M&E Careers Webinar with Leslie Sherriff

Online Graduate Certificate in Monitoring & Evaluation Adjunct Professor Leslie Sherriff presented on March 4, 2016 on careers in the field. She went into detail on industries, job roles, and skills needed for M&E. The following is a partial transcript of the archived presentation, which can be viewed here.

Hello everyone! My name is Leslie Sherriff. I am an Adjunct Professor at American University and independent consultant in Project Design, including Monitoring and Evaluation. I teach in the University’s School of Professional and Extended Studies Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring and Evaluation. I have over 10 years of experience working with development organizations, both in-country and in headquarters offices. I have worked with a variety of donors, including USAID, the European Union, and various other country-level donors. I have Master’s Degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and London Metropolitan University in London, England.

I am looking forward to sharing with you my experience, particularly in terms of the topic of today’s presentation: Careers in Monitoring and Evaluation. I’d like to be clear that this presentation focuses on M&E careers in international relief and development settings. My presentation today focuses on the various types of careers and will then describe, briefly, the kinds of skills needed to find that job you’re looking for.

Career Options
There are a number of options for working in M&E in an international relief and development setting, which I’ve loosely organized into three different categories. First, M&E specialists might find work in those organizations and institutions that directly support or implement development programming. I’m thinking here of donors such as USAID or implementing agencies such as Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, even the United Nations and the World Bank. All of these organizations have need for people with skills in M&E.

Now within these organizations and institutions, there are a variety of roles M&E specialists might play. First, most headquarters offices have staff dedicated to M&E and/or institutional learning. Bigger organizations will have entire teams focused on developing organization-specific terms, tools, and guidance for staff around the world. They also serve as a focal point for all of the project information coming in from around the world. They help the organizations learn and be accountable to their donors. Second, these organizations often have field-based M&E specialists with a regional focus. For example, Catholic Relief Service (my former employer) has Regional Program Quality staff based in offices covering West Africa or South-East Asia for example. These staff are charged with ensuring that the HQ-generated policies and procedures are implemented in the field. They also provide technical support in terms of project design and M&E activities. They might participate in country-level evaluations or they can help outsource M&E needs if necessary, such as helping find independent evaluators. And, third, it is also possible that country-level offices will employ specific M&E staff, who will be part of a particular project or program. For example, many larger USAID-funded projects these days require an M&E staff person, either full- or part-time, who is focused solely on that project.

I recently spoke with a colleague who still works for Catholic Relief Services. He told me that they would really like all project management staff to have some exposure to and experience with M&E design and implementation. It is simply the current environment. Donors want implementers to be able to truly demonstrate the results of the projects they are funding. In order to do that, the projects need to be designed and implemented by people with an understanding of M&E and how to incorporate it into projects. Thus, as you can see, there is a huge potential for people interested in working on M&E within an organization or institution such as these.

My second loose category of M&E jobs is within Consultancy Companies. These companies “employ” a cadre of development specialists, some of whom have M&E experience. They are often well positioned to apply for larger grants from USAID, the UN or other major donors. It is my understanding that Consultancy Companies are looking for people with already considerable M&E experience so that they can bid successfully on funding opportunities. This also holds true for Consultancies that are solely focused on evaluation. There are a few out there who bid on larger evaluation contracts in specific international relief and development settings.

And finally, M&E specialists might choose to consider a career as an independent consultant. This is pretty self-explanatory. These individuals hire themselves out to other organizations with a need for project design expertise, particularly in terms of M&E. Or, they might bid for specific needs assessment or evaluation contracts in response to advertisements. (More on this in a minute.) In my experience, many of the larger organizations working in development often need external support in order to complete grant proposals or conduct evaluations, which is where the independent consultant comes in.

Implementers and Donors: Skills and Competencies
I’d like to speak for a few moments now about the specific skills and competencies needed to work within these three environments.

Donors and implementers have some general requirements, in addition to a need for M&E skills. Applicants for most project management positions, whether or not they include M&E, will need to have a Masters Degree of some sort. It doesn’t matter whether the degree is in M&E, international development, or a particular sector such as education or agriculture. The degree simply needs to be relevant in an international setting. Entry-level positions will require several years of job experience and usually fluency in a second language.

Specific skills sought are, of course, M&E experience of a variety of sorts – design, monitoring implementation, evaluation methods, and even capacity building.

There are a number of intangible competencies that I think project managers, particularly those focusing on M&E need to have. They need to be excellent communicators, especially because M&E is often still considered an “extra” burden in terms of project implementation. They need to be good negotiators and collaborators in the M&E design process. They need to have excellent writing, organization, and presentation skills.

