall I felt like we were doing MIIS a great service, by representing ourselves well and showing key employers that we’re a great school producing qualified professionals.
One of the highlights from the trip, for me, was the session at InterAction with Sam Worthington, their President and a MIIS alum (MAIPS ’84). Sam was very generous with his time, he gave us a full hour alone, then had six of his staff present to us for another hour. Last year Sam went on a four-month sabbatical where he had holed himself up in rural Italy as a resident policy fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to write a book on international development. He talked with us about the present and future states of international development. He elaborated on these with us – you can see some of his blog posts on this here and linked in his sabbatical announcement above. For me this was a Jedi Master preaching to his padowans.
Throughout the entire week, I consistently heard the same messages reinforced from a diverse group of professionals.
- Networking: ABN – Always Be Networking. The importance of networking cannot be understated. Put yourself out there – make connections, cultivate those connections, help each other, and learn constantly. Networking is a two-way street – you have to be prepared to give as well as take. Ask for informational interviews often and don’t leave any informational interview without asking for another referral; another person to talk to and learn from. Try to buy their coffee if you can.
- Applying to jobs/internships: Make sure you’re personalizing your job applications – don’t just have one resume and cover letter you use. Make sure you complete the entire online application, don’t leave anything uncompleted (like adding “see resume” in a text field.) Your cover letter is your first writing sample. Your email correspondence will be judged on how polished and professional it is. How you treat even the front-desk people and interns matters and is evaluated. This leads to the next point.
- “Don’t be a jerk” was also a common phrase – always be nice to people you encounter, it’s a small town and you will run into people again. No one wants to work with people that drain energy from them. We all want to work with people we enjoy working with.
- Make sure you’re aligned with the mission of the employer you’re trying to work with. Several senior people we spoke with have found that looking back on their careers, this is what they’re most proud of. This is true for everyone from the USG agencies to the small NGO.
A great thanks are due – Jen Holguin, my CACS colleague and a fellow Career and Academic Advisor, worked hard to plan out and coordinate the week from Monterey, while our colleague Emily Weidner and I flew to DC to coordinate and attend most of the events ourselves. Emily was amazing with the calendar organization and handling the high RSVP volume. Fariha Haque and Gabby Tarini at the Middlebury office in Washington DC were generous hosts and helped a lot with the career fair and alumni reception. I also greatly appreciate the help and guidance of Leah Gowron and Maggie Peters from the MIIS Alumni Relations team – they are the keepers of institutional memory and are great at mobilizing helpful alumni.
I’m excited about planning next years’ trip and I can’t wait to see how the students benefit from the connections they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learned.