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.

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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 🙂