3 tips to a job at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“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.”

Ah, “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.

My work experience before my Master’s degree does not count. Or does it?

“I am 34 years old, I finished my Master’s 6 months ago and I have only 6 months of experience after my Master’s. Yet, I have more than 4 years’ experience before that (NGOs, international companies, universities, freelance consultant).

“When development job vacancies pop-up, they require work experience AFTER a Master’s. I end up thinking that everything I’ve done before is worthless. This requirement of post-master’s experience obliges me to keep applying only for internships (this seems to be the only option for people with “technically” no experience after a Master’s) and I seriously doubt how useful it is to have 10 internships and traineeships in my CV (meaning I am not yet worthy of a real job, even after several working years).”

Your dreams come true: a PAID internship in Paris


This post originally appeared on WhyDev.


One horribly hot and sweaty summer, I found myself sitting on our itchy mid-century beige sofa, applying for job after job while my roommate went off to her paid internship at a large, multinational organisation. I was envious; I, too, wanted to get dressed up in nice clothes and go do important work that would affect the lives of millions of people, but after sending off literally hundreds of application forms to human rights and international development organisations, I was no closer to getting a job, or even an interview.

The year before, I’d fallen in love with international development after a stint at a microfinance in Madagascar, and thought I had what it takes to make it in this field: an understanding of specific development needs, a passion for helping others, an eagerness to share knowledge, and the gift of being a “people-person”.

But working in Madagascar, like in so many developing countries, was emotionally and culturally challenging, besides, I wanted to improve my French. I sent out email after email to organisations all over France, but it seemed completely futile, because lots of positions required EU nationality. I began to feel horribly naïve, thinking NGOs would be interested in my education, international experience, creative mind and great set of soft skills.

Towards September, just when I was getting really desperate, came a lovely, warm email from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris: was I available for an interview on Skype, 3pm Central European Time? A week later, my internship was confirmed, and I was over the moon.

But while large organisations like the OECD can teach you a great deal about the international development system, and I was eager to get started, Paris is expensive, and the idea of living from hand to mouth was daunting, to say the least.

Happily, the OECD traineeship program pays every intern at its Paris headquarters a monthly stipend of 554,40 euro, which can be supplemented by a grant from the Erasmus+ Traineeship Grant, awarded by partner universities in participating countries and ranging from €390 to €700 per month for the duration of the internship.

Best of all, you don’t need a French or European work permit to start working there. The majority of the interns are affiliated with a University in the OECD countries (particularly France and the US), but you don’t need to be an EU citizen or come from an OECD member country in order to apply.

Wondering how you, too, can be selected for a paid internship at the world’s premier policy organisation, living and working in the heart of Paris?

Here’s how:

1. State your skills clearly.

The OECD selects for applicants with academic backgrounds in a discipline related to the work of the organisation’s research-oriented work, (which can range from social affairs, trade, agriculture, development, education, to employment, finance, and statistics), with strong quantitative skills and international experience in research and analytical activities. The more you emphasize these points and demonstrate your ability to undertake tasks requiring these skills, the better your chance of being selected.

2. Cater to the role, and not to the organisation as a whole.

There are over 15 Directorates at the OECD and the intern network is quite localised to each Directorates. Most intern roles involve some form of research work, reasoning, analytical and writing (drafting or synthesising) skills are very much valued. In my application to the OECD’s Business and Industry Advisory Committee, I headlined my published research on financial regulatory frameworks, and work experience in knowledge management, liaison, and coordination – the latter of which were specifically requested in the job description.

3. Demonstrate that you’re a global citizen.

The OECD produces policy recommendations for 35 member countries around the world. It’s a big responsibility. You’re expected to be capable of working in a team in a multicultural and international environment, and the OECD requires written and spoken fluency in either English or French.

4. Show the link between your studies and the OECD internship.

Most interns are enrolled in programs such as international relations, public policy, economics, political science, and other fields relevant to the work of the organisation. Those who are still working on their master theses usually link their topic to the work they do at the OECD. In my emails with the HR manager, I mentioned that I was enrolled in a Master’s degree in international public policy, and that the internship would help me better understand my coursework and reading.

5. Show you can do the job before you get the job.

Although you’re applying for an internship, your application is the first element of communication in a relationship that might last longer than six months, particularly if you’re asked to stay on and start a consultancy, or a full-time job at the organisation. HR will look for candidates who demonstrate their likelihood of performing well before they ever set foot in the organisation’s Paris headquarters. Hard work and commitment are extremely appreciated, and you can improve your chances of being selected by demonstrating your passion for the research topics on which you’ll be focusing, and your commitment to the discipline.


Ready to apply but not sure where to begin? Click here to get the exact scripts and techniques I used to successfully get a position at the OECD.


Top photo by Jasmine Ng, with kind permission.