Jobs, Learning

How do you hire?

I always ask about the thing you’re most proud of and the thing you’re least proud of, and sometimes it could be a four-part question, because they’ll give something personal and professional for each of them. I’m listening for whether they talk about their accomplishments with “I, I, I,” or what their team was able to do.

This is from an interview with Lloyd Carney, CEO of data handling company Brocade.

I’m currently in job application purgatory and often find myself wondering ‘what do these people really want to know’?  Little cues like this seem pretty useful to me.


Phrases You Email When You’re Trying To Get That Internship

Saw this far too real post on McSweeney’s called ‘Let me translate my emails for you’. Highlights:

“I’m just checking in.” = Where is that thing you promised I’d have by now?

“Sorry to bother you again.” = Why can’t you do your fucking job?

“Sorry if I somehow missed your email.” = We both know you never emailed me.

There is probably no really polite way to harass HR departments to give/confirm an internship for you. But these are a couple of handy euphemisms that will at least let your passive aggressive side out.

See more:

Advice, Jobs

The Professional Skill All Interns Need But Don’t Get Taught

I am reading a really interesting paper on ‘intercultural competence’, a once rare skill that most job advertisements now list under ‘Requirements’ in some form or another.

Receiving training and figuring out how to work with people from many different cultures – national, regional, religious, organizations etcetera – used to be the preserve of the well paid and highly experienced. The authors frame the problem:

“In an increasingly global business environment, managers must interact effectively with people who have different values, behavioral norms, and ways of perceiving reality. Many jobs now entail an international dimension, so the challenge of communicating ideas and making decisions with people from different cultural backgrounds is no longer limited to a relatively elite group of expatriate managers who develop skills and knowledge by living abroad for years at a time.”

We live in an interconnected world where you interact with your line manager over Skype, the people sitting on the next desk might work for a different company all together and monthly office hot-pots are a walk into the unknown. Now everybody has to learn these skills, not just managers.

Interns, office managers, technical support – everybody.

I spent last year working for a startup in Nairobi. Our small team worked in four or five different time zones and supported clients in almost 30 countries. Intercultural competence was not only expected, it was practically a pre-requisite for the job. This may just be my own educational experience but I don’t remember getting any lessons on its importance to the job market. So how do you learn it?

The paper (in quite some depth) has solid advice.

“The core elements of intercultural competence therefore include an active awareness of oneself as a complex cultural being and the effect of one’s own culture on thinking and action, an ability to engage with others to explore tacit assumptions that underlie behavior and goals, and an openness to testing out different ways of thinking and doing things.”

Read the full paper here.


HT @espiekermann


If only cover letters were so simple…

Advice, Jobs

How To Write So You Won’t Be Ignored

This year, you will write something that almost nobody will read. You will probably write several things that nobody will read. Write with the assumption that no one wants to read what you’re writing: convince them that they should.

A lot of people do not communicate effectively. In all offices, in all organisations and all sectors you will receive hundreds of written documents that are confusing or boring (this includes emails!) and, in the end, don’t actually achieve much at all. It can be very frustrating.

This is not something that particularly afflicts interns – many managers and supervisors suffer the same issue – but it is an excellent asset for younger people looking to make an impression. Many people will tell university students to learn technical skills like data analysis or engineering or ICT knowledge. This is sensible advice. But I do think that it’s worth remembering simpler skills, ones that don’t necessarily require a stay in university (in fact, academic training is probably one of the main culprits for bad communication in the field of international development). After all, everybody complains about jargon and acronymitis – let’s do something about that.

I recently put together a short presentation on this topic as part of my fellowship programme with the Grameen Foundation. It’s a short series of tips and tricks that are well worth remembering.

We live in a world that is spectacularly, almost absurdly saturated with information. If you want people to pay attention to anything you are adding to this over-abundance, you’d better make sure it’s clear and easy to read.

This borrowed heavily from the terrific book I mentioned at the end, Writing That Works. I heartily recommend it to all the development interns out there. The long quote is well-known but, in my mind, unbeatable and was written by the great Gary Provost.

Advice, Jobs

Seven Tips For Getting That Summer Internship

With summer break looming into view, I am sure that many of you have begun the hunt for a coveted internship in the international development field. Having just applied for a slew of jobs, internships and fellowships myself, I felt that it might be beneficial to pass along some of the tips that I have learned having undergone this exciting (and yet sometimes tedious) application process for the past four years.

