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Searching for an International Development Job in the Bay Area: 15 Tips and Lessons Learned

By: Kelly William Doley 

Last summer, I left South Sudan to get married and move to the Bay Area, where my wife is attending graduate school. My prior international development experience was mostly with USAID and NGOs in Washington, D.C., East Africa, and Latin America, and I was uncertain about how I would fit into the Bay Area job world. After months of searching, I ultimately landed a job with Inveneo. The following are tips and lessons learned from my job search that I have to share with BAIL and anyone who might be looking for an internationally oriented position in the Bay Area:

  1. Create a Google Spreadsheet Contact List: This database will help you store all of the contact information you obtain from business cards and keep track of all the interesting individuals you meet, jobs you’ve applied for, and your communication with everyone.

  1. Business cardDesign Your Own Business Cards: It’s nice to be able to exchange business cards at events. Vista Print and Moo are a few relatively inexpensive options. Get creative (but not too creative 😉 ).
  1. Know Who You Are and What You Want (Or At Least Act Like You Know!): Almost everyone you meet will ask what type of job you’re looking for, so it’s important to be as specific as possible. (A “hard working team player looking for an international development job” isn’t good enough – an “experienced software engineer passionate about mobile payment technology and agricultural development” is better.) Consider taking a StrengthsFinder Test to learn more about your strengths and to help fine-tune your pitch.
  1. Buy What Color is Your Parachute: It’s the best-selling job-hunting book in the world and one of Time’s All-Time 100 best nonfiction books for a reason! An excellent $12 resource with tips on networking, informational interviewing, salary negotiations, and more.
  1. Identify Interesting Organizations: The Bay Area offers an exciting array of international development career opportunities but is a different universe from the field, Washington D.C., New York and Europe. A Quick Taxonomy of International Jobs in the Bay Area is a great resource for understanding the landscape. Research and make a list of organizations that interest you most and might be a good fit, then try to set up a brief informational interview over tea or coffee with someone who works for those organizations.
  1. Connect with People over Tea or Coffee: Most people will be more than happy to have a brief informational interview with you over tea or coffee. (Some won’t but don’t take it personally.) Don’t be shy about asking, but do try to leverage your network (see #7).
  1. linkedin-networkingTap Into Existing Networks: Having a “bridge person” (i.e. someone you already know) connect you to someone you’d like to meet is usually more effective than sending an informational interview request out of the blue. A bridge person does not have to be a close friend or colleague. It’s highly likely that your university and/or other groups that you’ve been affiliated with at some point have a Bay Area chapter or alumni network. Getting connected to existing networks is a great way to meet new people. LinkedIn is also an invaluable resource for establishing connections and identifying potential bridge people who can connect you to people you want to meet, plus there are tons of resources on effective informational interviewing are available online.
  1. Join New Networks and Take Advantage of Bay Area Events: BAIL’s Events Calendar, the Impact Hub, Meetup Groups, the World Affairs Council, and Cal Berkeley and Stanford are just a few of the many resources available. Get out there.
  1. Always Say Thank You: After you have an interview — informational or otherwise — always send a thank you email followed by a brief handwritten letter. The letter should be Thankyoupostmarked no later than one day following the interview. Not everyone agrees on the handwritten note — it’s up to you but always say thank you in at least one form. It is amazing how often and how many people actually skip this. People do notice!
  1. Keep a Lessons Learned List: Informational interviewing is a great way to learn from the wisdom of others. Record all of the great tips and insight you receive — as well as the many things you learn about yourself — throughout your job search.
  1. Consider Consulting: Some employers are open to hiring short-term consultants. When conducting informational interviews, stating that you’re open to consulting opportunities could open doors in the short-term and potentially even the long term.
  1. Consider Temping: Premier and Scion are a couple of temp agencies that provide good short-term opportunities that could open up broader possibilities as well.
  1. Do Something Different: Looking for a job can be a full-time job, so make sure you maintain a good balance and actively engage yourself in other activities. There are many low cost and free fun things to do in the Bay Area — join a sports team or a book club, volunteer at a homeless shelter, explore the outdoors, or sign up for a spiritual/meditation retreat. The possibilities are endless! This will help you stay energized and remind you why you want to live in this awesome area (plus you never know what interesting connections might share your interests!).

Sea cliff

  1. Don’t Settle: If you are offered a job that isn’t the right fit, don’t take it. Don’t ever settle for a job that doesn’t give you inner peace. Listen to your gut and remember it’s always a two-sided decision — searching for a job is hard, but so is working in a role that you don’t like, isn’t fulfilling, doesn’t pay enough, or is a poor cultural fit.
  1. Stay Positive and Don’t Give Up! Searching for a job can take time and be frustrating. As difficult and frustrating as it can be, the search also provides time and space to think, reflect, and grow both professionally and personally. Stay positive and don’t give up! You will land the right job. As the old Swahili proverb goes, “Hauchi, hauchi, unakucha.” That is:It does not dawn! It does not dawn!…It dawns!”

For more information on job postings, check out the BAIL jobs discussion board here and the extensive list of organizations and resources they’ve already shared in the Directory of Organizations.

Good luck!

_      _      _

Kkellyelly William Doley recently joined the Inveneo team as a Project Manager. Prior to joining Inveneo, he worked with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) for over four years, first as a Senior Information Officer based in Washington, D.C. and later as a Program Officer in South Sudan. Kelly has volunteered and worked in various countries in Latin America and in East Africa. He loves to travel, play basketball, run, hike, and enjoy a good cup of tea. He has a B.A. in International Studies and Spanish from the University of North Texas and a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a senior development professional living/working in the Bay Area, let me add one more:

    Understand what the development “business” is really about. Profit and non-profit companies working in the devleopment space and based in the US are operations-oriented. The work takes place in the field. So approach the job very business-like, not “save the world-like.” You will spend more time doing project management and business development/fundraising than digging wells.

    Good luck!

    February 20, 2015

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