You can see all of this described in a job description I found on the CRS website just a few weeks ago. This is a mid-level posting for an MEAL coordinator in Guinea. (MEAL stands for Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning). This is an example of a country-level job that is not focused on any one particular project, but is designed to provide support to all projects in that particular country. The primary responsibilities include MEAL coordination, developing good MEAL systems, capturing learning, support with project design, leading evaluations, and capacity building. You’ll see that they’re looking for experience in MEAL, working with large donors, conducting assessments and evaluations, an MA, fluency in French, etc.

Consultancy Companies: Skills and Competencies
As I mentioned earlier, Consultancy Companies are often looking for people with very specific M&E skills and often high-level experience in a different sector, such as health, education, emergencies, etc. They will want to see overseas experience and languages that will be useful when called into service, Spanish, French, etc. They will want people who can jump right in and participate in project proposal design, leadership, mentoring and support, etc.

I have here a recent job posting from a consultancy company based in Brussels, Belgium. As expected, they are looking for someone to lead and support evaluation activities, coordinate data collection and analysis, provide mentoring and support to clients and, critically, I believe, be involved in new business development. They’ll expect staff to be continually on the search for new opportunities. They also require an MA, work experience, and some M&E experience as well. I should think that Consultancy Companies will put a focus on people who have real potential to bring in new business. People with drive and new ideas...they are companies, after all and need to make money.

Independent Consultant: Skills and Competencies
And, finally, you might also decide to follow the Independent Consultant route. The skills and competencies needed here are very similar to those needed working in a consultancy company. I would caution you that working as a consultant will likely be difficult until you have some significant M&E experience. In order to find work as a consultant, you are often asked to submit proposals (basically an application) for work as an evaluator or to conduct assessments, etc. This is pretty much a “cold call” unless you are already familiar with the organization or have your own reputation in the field. You’ll need very strong M&E skills and experience to be chosen in this sort of selection process. You’ll need to be a good networker, so that you can get yourself out there and known to different organizations and basically be an entrepreneur. Finally, critically, you need to be an excellent writer and analyst. Your work will be judged on how well you can submit those proposals and write those final reports.

This is a sample of an Evaluation commissioned by GOAL, an Irish development organization. They are looking for someone to evaluate their response to the Ebola crisis between June 2014 and December 2015. They created a fairly detailed “Terms of Reference” which I’ve tried to summarize on this slide. They’re asking the consultant to identify the challenges GOAL faced in its ebola response and make recommendations for how to strengthen its organizational systems. The timeframe for the work is just about now and allows for approximately 20 days of consultant time. The Terms of Reference also goes into more detail about what they expect the evaluator to do, including conducting interviews, reviewing documents and leading briefings, for example. The consultant is expected to design a proposal based along these lines and demonstrate their experience. The minimum requirements are 10 years of experience in reviews such as these, experience with humanitarian evaluations, a post graduate degree, analytical and documentation skill, presentation skills and an excellent command of English.

Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a job as a consultant with limited experience. You’ll just need to lower your expectations in terms of salary and what you are asked to do. There are lots of small organizations desperate for M&E assistance. Let’s move now into a discussion of the first steps toward finding work in this field.

Finding that job…
The first thing I suggest you do is update your skills in M&E. Make sure you can speak the M&E “lingo” and demonstrate your understanding of and experience with these principles.

It goes without saying that you need to pick your career focus (given the three broad options I’ve outlined above) and update your CV. Make sure any experience you have with M&E, data analysis, program design, monitoring activities, etc. is front and center.

Another job search tip is to create an on-line presence in the M&E world. For example, you might make sure your LinkedIn profile includes your M&E experience and interests. There are several LinkedIn groups focusing on M&E. Join those and become an active participant. Join other lists, such as the ones managed by the American Evaluation Association so that you are reading (and potentially contributing to) the most recent thinking in the field. Make sure you join Devex, which distributes a regular newsletter including job postings.

Next, as with any job search, it’s a good idea to network, network, network. DC has numerous organizations that hold conferences and seminars related to international M&E. Check out the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation or Interaction, both of which hold open workshops and seminars on various M&E topics.

If you’re looking to get your foot in the door, you might even volunteer to help with an evaluation. If you decide to participate in the AU certificate program, you’ll be asked to find an organization you want to work with to complete your coursework. This is an opportunity to get to know an organization who could be a potential employer. Your M&E experience does not have to necessarily be international. While living and working in DC, for example, you could also volunteer with local initiatives in an M&E capacity to use your skills. This can be added to a CV in support of your job application.

One last word on finding work within international relief and development organizations: Don’t be picky about the job you initially take. Once you are in the door, you’ll realize that there is a great deal of room to move around and use your skills, either in an official capacity or unofficially. You might find yourself in a more entry-level position than you’d like, but you can use that post to volunteer internally to help with data analysis, evaluation, etc. If you need international experience, you might just take a job helping out with an emergency response. There will most definitely be a need for M&E in these settings, even if the job description does officially call for it. Once you are in the door, you can always find ways to contribute to M&E efforts.

Career Outlook
Careers in M&E

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