New Job, New Considerations

In Career Development, International Development on March 9, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I started a new position today at my NGO, as an Associate Program Officer for Iraq. I will basically be backstopping a few of our programs in Iraq, from our HQ offices here by DC. We have hundreds of millions of dollars in programs in Iraq – this was a career opportunity that I could not pass up.

But I had to really think about it.

I’ve been a recruiter here for one year, in fact last week was my year anniversary. About 6 months ago I was pretty despondent and my work quality was dipping; I wasn’t happy. So, I decided to work harder at making my environment better. I started trying to learn more about recruiting online, joining recruiter communities of practice – there are lots of websites and LinkedIn groups (especially). I also took on some non-traditional recruiting duties on my team, such as looking for new ways to use Social Networking to recruit. I was looking for ways to be better at what I was doing, and to like the way I was doing it.

Still, staring at CV’s and reading cover letters all day is still tedious, and I still couldn’t help but feel jealous when I would come across people I would see as contemporaries – people who looked to be about the same age and were doing what I wished I could be doing. It’s hard to concentrate when you’ve got something on your mind that won’t go away.

As my year mark approached, my boss’s boss – our Chief Administrative Officer – had asked me to become an HR rep. I told her that my long term goal in this industry is to be involved with implementing programs, with an eye towards moving back to the field one day – perhaps in 10 years. She parked that in the back of her brain and then went off to Iraq for a few weeks to work with the staff there.

While she was there, she was talking with our Director of Iraq Programs (who was also on a business trip there to support her staff) and they discussed having more HQ support staff in place. Fortunately, my CAO brought me up, and it quickly filtered back to me at HQ. I was asked if I would be interested in working with the Iraq team. This would be my way out of the HR/Recruiting world – a way to finally get into programs.

There was one issue that initially hit me – I would have to occasionally go to Iraq.

That’s what hit me first: Would I go to Iraq? My heart said YES! My head is about 80 percent yes, 10 percent no, the rest wavers. When I’m here at work, I’m fine. Staff are coming and going from Iraq all the time without incident. We’ve never lost any expatriate staff as far as I know. We spend more than 10 percent of our budget there on security. But still – you get that sinking feeling about getting caught in that one, rare instance.

It’s worse that my parents have been visiting and they don’t get it at all. They’ve never fully understood the international development field. It’s just not really like joining some corporation where you work and progress for 30 years and then retire. Now adding in the possibility of me going to a country that conventional wisdom in America considers to be one of the most dangerous places on Earth is almost too much for them. But they’re being brave and supportive.

My story is this – I couldn’t spend my early 30’s in the field managing projects, it wasn’t in the cards. Now, I cannot go overseas because my older daughter really needs to be in the US where the local school district offers the developmental care that she has to have now or never. Since I want to stay in the international development field, and I’ve spent all this money and earned all these graduate degrees – I have to follow through with it. So the next calculated risk for me, in the absence of an ability to get field experience, is to take the first HQ-based programming job I can get, however it comes to me.

So now, I am an Associate Program Officer for Iraq. We’ll see where it leads me, but that’s how I decided to make the change.

  1. Hi, Scott… wondering if you’d flag the recruiter communities you mention before you forget them. I’ve been trying to tag interesting communities of practice (see http://delicious.com/tag/copexample ).


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