How to become a consultant at the World Bank

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:

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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?

A friend of mine is hiring someone for her team 🙂

3 reasons you’re not getting that P-3

“My passion lies with handling complex often chaotic situations and putting order. I love the excitement of large scale events, writing and overall organisation,” Laura wrote to me in March. “I’d love to be working at the U.N. handling international conferences.”

It’s everyone’s dream job – that coveted P-3 position at the U.N. And why not? After all, Laura is smart, passionate about helping people, and ready to do just about anything. Plus, she has a sense of what she likes to do, and she’d love to do it at the world’s premier humanitarian agency – the United Nations itself.

“Sounds good,” I wanted to tell her, but what about the rest of the requirements?

And that’s what most people are missing: behind the veneer of a required Master’s degree and “five years of experience”, your rejection letters indicate that you’re missing one of the unspoken requirements:

1. You don’t have enough relevant experience.

The UN requires a minimum of five years of relevant work experience – meaning that you have to be able to show, in your application, that you have already done the kind of work directly related to the job to which you’re applying.

The “Press Officer” job description – a P-3 position based in New York – simply says “Experience covering meetings and press conferences by following the proceedings, taking notes of the discussions and writing summaries is desirable.” But if they select you for the job, they’ll expect you to know how to take notes at a fast-paced meeting in Washington D.C., where you might not understand anyone’s accents, then summarise your notes within 24 hours to have the notes published on the UN website, in perfect grammar, and emailed to colleagues in Geneva and Nairobi (communication skills and time management). They’ll also expect you to have done all of this before, twice.

If your CV is simply a list of jobs that don’t have anything to do with the P-3 role you want, even if they are great jobs, you will not be selected. And in many cases, those at P-3 level have been working for over five years – developing, besides their “relevant experience,” their professionalism, listening skills, and executive function.

2. You don’t have a specialisation.

Don’t be fooled by generic job titles – at P-3 level, the UN is looking for people who are able to hit the ground running, who have begun to develop expertise in a certain area (e.g., sustainable electricity policy in developing countries, or budgeting)

The job title might seem open-ended – “Economic Affairs Officer” at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – but the requirements are specific: someone with a Master’s degree in Economics, with five years of work experience doing research on investment for international development (they mean work experience as an analyst at a development bank or private equity fund in your home country), who’s going to be doing a lot of desk work and statistics, and will need to produce reports.

3. Your language skills are missing.

If I could climb the rooftops of Geneva and scream this at every single intern there, I would, until I lost my voice. If you want a career at the United Nations, you need perfect English, and your French needs to be very good, simply because it’s the unspoken second language of the United Nations. And stop making excuses; the UN is full of non-native speakers who might have been refugees or children of expats, but all of whom learnt to read, write, and speak English like a native speaker. This is a basic and fundamental requirement. Once your English is perfect, make sure your French is, too.

You meet all these requirements, and you’re still not getting responses to your UN job applications?


Learn how to make sure your CV is at the top of the pile, the one they picked because it matches EXACTLY what they’re looking for.

Get my completely free e-book filled with 30 pages of step-by-step guidance on how to write your CV, fill it with relevant experience, and create a specialization for you. 


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Photo by my dear friend Dallas.