Wondering how to get started working in the field? Struggling with not enough experience but eager to cut your teeth at a premier international organisation? The “Get that Gig” series explores unadvertised positions at international institutions around the world, with tips from those who’ve already […]
Back when I’d first moved to Bonn, I was pretty sure I was going to become a photographer. So I bought a DSLR, made my family pose for hundreds of photographs, and spent hours playing around on LightRoom, trying in vain to become a pro […]
“It’s fun and challenging to work with a large group of really intelligent people,” says Mike Simon, who spent two years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BGMF)’s business intelligence department.
The attire is casual, the work environment is stunning – pine wood panelling and whiteboards everywhere, ready to capture any itinerant idea that may solve global poverty.
The pace is fast – you’ll be expected to contribute to the debate around pressing issues of our time, to think fast and implement quickly (lean startup style), and take charge of your own professional development.
And the Foundation operates very much like a startup. Large atriums offer space to relax – because you might well be spending evenings in the office. People come to work wearing big black backpacks, and jeans.
Working at BGMF is not for the lackadaisical, and the sharp, intelligent, and extremely diverse group of individuals who make up the Foundation reflect its commitment to recruiting the brightest. So how do you become part of that elite group, working at what one of the Foundation’s Deputy Directors describes as a “purpose driven organization, with smart colleagues and amazing benefits” ?
1. Be pro-privatisation.
Bill Gates might want every child to grow up with a computer – but he wants to make sure it’s a Microsoft computer.
Along with several other American billionaires pouring millions into their own initiatives, BGMF aims to solve structural inequalities in science, education, public health, and agriculture, through private solutions.
This doesn’t sit well with everyone. NYU education historian Diane Ravitch criticises the Gates Foundation’s “persistent funding of groups that want to privatize public education,” and BGMF also has a reputation for supporting the commercialisation of seeds – death to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
You don’t get that option. When working at an international organisation like BGMF, your voice is expected to fall in line with the overarching rhetoric of the organisation’s mission and vision. In this case, it’s relentless improvement (read: fail fast, startup style), and implementing to solve the individual’s problem, not necessarily prioritising the best interests of the entire community.
2. Speak only about the issues, not the Gates.
“We’re not allowed to say anything about the Foundation,” an employee at the Nigeria office told me. “You need permission to even use [Bill Gate’s] name publicly.”
Discretion is incredibly important, and you’ll need to be very good at being very quiet outside the office about your projects, your observations, and your opinions.
“Microsoft is all about intellectual property,” says Jeff Raikes, who ran the Foundation for six years, “and so is the Gates Foundation.” The products of your work will become intellectual property of the Foundation, accomplishments for your CV, ultimately attributed to the brilliance of Bill and Melinda Gates. Not you.
But you’ll be left with the feeling of having contributed to the world’s largest philanthropic organisation, working alongside some of the brightest in the international development field, and those lines on your CV will speak volumes for years to come.
3. Get good at innovation jargon.
Back when we were in college, my roommate Rachel and I spent each year testing out different careers, and then comparing notes. Between us, we tried out the titles of investment banker, Democratic Party brownnoser, personal assistant to the blind, philanthropy consultant, human rights activist etc. Sometimes, fed up of the changes and desperate to find where I truly fit, I’d turn to her and lament woefully that it was all too much.
“That’s okay,” she’d say, “You’re simply pivoting.”
It sounded smart, but was really just a way to say: hmm, that didn’t quite work, let’s try something else. However, in order to succeed at the Gates Foundation, you’ve got to make words like “pivoting” a core part of your vocabulary, along with the hundreds of other semi-meaningless buzzwords popularised by the advent of Silicon Valley’s success into popular culture.
“I like to think of our partner network as a hub of innovation,” says Susan Desmond-Hellman, the Foundation’s current CEO. What’s a partner network? What’s an innovation hub? What do either have to do with sustainable development?
Learn the meaning of these buzzwords, sprinkle them liberally throughout your CV, Cover Letter, and responses to interview questions, and watch your peers nod knowingly.
Apply here for vacancies at the Gates Foundation.
