Everything you wanted to know about becoming a consultant for the World Bank
“Let me break it down for you,” Sarah, a consultant based at the World Bank in Washington D.C. tells me over the phone, her passion for her work evident in her voice.
“At the Bank, there are full-time staff, either on a “term” appointment (which can range from one to five years), or on an open-ended term.
“There are the short-term consultants (STCs), who can work for 150 days/year, unless you work in a fragile state, in which case, you work for 190 days/year.”
“And there are extended term consultants (ETCs), who are given a one-year contract. It’s renewable for one more year, and you can work a maximum of two years for your whole life time, after which there’s a cooling off period for one year, during which you have to either leave the bank or get a permanent job (even if it’s at the Bank, but you must apply for it via the online portal).”
Consulting positions are often considered an easier way to get into international organisations, as the application process is usually shorter even if the necessary documents to apply are often the same.
On interviewing for a short-term position:
“I was introduced to the office manager informally by a friend, and set up an informational interview with her, without knowing any specific openings,” said one consultant, who began working at the Bank in 2014. “After talking to me about half an hour about my general background and skills, she seemed to like me, and then said, one of our teams was looking for someone to fill an administrative position. It is probably not what you are looking for, since you have a master’s degree. But are you willing to try? I said, yes!! I am willing to take any job, to get my foot in the door.
“I had a short interview, less than 20 minutes,” said another short-term consultant. “The supervisor picked me up at the door and went through my resume. We talked briefly about my previous experience and jumped right into discussing the project and what my role would be. We spoke about how my research background relates and what my policy recommendations would be in case of certain eventualities that may affect the project.”
Generally, the questions asked in a short-term consultant interview are some variation of the following:
- What is your previous experience relating to the job?
- How would you apply your experience in this setting?
- Mention some of the challenges you’ve had in the field and how you were able to overcome them.
On getting your foot in the door:
“As I was graduating, I asked one of my contacts if they knew anyone doing communications in development. They had a good friend, and I went to interview her (she’s now my current boss) just to find out what her job is about, what her work is about. She asked me to apply to the Bank. It came in 3 stages:
Stage 1: for me to turn in my resume, Stage 2: shortlist and exam, a 3-hour online exam, Stage 3: in-person interview with the whole team, four people. After that they sent the offer.”
“They like individuals who thrive in a multi-cultural environment, which makes sense given the diverse, global workforce,” said one short-term consultant.
An organisation full of part-time workers:
“Close to a quarter of the World Bank’s 16,000-strong workforce is comprised of consultants,” according to Kelli Rogers of the recruitment firm Devex. Subodh Mathur, an economist and American University adjunct professor originally from India, who has consulted for the bank on various projects over nearly 30 years, adds: “In any project team, there are usually 2–3 consultants. Some of them are looking to their consulting work as a step towards a full-time job. I have the same responsibilities and privileges as a Bank staff member in this work. Of course, I am not the team leader, which can be only a Bank staff member.”
According to a survey conducted by the World Bank Staff Association, across the Banks offices worldwide, there are currently 19 608 contract workers who make up 8,225 full-time equivalent positions, compared to 15 551 employees. The survey found that 66 percent of team leaders said they hire short-term consultants for longer-term projects, half of whom said they do so because it was very difficult to bring on full-time employees.
“STC is the norm for outside consultants,” writes Jon Strand, Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Oslo, who has been contracted as a Senior Economist to the World Bank in Washington D.C. “An STC can be engaged for a maximum of 150 days over one ”fiscal year”, which runs from 1 July to 30 June of the following year.”
On getting paid a fair rate:
“Most consultants are engaged individually, which is administratively simpler for the Bank than engagements through firms,” says Jon. “Some engagements (contracts) can be small ($10,000 – $20,000), while more substantial engagements, range from $50 000 to $100 000 per year in gross pay. The amounts are based on fixed daily rates within the Bank, established for the individual consultant, and depend on several factors including education and years of experience.
“The rates go through HR via a salary matrix, which is public information,” adds Sarah. “Because I was so new to the whole institution, I didn’t know anything about the salary matrix, so I just signed the contract. Being a younger, female employee, it’s sometimes a little tricky to find the courage to negotiate.”
“I am an STC in West Africa with a Master’s degree and am getting the local equivalent of $260/day,” said one Bank consultant, in 2015. “I know someone with similar qualifications (an extra year of experience) making $300, and I also know (of) someone making around $200/day.”
