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MIIS Spring Breaks DC

In Career Development, Humanitarian Response, International Development, MIIS on April 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm

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.

Scott @ Relief International

Visiting Relief International with my students. 

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 CommerceCongressional 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

Career fair:

Beacon Hill Staffing Group , DIA, Embassy of Japan/JET Program, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Thomson Reuters Special Services, and the US Dept of Commerce

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.

Check out these Flickr Photos from the event:
MIIS DC Spring Break 2016

Smelly T-Shirts and Shaving… Teleworking at it’s best

In Career Development, Home Life on November 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm

As some of you read in my last blog post, I just switched jobs. One thing I might not have brought up is the fact that I’m giving up teleworking. I was allowed to work from home from August last year until I left at the end of October, so I’ve now got a solid 14 months of working from home under my belt. I’ve learned some lessons along the way.

My telework has been by choice – I wasn’t assigned to work out in California. So this means I didn’t get any financial support to have a home office – like my employer paying for part of my internet service provider bill, or printing, etc. My employer did pay for my mobile bill the whole year, although I had to reimburse for some personal use fees when I was traveling, that’s another story… But some people who are assigned to work from home might have some benefits that I couldn’t take advantage of, including writing off some costs on your tax return.

Working from home has been amazing, but it’s not without its tradeoffs. I’ve loved not having to iron my clothes, or shave that often. I had to make sure that I at least looked relatively neat in case someone wanted to do the Skype video. Mid-day walks/runs/whatever with my wife while the kids are at school were really nice. Being able to control when I worked was great, I was able to be there for my kids more than when I have to work a solid 8-hour day at an office I have to commute to. I could step out and pick up my kids from school, drop them off, go to those random mid-day events. I chaperoned a couple of field trips. I could go work from my daughter’s Gymnastics class, where I could clear my inbox and do some weekly organizational tasks that didn’t require as much attention. I could work from the library while my oldest daughter devoured library books. In theory, we could travel the world as long as I was getting my stuff done on time and being responsive. Modern technology is amazing.

The total blending of work and home has its drawbacks, though. While it’s great to have control over when I work, I had to constantly police myself. My wife learned to stop being mad at me (at least outwardly) when I had my phone out all the time, because she knew I had to be responsive, this was part of the deal. “Is it a work email?” she would say. I still would feel bad about it – there’s a level of constant stress to be responsive. My colleagues were all over the world, and I was also acutely aware that teleworking was a privilege; I never wanted it to be a hindrance or to attract negative attention because my time zone or responsiveness was the problem. So, I never grumbled when I had to hop on Skype conference calls before dawn or late at night. I would wake up to Skype messages piled up on my phone, I’d lay there and try to get back to people, mostly on their time. I’m sure that’s a nice image for my former colleagues to try to get out of their heads…

Because my work was paying for my mobile phone, I felt like my work was with me all the time. In some ways, it’s great – if you allow yourself the confidence to think you’re spreading your work out all day – that you’re genuinely putting in the full time work that you would if you were commuting to an office. But sometimes that confidence is hard to find. The more efficient you are, the more will be expected of you. Creating some ground rules in the beginning, and discussing the expectation of your work output with your supervisor is essential. You have to feel like someone has your back, and that it’s OK to respond on your time. At least you need to define what is urgent and what can wait. In reality I think we all believe we’re way more important and critical to our organizations than we really are.

The other thing that a lot of people discuss about teleworking is the lack of physical face time with people – the chance meetings in the hall, the spontaneous collaboration, or missing snap meetings. I was fortunate in that almost all of my colleagues also teleworked or were located in field offices where I would have worked with them in the same way. I wouldn’t have collaborated much with my colleagues in person at HQ anyway – other than being social. I found that being logged into Skype could be a great way to poke my head into the hallway to ask a question. I found in my last office job – that I would waste a lot of time chatting about random personal stuff, not necessarily coming up with groundbreaking new initiatives. Not that I didn’t really like my colleagues, but I felt like there was room for more productivity and less social drama.

I did learn a more valuable skill, especially for this day and age – being able to answer most questions myself. When I’m in an office with colleagues, in a cubicle or shared space – you can kind of blurt out a question or pop up and ask someone something – and chances are you could have Googled it or dug a little deeper through your intranet to find the answer. Of course there are always deeper or confidential verbal-only talks that need to happen, especially for me since I was into some occasionally sensitive Human Resources issues. I never felt like I was unable to engage in those when I needed to.

Now that I’ve been in my office job for the last week, I’ve noticed that I am slow to re-engage in the office-style workflow. I haven’t had to greet everyone (other than my family) for a long time. I struggle to not spend money on food again – when I was home all the time I could pop in for a snack, I seem to need constant food.  I am holed up in an office but I need to take advantage of being around some very interesting and experienced people. We’re all busy so it’s not like I look stand-offish, but this is a level of outgoing-ness that I hadn’t fully considered.

The best part of this new configuration, especially since I live in a beautiful place and my work is really less than 3 miles away from my home – is being able to incorporate exercise into my commute. When it’s not raining, I ride my bike to and from work. I plan on walking it from time to time. That should make up for any excess sugar I’m consuming, hopefully. At least I am generally cleaner, I shave more often, and am remembering to use deodorant more.

