Perspectives: What are some of your primary responsibilities and/or areas of specialty at Dalberg Advisors?

 SS: I am an agriculture/nutrition specialist at Dalberg and have done a number of projects in those areas. Dalberg makes a solid effort at matching staff with their areas of interest, though ultimately assignments are based on whatever projects are in the pipeline.

 Perspectives: What does your day to day look like?

 SS: It’s quite varied. As an associate consultant, one’s primary responsibilities revolve around A) conducting research and analysis (largely desk research, with some degree of quantitative analysis as well), B) building content, essentially the slide deck for the client, and C) supporting the strategy/problem-solving behind the deliverable. The last part involves brainstorming sessions with the team, developing and sharing hypotheses based on the research, helping draft the storyline for the slide deck, and participating in expert interviews. Consultants and senior consultants perform work similar to associate consultants, though their portfolio of responsibilities is skewed more towards the last two parts I mentioned and less towards conducting desk research.

 Often teams are scattered across our 20+ global offices, so we take quite a few Skype or Zoom calls during the week for alignment, work planning, brainstorming, reporting, etc. However, despite being in different offices and with time zone differences, etc. we tend to work very closely as teams. There are typically 3-5 people on a team representing the full spectrum of staff from interns to partners.

 Perspectives: What are some ways you achieve a healthy work-life balance, given the strenuous schedule of a consultant?

 SS: Regular sleep, exercise and social time are essential. Also, creative personal time. I’d mention too that it’s important not to let personal time and work time blur. Keep distinctions as best you can. Embrace the 80/20 (work/life) principle early and don’t spend too much time worrying about how people think of you, which is a common consulting insecurity. Don’t burn the candle at both ends trying to make the impression of being overly industrious or committed. The marginal potential increase in your boss’s perception of you is not worth the personal cost. And communicate one’s needs – people are receptive and more accommodating than one may first imagine.

 Perspectives: How did you get your job as an Associate Consultant at Dalberg?

 SS: In my final semester at SAIS I applied for Dalberg’s graduate analyst internship and was placed in the Africa regional, Johannesburg office. After several months I was offered a full-time position in South Africa. However, due to various reasons, I requested that I be transferred to the Americas region. Dalberg was very accommodating and moved me over to the D.C. office.

 I will note that SAIS graduates of the 2-year MA program are not eligible to apply for the Analyst position at Dalberg, as the firm wants to respect the value and investment of a 2-year master’s degree and place someone at the Associate Consultant level, which is the next step after Analyst. But SAIS graduates of the 1-year MIEF program, for example, can apply for the Analyst position.

 Perspectives: What part of your SAIS experience, be it a specific class, extracurricular, or internship, contributed most to your professional career?

 SS: I found the financial modeling and project finance classes very useful in terms of building professional skills, as well as the consulting skills course. Technical coursework is recommended, especially for those with interest in development, a field in which people often have qualitative backgrounds – it makes you stand out a bit. At SAIS, taking some pure IR courses helped build regional intuition which has helped me in the case of Latin America where I have been involved in project work.

 Perspectives: What are some tips you would give to students seeking a job in the private sector for development, either at Dalberg or a similar firm?

 SS: I would say building strong technical and topic area skills and experience as well as considering taking a detour through the private sector world before jumping over to private sector for development as, increasingly, development is being driven by private sector actors. Having a background there is thus useful and builds your overall skillset. Get to know people at Dalberg or the like to ascertain if this sub-sector is the right fit for you; people are typically very happy to share experiences. And anything in the consulting, finance, development implementation (i.e. DAI, Chemonics), as well as think tank fields are useful bridges to development consulting.

 Perspectives: How easy is it for international students to work in the U.S.-based Dalberg offices, or alternatively, for U.S. citizens to work in one of your abroad offices?

 SS: It’s quite easy; we have a number of nationalities represented in the D.C. office alone. We also have a fair degree of mobility between offices, so transfers as well as semi-permanent relocations to work in other offices for “x” number of months is not uncommon. Some offices are more restrictive in hiring as labor laws can make it prohibitively difficult to hire foreigners (e.g. South Africa). Dalberg does it’s best to accommodate good candidates though.

As narrated to Sarah Sassoon, Editor, SAIS Perspectives.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bernard Spragg. NZ, from Flickr Creative Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0