This blog series, inspired by our P2P+ employer spotlight session, began with tips for choosing the right opportunities at EnCompass and how to put your best foot forward, and then talked about how to look at the broader market and begin building your network. This post shares insights for building on your strengths and developing the skills you will need to move ahead.
Understanding your strengths
When looking to build your skills, think about what skills you already have. Consider all of your strengths, not just your technical skills. Are you an active learner? Someone who is great at taking an idea and driving it to completion? Are you good at working across teams? Are you a problem solver extraordinaire? Are you an extrovert who has never met a person they didn’t love? Are you an introvert who is exceptional at noticing what others miss? These are all valuable skills you can highlight and that may give you some ideas about where to dive into further learning and development.
Start by asking yourself:
- What are your current skills and strengths? Where do you feel you can contribute most at this time? Where do you want to grow?
- How do you demonstrate commitment to quality in your work? What does “quality” mean to you?
- How do you provide excellent service/support to your project and team? What makes you someone that others want to work with?
- What types of tasks do you most enjoy? Think about a time you had a great sense of pride in your professional accomplishments. What did you do? What made that so special?
- What does self-care look like for you? How do you ensure that you have the strength and energy to bring your best self to work?
While you are thinking, jot down some notes to review when you are prepping for your interview. You may not want to share all of your reflections, but chances are some of your notes will be useful.
Online tools like the CliftonStrengths Finder or VIA Survey of Character Strengths can also help people explore their strengths. None of these tools are perfect. In my experience, the results will resonate more with some than others, but they are often a good starting point for self-reflection.
Showcasing and building your talents
In terms of building and showcasing your talents, look for opportunities to get involved and to generate visibility and connections. Volunteer for communities of practice, use your LinkedIn and social media accounts to join global conversations around the field of evaluation. Present your work at conferences (many are virtual right now) or, if you are not quite ready to present, try to facilitate a panel. Read some of the latest literature. What better conversation starter in an interview than to share your reflections on the last evaluation book you read? For those of you who are starting out, I recommend Donna Podems’ Being an Evaluator. After you read something interesting or complete a project at work, consider writing a blog. You can publish your own blog or guest blog for many sites, including ALNAP.
Look for mentorship opportunities, formal or informal, and conduct informational interviews with people from your target organizations and beyond. Ask them to share how they got to where they are and try to make concrete connections to your experience. You will likely hear fascinating stories about how they found themselves in evaluation and be introduced to other people who you can add to your network. Do your research ahead of time and have some relevant questions ready to ask! Schedule informational interviews for 15–30 minutes to make it as easy as possible to connect.
AEA, CES, UNEG, and others have shared what they feel are standard competencies for evaluators. Reviewing this information will help you familiarize yourself with what these organizations value. These competencies are all still very much emerging, being debated and defined. Understanding where things stand now is helpful as you think about how to position yourself and what to share.
If you are interested in professional development workshops or courses, there is a wide range of offerings out there, from free, self-paced courses to graduate degree programs. In 2019, EnCompass launched the EnCompass Learning Center to provide top quality evaluation courses online, taught by world-renowned faculty and designed to be practical and participatory in nature. While we do our best to offer a range of courses (of different durations and prices), we know that not everyone can attend these courses. For this reason, we also provide scholarship opportunities for YEEs through EvalYouth and Washington Evaluators. We also organize special panel events that are free of charge and open to all.
Keep your eyes on the road ahead
Entering a new field and developing new expertise takes time. It is often a learning journey with many twists and turns along the way. I have yet to meet anyone who is doing exactly what they expected to do when they first began. Evaluation, in many ways, is still in the process of emerging. The beauty (or opportunity) associated with this is that there is a lot of open space for people to bring a variety of talents and passions and technical expertise to the important work we all do.
We wish you all the best and hope that you will connect with us and see if there may be a fit between your skills and our needs. We have been fortunate to grow as a company, and are hiring across our practice areas and in many places around the world. Our USAID Technical, Operational, and Program Support (TOPS) Institutional Support Contract will give us the opportunity to open up even more positions as we will be recruiting and hiring long and short-term technical assistance providers for USAID’s Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation as well as their other operating units. Keep an eye out for those new opportunities!