In the current economy, applying for a summer position has become even more competitive and stressful. Students and young professionals are no longer afforded the luxury of cutting corners or being generic when applying for a position. The days of being able to send the same cover letter and resume to multiple organizations and merely tweaking the ‘to’ line are long, long gone.

Since I’m fairly certain that most people are not completely clueless when it comes to the interview process, I’ll spare you the lecture on common tips such as what to wear, controlling nerves, speaking clearly and confidently, etc. Below are my top seven tips for setting your job application apart, nailing the interview, and landing your desired summer position.

1. Use your networks.

Many of the internship opportunities that I have applied for I heard about through a friend, former colleague, or classmate. Talking to my classmates about their different internship experiences has provided me with a good indication of who are the top employers, where to look for exciting job opportunities, the culture of different organizations and which organization may be the best fit for me. I have also had many former colleagues forward me job opportunities that they thought I may be interested in. With so few opportunities available these days, utilizing your network is an absolute must. Make sure to talk to as many people in the field as you can, and ask everyone to send you any opportunities that they may stumble upon.

2. Don’t be lazy. Tailor your application.

As I mentioned above, do NOT submit a generic or ambiguous cover letter or CV. I know that it can be tempting, especially if you are applying to dozens of jobs. However, you must resist the urge and put in the extra time! Be sure to read the position description, do your research about the organization, and customize each application to reflect how your previous experience and future ambitions make you a perfect fit for this specific position.

3. Preparation is key.

After weeks of playing the waiting game, you hear back and have been offered an interview. First, take some time to appreciate and celebrate this small success! You deserve it.

You should start preparing for the interview a few days in advance (at the latest). Before the interview, you should know the organization’s website like the back of your hand. It is important to know the company’s mission, values and anything related to the position or team you have applied to work with. If they are available, skim some of the organization’s annual reports and try to incorporate what you have learned about their past and present projects into your interview answers. Also, if you have any kind of connection to someone who works for or has worked at the organization, be sure to ask them for the insider scoop on what the interviewer is looking for.

4. Don’t be afraid to creep.

Okay. I’ll admit it. I used the internet to do some serious research (read: creeping) on my interviewers, and even the intern who had previously held the position. It actually turned out to be extremely helpful. In the process, I found a series of YouTube videos in which my interviewer had spoken at length about some of projects that the team was working on. When I researched the student who had previously held the position, I was extremely surprised to find some of the interview questions! It turns out that someone had written an article about her getting the internship and the article mentioned that “the applicants were asked to outline a proposed innovation to address a complex global health challenge” which turned out to be very similar to one of the questions I was asked during the interview. Don’t be afraid to use the creepiness of the internet to your advantage.

5. Do a mock interview.

Make up a list of questions that you think may be asked by the interviewer and do a couple run throughs with a friend or a family member. Trust me, it will help to ensure that your answers are more clear and confident during the actual interview.

6. Be yourself.

The interviewer is looking for someone who will be an ideal fit with the organization and the team. Do everything in your power to come across as professional and extremely interested in the position, but do not try to be something that you are not. I personally am an extremely outgoing, animated and sometimes overly enthusiastic person, which can be very off-putting to some people. Although I try to tone it down in interviews, I often don’t succeed. At the end of the day, that is the way that I am and the way that I would act as an employee. If the team leader does not feel that I am the type of person that they want to work with – it is probably for the best. Make sure you are portraying an accurate representation of yourself in the interview, it will probably be the reason you get the job. If being yourself works against you, at least you won’t be working in a terrible work environment with people who don’t like you!

7. Don’t beat yourself up! Every interview is a learning experience.

One time I had to do a two hour long case study-based interview for a position I was completely unqualified for. Calling my performance in the interview an utter failure would probably be considered an understatement – I literally almost started crying in the interview! You are not going to have a perfect interview every single time so don’t beat yourself up about it. Treat it as a learning experience: write down the questions you were asked and think about how you could improve your answers. I can almost guarantee you that the interview will go better next time.

Do you have a particularly interesting or cringe-worthy job interview story? Maybe some tips for other aspiring international development professionals? Be sure to leave them in the comments section, I would love to read them!