Saturday, April 5, 2008

Why getting hired by an International NGO is hard

I know I've talked a lot about getting field experience. But I've probably not stressed enough that I understand how difficult it is to get field experience, especially in the more difficult areas. While browsing around, I stumbled on Alanna Shaikh's brilliant blog. If you are a regular blog reader or just are interested in this topic, I highly recommend reading her blog. (she's also a bit of an overachieving :-) superstar...speaks four very difficult languages, has worked and lived all over the world, has a graduate degree, and is a happily married mom!!). She's written a great post on the pitfalls of finding good field experience, and how to get past them. You find the whole blog here; I'm quoting a bit of it for taste.

On the topic of "Why you can't get an international job (and what to do about it):"
This is why: when I worked for an international NGO, it cost us $16,000-$20,000 to put an unpaid volunteer in the field. The cost included health insurance, housing, food allowance, and transport costs. Even if a volunteer paid for their own plane ticket, we couldn’t ethically send them to Sudan or Sri Lanka without providing food, housing and health care. Those costs add up fast. For $16,000 in most parts of the world, you can hire a trilingual local person with better skills than any volunteer American. Add to that the possibility that the volunteer will flip out in the new place, and be unable to cope. For an NGO to justify sending you as a volunteer, you need to be skilled enough to be worth the cost and the risk. In other words, trying to be a volunteer isn't really much different from looking for an entry level salaried position. The following advice applies to both paid jobs and volunteer work.

You can make yourself worth the cost of hiring by having the right skills. Luckily for the international job seeker, NGOs are looking for a decent range of skills. The first and most obvious is clinical skills- doctors, nurses, PAs, EMTs, or midwives. They also need finance people - CPAs are great but a budgets and bookkeeping background will suffice. Technical experts on agriculture are very much in demand, as are water and sanitation engineers. Lastly, and this is what most of us get in on, they generally need writers. Any NGO doing development or emergency relief work spends about half their time writing reports on what they already did, applying for grants to do more things, and writing success stories to encourage private donors. They need native English speakers to write this stuff. If you don't have any of the necessary skills, you can gain them. You can train to be an EMT, or find a job where you work with budgets. Writing newsletters or grant applications for your local animal rescue group, neighborhood association, or homeless shelter isn't exactly the same as writing them for an international organization, but it's close enough to get you hired. [...]

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