We sit across from each other, broad cups of peppermint tea cupped in our hands, oblivious to everyone else. I am seduced by his wavy blond hair and blue eyes, easy smile and rich vocabulary. Earlier that evening, he told me about graduating from the […]
“Do you like telling people what to do?” Jennifer had asked me, only half joking, during our informal interview for my first major consulting role. “Oh, yes, very much,” I’d laughed back, half serious, remembering a childhood full of being called “bossy,” later tempered by […]
The World Bank hires nearly 4000 consultants for its worldwide projects, to lead research studies in Bangladesh, design mobile applications for cocoa farmers in Cameroon, and invest in Ecuador, among others.
Consultants can come from any country, and are provided with a fixed contract, compensation between USD 250 – 1000 per day, and the opportunity to play a key role in the project, part of a team driving impact in one of the Bank’s priority areas. Consulting contracts are also one of the best ways to join the Bank, and once you’re in, apply for a permanent or long-term position that includes paid vacation and benefits.
So how exactly do you land one of these coveted positions? Here’s what you need:
1. Come with a background in business or economics.
Although the World Bank brands itself as a policy organisation, with employees from a variety of backgrounds and professions, the vast majority of the Bank’s work focuses on economic analysis, statistics, modelling, research, and quantitative data.
But working at the Bank differs from being an analyst at a for-profit financial institution or consulting company in that the work is always flavoured with that policy-for-development atmosphere – you’ll be expected to have some understanding of the issues facing developing countries, and how adequate and appropriate policy and financing can help drive growth in GDP.
If you don’t have a business or economics background, you’ll need to prove (both in your application adn interview) that you’re comfortable with heavily quantitative work, and hanging out with economists all day long, talking about the opportunity cost of every decision.
2. Know what you’re good at, and be good at what you know.
The World Bank is not for beginners. If you’re dreaming of one day walking to work at the office in Washington D.C, go get your foot in the door at a bank in London, or a microfinance in Tanzania, and stay there until you’re really, really good at one niche area.
“The Bank is continually looking for experienced professionals,” says HR at the World Bank, meaning that you’ve already been working for five to seven years after your studies, and able to produce high-quality, error-free work and communication – in other words, seek to be the best.
Okay, does “the best in the world” really exist? Probably not. But you need to be excellent at what you do – whether its digital payment systems in Cote d’Ivoire for a project on microfinance in West Africa, or producing technical reports on the rate of debt repayment in HIPCs, and demonstrate that by listing in your CV (and discussing in your interview) previous examples of your ability to undertake the duties in the job description quickly, efficiently, and with minimal supervision.
Not sure what you’re good at? Get my free highly-detailed CV guide here, which shows you how to figure out what you’re truly great at:
3. Understand the issues.
This is for all you mid-career professionals trying to get into the Bank from the private sector: the World Bank is a development-focused organisation. They are not simply looking for former bankers, those who are adept with numbers and Excel, and people who are human calculators. They seek, above all, those with a passion for improving the livelihoods of those in low-income countries, and even if you’re extremely quick with mental maths and have a passion for Stata, you will not have a successful career at the Bank without both passion for and extensive awareness of the issues affecting low-income countries, and how governments and the Bank itself has previously tried (and perhaps, failed) to solve them.
4. Play the game, not the politics.
Because its ultra international, well-financed, and you’re always going to have interesting work, the Bank can be an exciting place to work. Your colleagues will be from all over the world, with a myriad of interests, backgrounds, and histories, and your work will be as exciting as global politics. But the Bank has its own issues, and as a consultant, you can insure your own job security by staying far away from them. Instead, once you’ve figured out how to do your job (and, as mentioned, do it extremely well), make sure your supervisor and her supervisor are aware of what you’re doing, how you’re contributing to the team, and why you’re such a valuable part of the organisation. The more they value your fit with the team and the quality of your work, the more likely they are to seek opportunities (i.e., other contracts) for you to stay with the Bank, or to support you if you apply for an internal position congruent to your consultancy.
Looking to get your foot in the door as a consultant at the World Bank?