Subodh: “There is a minimum and maximum dollar rate, depending upon seniority. However, these days, the Bank tries not to hire anyone at or close to the allowed maximum. In practice, they stop at the mid-point value. So, for an experienced engineer or economist, the daily rate is about $ 950/day ($142 500 per 150 days) – taxable. People from many countries do not pay taxes on World Bank earnings. Their rate is around $ 625/day ($93 750 per fiscal year for an STC), tax-free. To get rates higher then this, you need very high-level approval – which is very hard to get.
Bappaditya Chakravarty from Bangladesh, who has consulted for the bank, adds: “Rates vary from USD 200 per day to 1200 per day. If you have to travel for work, your per diem allowance, hotel and other out-of-pocket expenses are paid in addition to your regular day rate.”
For positions based in at the Bank’s headquarters in Washington D.C., some STCs feel that having your work visa dependent on your contract with the Bank negatively influences the salary negotiation. “There’s no negotiation power for a G-4 visa holder (International),” added a consultant based in Washington D.C., who applied through a recruiter and was hired in early 2014. The G-4 Visa for an “International Organization officer or employee, and members of immediate family” is offered to non-US citizens, and enables the holder to work with the organization with which they are registered. The G4 visa DOES NOT allow you to take on any additional paid employment with a business that is not the international organisation – in this case, the World Bank. An STC who works on Temporary Duty in the U.S. on a G4 visa cannot stay in the U.S. for more than 90 consecutive calendar days. At the end of each 90-day period, the STC must leave the U.S. and re-enter to work the remaining days on his/her contract.
“It gets expensive,” said Sarah, “You have to leave on your own dollar.” Once all days in the contract are exhausted, the G4 visa holder has to leave immediately.
Does the Bank pay a living wage?
Unless renewed, an STC/STT (Short-term Consultant and Short-term Temporary, respectively) appointment is a periodic appointment for up to a maximum of 150 days or 1 200 hours per fiscal year. Non-US citizens whose work permit is dependent on their contract with the Bank are prohibited from working for anyone else, leaving many to rely on their consulting role as their primary source of income. According to the Washington Post and self-published salary reports on glassdoor.com, short-term consultants make about $44.29 an hour (closer to $36/hour after taxes), which comes out to $53 148 for a 150-day contract, with no benefits. This translates to a per-diem rate of USD$350/day, and can be more depending on whether or not you have a PhD degree in a field relevant to the position for which you’re hired. After self-employment taxes of 15.3%, this leaves many STCs with less than $4000/month, a break-even salary in D.C.’s expensive real estate market where the cost of subletting one bedroom in a house in a safe neighbourhood is easily $1000/month or more. “Paying self employment taxes, social security (along with undergrad and graduate school loans that made me qualified to get in the door) was making it so I was just breaking even,” added one STC who joined the Bank in 2015. This is in stark contrast to full-time employees (considered “staff”): “Professionals” and “Senior Professionals” – who compose over 50% of the Bank’s full-time employees – earn annual salaries of $123 100 and $163 000 respectively, plus more than 50% of their salaries are paid out in benefits, and employees who are not US citizens are not required to pay taxes in the United States. That’s more than double the wage of an STC, often for equivalent work. Consultants who are not US citizens do not have to pay taxes of any kind; instead, the Bank silently deducts the taxable equivalent from their income before payment of wages for the days worked.
On falling in love with your work:
According to the Washington Post, for the vast majority of STCs, the Bank is their main or sole source of income, and in spite of the income inequality with full-time staff, once attained, the role is a cherished position.
“It’s everything I hoped for and more,” says Sarah. “When I was going into development, I thought, okay, working on poverty, that’s a great goal to have. I never thought that I would actually care as much as I do right now, about the world. I’m genuinely surprised that I care so much. I’m very grateful to be exposed to such broad topics from LBGT and human rights to disaster waste management. Because it’s so diverse, I get to see the very different ways of how the World Bank is trying to end poverty.
What’s a typical day like ?
Jihane Bergaoui, from Lebanon, spent two and a half years a short-term consultant based within the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice of the World Bank, working as a regional project coordinator preparing social safety nets for energy subsidy reform, covering Algeria, Djibouti, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
“My tasks varied between technical and programmatic,” she said. “Technical tasks may include anything from drafting country case studies of lessons learned from the implementation of energy subsidy reform or the expansion of social protection programs, to analysing data and summarizing it into a format that can easily disseminated, to implementing knowledge exchange events and trainings on how to prepare social safety nets for subsidy reform for Government Counterparts from across the Middle East and North Africa region. On the programmatic side, my tasks include overseeing our project’s budget, drafting contracts, interviewing consultants, and creating project reports.”