Transitions, 2015 Version

In Career Development, Growing Up, Home Life, Humanitarian Response, International Development on October 20, 2015 at 9:57 am

It’s time for another career transition. I’m leaving my job with Catholic Relief Services. I know many will think I’m crazy. And maybe I am a little bit – but this is a decision with two very great reasons justifying it: family and timing. I want to share my reasoning because this is illustrative of a lot of people around my age, where we’ve got a young family and are still trying to develop our careers and figure out what we want to do.

On Family…

My CRS job has had me traveling at just over 30 percent. This is actually less than the JD had required, and not nearly as much as some of my other colleagues on the Humanitarian Response Department, who are up in the 50-60 percent range. I thought being able to work from home, being much more available when I’m home, and relocating my family to our forever home in California to be near extended family would help mitigate the effects of me traveling a lot. Maybe if my travel were more predicable, but my trips have come with at most three to four-weeks’ notice. The Nepal trip had me on a plane within three days, and I was gone for four weeks. Almost all my trips are at least two weeks, if not three or more.

To do this job right, I should be willing to go whenever and wherever I’m needed. I feel like I’ve cut a few trips short when I probably should have stayed longer… it felt like doing a better job would have required more from me, and consequently more from my family. As time went on, trips were getting harder and harder for me. I’ve written about this in previous blog posts. Each departure would hurt just a little more, the homesickness would nag at me – right around the two-week mark as I would reach the home stretch I would start to feel worse – more homesick and less productive. It wasn’t good for me, my family, or my employer and colleagues.

In the end – CRS and my position deserved more. The coolest aspects of travel and the work itself were not making up for the negatives. I was tired of missing my kids’ events at home, being the dad who’s almost never around, and having adventures without my family with me to share.  I was also risking my professional reputation by not giving my all. Maybe I’m hard on myself with my self-assessment, but this is my perception. So overall: I loved the job, loved to work for CRS, but the travel was going to push me and my family to a breaking point, probably in the near term. And, even if I wanted to remain with CRS and continue to develop my career there, the options would have almost certainly involved either more travel or moving, two things we’re not prepared to do any longer. My last day with CRS is this Friday 23 October.

On Timing…

I was offered a job with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (aka “MIIS” – www.miis.edu) as a Career and Academic Advisor. I’ll be advising about 180+ students in the Development Policy and Practice Degree program. This is the degree program I completed in 2007, with a Masters in Public Administration. I know the MIIS team pretty well, and have collaborated with them for years. They very generously gave me the Alumni Volunteer Service Award in 2012 – one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. They proactively recruited me over several months and showed sincere interest in having me come be a part of the team. I demurred when I hadn’t been with CRS for a year, but I was swayed after two long trips to Nepal.

Maybe I could have played coy for another year or two and tried to hold on to my operational Global Development -Humanitarian Response career a little longer – but see above on family concerns… and I would much rather take a job where I’m recruited and they’re psyched to have me, rather than me sticking it out a little longer, my family hitting a wall and I go begging for a new job… I just couldn’t delude myself any longer. Plus there are other pretty decent benefits that made working for MIIS an attractive option. Besides decent benefits (health plan, retirement, annual leave, etc), it’s a super close commute to my home, and I am happy I’ll be able to leave my work at work. I loved working from home but it will be nice to be more turned off from work after hours. Overall I’m excited for the change and I’m surprised how happy I feel about being more anchored into my community. This will be like a real homecoming for me in many ways.

So – while I have absolutely loved working for CRS, it was time for me and my family to make this change. I’m hoping to dig into the academic side of poverty alleviation, program management, and humanitarian response, and to parlay my experience into trainings and ultimately teaching. My pipe-dream is to somehow get a PhD before I’m 50, but I’ve probably already punished my family enough, that’ll go in my parking lot for a while. I start at MIIS on 26 October.

Gratitude and Growth…

CRS has been everything I hoped it would be, and I’m so grateful they approached me for this position last year. I consider my supervisors to be good friends now – they’ve always been supportive and helpful, among the best supervisors I’ve ever had. My recruitment colleagues have been great – they all really care about CRS, the mission and values, and projecting them from a candidate’s first impression of CRS all the way to on-boarding. I think this translates into recruiting the people that CRS has in abundance – dedicated to improving the human condition, committed team players, nice people, super smart and fun to work with – the kind of team you don’t mind working with for 10 years or more. CRS’ retention rates confirm this. It’s an awesome place to work.

And working within the Humanitarian Response team has been a truly humbling experience. It’s been an honor to work with this team, I’ve learned more in the last 15 months about real humanitarian programing than I did in my previous six years with IRD and RI. They’ve got strong leadership, some very smart people, the kind of high-caliber, good humored, and dedicated humanitarian professionals anyone would want to have as colleagues. CRS has the resources at their disposal to do what they feel needs to be done, rather than looking for what a donor will fund – and they can support a robust monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (aka, MEAL) system that helps contribute to the state of the art of humanitarian response. I feel better about walking away from the humanitarian sector after having worked for one of the most effective humanitarian NGO’s in the world. They’ve shown me what a thorough, well-done job looks like.

My blog, twitter feed, and public Facebook page has been pretty quiet since I’ve worked at CRS, in fact this is probably the first time I’ve even referenced them in my blog other than linking my LinkedIn profile in my “about me” page. I’m hoping to be more active on my blog and through social media as I ease into my new job and start learning about and sharing new things. I’m genuinely excited for this change and I look forward to what’s to come!

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