Saturday, April 11, 2015

A New Job, Part Deux

An appropriate question, tucked behind the door of a
truckstop bathroom in Zambia.
I thought that buying a house would be fun (all those HGTV shows couldn’t be wrong, could they?). Imagine my surprise when the process was much more emotional and fraught with fear than I anticipated. Where do I find a plumber? What happens when my wash machine breaks? What the heck is escrow?

Job hunting is much the same way. It sounds like fun to start a new job, turn a new page, but it is fraught with more emotional pitfalls than a Nicholas Sparks novel. I’ve already written about a good way to start. But, somewhere in this process you have to figure out more or less where you want to go, and what skills you have to get there.

What skills have I picked up during the last ten years in International Development? Some days, it feels like just showing up. Other days, it feels like something useful. Here’s a run down of some of the more useful aspects:
  1. Experience dealing with being totally overwhelmed and under-prepared: In International Development, this seems to be concentrated in two- three week stints where you asked to do the impossible. My first four months on the job in my first job ever, I got sent to set up an office in Azerbaijan (negotiating the lease, buying furniture, finding and setting up the phone system). I’d never even done this stateside, let alone in a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language. How this was a good idea, I don’t know, but I learned a ton. Somehow, in spite of myself (and more likely, because of better local staff) it got done.
  2. Flexibility: Every year I am asked by my current employer to rate myself on how my work flexibility. Every year, I laugh. This is the same firm that once asked me to fly to East Timor on three day’s notice.
  3. Ability to “Learn on the Fly”: No one on staff that knows how to use pivot tables, or create maps from GPS data? No problem. It only takes time, and electricity (and likely, a fair bit of You Tube). I actually love this part of my job.
  4. Writing/Copy-Editing: Reports. Reports, reports, reports. No longer a dirty word, learning to write well (especially technical writing, translating M&E data into digestible results) is extraordinarily important. So is scanning the previously created field document for typos, or mis-captioned photos of cattle going to the bathroom.*
Many of these are “soft skills”, transferrable anywhere, which gives me hope. I have managed get experience in something, however non-technical.  I doubt my new office environment will really be curious about the going price of copy machines in Baku however, so I must still rephrase my experience and retool my resume.

After covering this ground, I’m now left with the darker, more existential part of the job hunt experience: actually applying. Which leads me to my next hurdle: geography and phase of life has means that for wider options, I may have to look outside the field international development. If not entirely, then at least cutting down on the 30% travel I did before moving to Malawi. But what do to? Where to start? It’s scary. It’s liberating. 

Perhaps it’s not my skills set that’s limiting my exploration. It could also be lack of my own imagination, willingness to give up my frequent flyer mileage status (Platinum, FTW!) and my professional (and somewhat personal) identity.

I suspect that last step – personal identity – is the doozy. But I'm hoping that, much becoming a first-time home owner, once you get over the initial hump everything seems to work out ok.

*really happened

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