“Most recently, I worked on the Nigeria Electrification Project, a $350 million World Bank loan for solar electricity via mini-grids and standalone solar systems in unserved rural areas, says Subodh. “Most of my work is helping the economic and financial design of path-breaking renewable energy and rural electrification projects in Asia and Africa.”
“My typical day when I was in the World Bank consist of managing, analysis and reporting of economic database of Sudan,” added another economic consultant. “I also conduct macroeconomic modelling for Sudan and Ethiopia. I have learned the importance of institutional capacity building in developing nations in their prosperity and economic growth. The most enjoyable part of the job is the opportunity to meet and participate in the dialogues of the government of Sudan and Ethiopia.”
On growing in your role:
“When I got converted into Extended Term Consultant, I still had to apply to the position” said Sarah. “I still had to compete against other people, otherwise it wouldn’t be fair. I had to submit a CV, a cover letter, and sit for an interview with the whole hiring team.
“I don’t think I’m a communications specialist, I’m a senior communications strategist,” says Lilly Bekele-Piper, who moved to Kenya with her husband and four children, and now works with the Bank as a consultant in Nairobi. “As women, we have to take the lead in defining who we are for other people. For me, the next opportunity down the road is getting to that manager/director/CEO level. I’m not going to get there if I let everyone tell me what I am.
On the need to be flexible:
Says Jihane: “As a consultant, there is no such thing as an average day. My workload varies based on the day-to-day needs of the projects I am working on, as well as the internal and external demands of the World Bank. My tasks also vary between technical and programmatic. Technical tasks may include anything from drafting country case studies of lessons learned from the implementation of energy subsidy reform or the expansion of social protection programs, to analysing data and summarizing it into a format that can easily disseminated, to implementing knowledge exchange events and trainings on how to prepare social safety nets for subsidy reform for Government Counterparts from across the Middle East and North Africa region. On the programmatic side, my tasks include overseeing our project’s budget, drafting contracts, interviewing consultants, and creating project reports.”
“When you’re a consultant, you have to be able to show skills that work across sectors,” says Lilly. “I’ve worked in governance, education, health, gender. None of those are what my degrees are in. And most likely, I’m not going to be a subject matter expert in anything except education [which is what I studied]. However, I can show the cross-functional skills: research, writing, team building, leadership. That’s what I’m I’m trying to develop.”
On dealing with extensive travel:
“For several years, I often travelled for two weeks at a time,” says Lilly. “I didn’t mind the travel so long as it gave me the opportunity to grow and use my skills. I negotiated the time with my partner, and I’m lucky because I have a supportive partner. But when my kids are on summer break, I really do try and take 5-6 weeks off. I have a friend who works like crazy during some months so that she can have certain months completely offline.”
“The pace can however be gruelling,” adds another consultant, based in Washington D.C. “Travel (which at first may be fun) soon becomes excessive: I sometimes had to travel to and from Central Asia back to DC three non-consecutive weeks a month!”
“While typical World Bank staff positions do require an extensive amount of time being on mission, I do believe that living and working in the field for an extended amount of time is a much richer learning experience,” says Jihane.
On taking opportunity into your own hands:
“I have one year on this contract, and then we’ll see if I get renewed,” says Sarah. “I have open conversations with my managers about it. I told them that I would like to leave the bank after these 2 years, because I want to go work in the field a little bit. Field experience is very important, especially in development. I have been openly chatting with them, especially about my plans. It’s good that I want to have external experience, but they hope that I will come back to bank.”
“The opportunity will not always present itself, sometimes we have to create our own,” said Jihane. “After applying for World Bank positions based in the MENA region for the past year to no avail, I decided to fund my own move to Beirut, with the blessing of my team. My decision paid off within a month of me being here. Because I am already in the field, it costs much less for me to participate in missions than it would have if I was still located in Washington, DC, thereby allowing me to participate in missions much more frequently.”
“This is my 10th years as a consultant,” says Lilly, “And it’s really been, having to reinvent myself and reinvent my CV to appeal to where the current opportunity is. “I’ve begun to define exactly what I think my title should be, provide a rationale for it, then propose it to my bosses, along with all the other things I wanted. That’s changed how they introduce me to other people, and it’s raised my profile in the sector.”
You can explore the current openings for short-term consultants here and explore full-time roles at the World Bank here. Additionally, the World Bank’s Young Professionals Programme is open for applications from June 1 -30 only.
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