by Sweta Shah, Plan International, USA
What are the skills and competencies that organizations are looking for in Education in emergencies staff? How can I get a job in this field?
Students and young professions trying to get into the Education in Emergencies (EiE) field ask me these types of questions regularly. And while it is not impossible, it can seem like a difficult and daunting endeavor, especially to get that first job. About 15 years ago, it was much easier to get a job doing education in emergencies work, but as the field has become more professionalized, competition has increased and it has become harder to get EiE jobs.
As someone who has navigated through the system and who does a lot of recruitment for EiE positions for Plan International, I have some tips to share.
Tips on getting your foot in the door
- Build Your Network: The #1 advice I have for those that want to enter the EiE field is to build up a strong network. You can do this by attending INEE and other events in your city focused on EiE. When you go to these events, introduce yourself. Don’t be shy to say ‘hello’ and meet someone new.
- Set up “Informational Interviews”: Use the work you have done in your studies to get “informational interviews” and build that network. If you wrote a paper on a particular subject, use your school to set up a panel discussion or presentation. You can also send a person a copy of your work and say that you would like to talk them about it or simply that you would like to talk to them about some work they do.
- Get Field Experience: Field experience implementing EiE programs is the best way to get a job in the EiE field and it should not be for just 6 months or 1 year. You should work on EiE programs for at least a few years. That is because most of the available jobs that are not administrative are in the field where programs are implemented. Non-administrative technical jobs based at headquarter locations make up a smaller percentage of overall EiE jobs available and usually require years of experience working in developing countries. Field experience also provides the credibility to do a technical advisor role at a head-quarters location. The more field experience you gain, the more credibility you will have later in your career. Many students ask me how to get that first field experience. And it’s true because once you get your first field experience, it will lead to more experiences. This could mean that you need to volunteer, do a short term consultancy or work in a hard location.
- Strengthen Language Skills: Advanced speaking and writing ability to work professionally in English, Spanish, French and Arabic can be really important and can set you apart from other candidates. You do not need to be able to speak all of these and other languages, but in addition to English, speaking one more language can be advantageous, especially if that language is the majority language in a country where you want to work. Recruiters may test your language skills if it is in your CV so be honest with your ability in the language. Take the time to advance your language skills.
- Develop Strong Writing Skills: Agencies often need short term consultants to write proposals, reports etc… and this could be a way to get into the Eie field. Someone who has strong writing skills, who can write proposals, reports etc… can be very valuable to an organization.
- Develop a Particular Expertise in Something within EiE: the EiE field has many aspects and while it is important to gain knowledge and experience in all areas, it can also be advantageous to develop a particular specialty, especially if it’s something you are passionate about. Some areas could include teacher training, early childhood, working with children with special needs, gender etc.
- Develop Research Skills: If you are able, learn about research methods during your studies. This can help you get short term consultancies in developing countries doing assessments, baselines and evaluations. This could help you get your foot in the door with a particular organization that could lead to further opportunities.
- Show Your Soft Skills: Problem solving, creativity, entrepreneurship, motivation – those are very important skills that I look for in candidates. I want to know about someone’s character and soft skills along with their academic background, the number of trainings they have attended, the experience they have and the languages they speak. There could be many opportunities to show a potential employer these skills such as during an informational session or an interview.
Sweta Shah is the Global Education in Emergencies Specialist for Plan International. She supports Plan’s education and early childhood development in emergencies programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Prior to working with Plan, Sweta worked with UNICEF, INEE, International Rescue Committee and Child Fund. Sweta has been working in the humanitarian and development fields for over 15 years and has experience in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. She has a Masters in International Development Studies from George Washington University and is pursuing a PhD in Education at the Institute of Education in the UK. A long time INEE member, Sweta represents Plan International at the INEE WG on Minimum Standards.