Tell us about your job!

It’s a one-year fellowship/training program for people with graduate degrees who want to work overseas in the development field. After orientation and, before you are dispatched to your country program, you’re given a big check list of the different departments and processes  (Programming/Project Implementation, Business Development, Project Design & Proposal Writing), Monitoring & Evaluation, Emergency Response, Operation) in a typical country program with accompanying required activities to be completed during your fellowship year. With this checklist you develop a work plan to be followed during the fellowship year, after which you are assessed on whether you have sufficiently developed the skills and competencies to transition to a Program Manager PM1 position. After you are approved as PM ready, you are guaranteed a PM1 position and can apply to PM1 jobs in the over 100 different CRS country programs. I like it because unlike other overseas development jobs, you are given a period of on the ground training and learning across different roles and departments to figure out what would be a good fit for you.

What are you doing day-to-day?

I don’t really have a day-to-day fixed schedule because during my fellowship year I am supposed to move around a bit and have a feel of all the different aspects of the country program. Depending on what I have planned on my work plan for that month, I could be assisting with the design of a new project, writing a proposal, conducting an assessment or specific activity on the field, analyzing data collected, shadowing a project manager or supporting the operations team.  It also  depends on the needs of the country program you’re in. For example, this year in the Niger office there has been a lot of project design and proposal development so I have spent a good amount of time supporting that.

Did you know you wanted to work in this field or for this organisation?

By my last year at SAIS I knew I wanted to work in development and I knew I wanted to start off with direct field experience. Staying in DC felt too far removed. I spoke with Setu and she recommended that fellowships would give me the experience I wanted, mentioning the CRS and ODI fellowships in particular. I did my research and attended the IDFP session presented by CRS at SAIS. I liked the idea of a holistic training in all aspects of development work.

How did you make it happen?

It was a long process which started in September and ended around March. The online application was quite simple with a resume and an essay. The next level was a recorded video interview. After that there was language test, as proficiency in French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese is a requirement. Finally, there was a daylong visit to their headquarters in Baltimore in February for in-person interviews and discussions. To prepare Setu connected me with a past SAIS IDEV alumni who’d previously been a fellow and she let me know what to expect. After this, I was notified that I was part of the final 25 selected for the fellowship and that they would go on to check my references. Shortly after I was asked to provide my geographic and programmatic preferences, so they could match me with a country program. In March, I was officially offered the fellowship, with Niger as my host country program.

What’s the most useful thing you did at SAIS to land this job? 

Continuing my French language classes to help with the language requirement. Also, the Introduction to Development class and IDEV classes in general had given me a good background in development issues. However, the most useful thing came from the careers department at SAIS Bologna: when we arrived, career services made us come up with 7 stories and practice recorded video interviews. It seemed useless at the time, but it wasn’t until I went through the CRS application process that I realized how helpful it was!    

Give us your top tips for those looking for a job in development this year.

The most important thing is to be flexible and willing to try different things and go to different places - development is such a broad field, the critical thing is just to get your foot in the door somehow. Also talk to people about your interests to find out what’s going on where – I may never have found out about this fellowship if I hadn’t spoken to Setu. And then just keep searching and applying!  

As narrated to Grace Cramer, Senior Editor, SAIS Perspectives. 

To learn about other recent SAIS graduates' work, visit this page

PHOTO CREDIT: Gustave Deghilage from Flickr licensed under