Alum Kerry White on International Education, the PMF Process, and Networking

Kerry White

Kerry White

OID: Hello from OID and thanks for talking to us today! Let’s start with the basics: Who are you, where do you come from, and why did you pursue development at GWU?

My name is Kerry White, and I’m originally from the suburbs of New York.  I ended up in development in kind of a circuitous way.  I started my career in international journalism in Northern Ireland, then did Teach for America and taught for a few years.  Then I took a job doing academic counseling in China, and found myself really fascinated by the ways different elements of culture add up to influence an education system. A friend in international public health recommended I look into international education development, and I decided to get a degree and give it a go.

I really liked the emphasis on practical skill building at the Elliott School, including the IDS capstone experience.  And GW offered the most financial aid.  So it was an easy choice.

OID: When did you graduate and what was your area of concentration?

I graduated in May 2012 with a concentration in international education.

OID: How did you find making a career change from domestic education to international education to be? What were some things that helped or hurt you in this transition?

It was intimidating at first, since I really had no contacts in the international world.  But I actually found that the academic realm was a big gateway for me. There is a lot of overlap between the academic and professional aspects of international education, and even though I picked ESIA for its practical focus, my research gave me reasons to contact and interact with international education development experts.  These people also happened to be working at the leading development organizations. I actually met the contacts that got me the job I have now at a conference where I was presenting an academic paper I did at GW.

I remember doing an informational interview with a GW alum, she told me to make sure I took some classes taught by full-time professors—not just professionals—as they are usually taught really well and give you great subject-area expertise.  And I’d second that and add that academic pursuits can lead to professional opportunities, as well.

OID: What tips do you have for people seeking to network, get internships, and jobs? Any pet peeves of things you see on resumes or cover letters or interviews?

Like I said, use your GW classes, even the academic ones, as ways to meet the “studs” of your field, so to speak.  And be an active member of your sector’s community of practice.  If there anything you’ve written a paper about or read about that you find really interesting—a sector or a trend or a specific area of technical expertise—look for events or lectures surrounding that.  Become a familiar face in that community.  DC is a great location that makes it easy to do this.  And networking is much easier when you’re honestly passionate about the topic of conversation.

Be persistent.  The first inquiry I sent to the company where I am now went unanswered, but when I applied I was able to reference it and my name was familiar.  Now that I’m on the other side, I see how easy it is for e-mails to get lost in the shuffle or forgotten.  Finding the balance between persistent and annoying can feel tough, but polite persistence shows that you’re really interested in a company and that you understand how busy the people on the other end of your message are.

As for resumes and cover letters, my former boss said she’s used my cover letter as an example—I had modeled mine off of a classmate’s from my first Master’s program.  Her advice was to remember that the cover letter can be a road map.  You don’t want to just regurgitate your resume, but you also don’t want to throw a whole lot of new things on there in case it isn’t fully read.  Use it to point out the pieces of your resume that speak to the job description.  Take the required skills and experience from the job posting and show that all of those skills and experiences are on the resume.  And don’t be afraid to use bullets.  These people are busy and the more obvious you can make your awesome qualifications, the better.

OID: Tell us what you are up to these days and more about the PMF process. 

I am working in business development, writing proposals, which I love.  And I’m currently waiting to hear about clearance for a PMF position at State.  The process is very intense and I’d recommend anyone who makes it to the in-person assessment phase to do the practice session at the Graduate Student Career Development office.  It’s worth it just for the peace of mind alone, just to walk in with a sense of what’s coming and to not be blind-sided.

If you get to the finalist phase, I’d recommend you use all the possible outlets for finding a position.  I had people tell me the job boards online are useless and that personal networking is the only way to go, and I had other people to tell me the exact opposite!  I got solid leads and interviews from personal networking, asking friends to forward my CV, jobs forwarded from the ESIA career development center, the PMF job fair, and the PMF job board.  So don’t rule any avenue out.

The Elliott School at GWU

The Elliott School at GWU

OID: Any final words of wisdom? Any classes you really loved or wish you had taken (or even classes you didn’t love but that have proven to be really useful in the real world!)

I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I would say to remember there is a whole university and a consortium of universities that you can take classes from.  I ended up taking comparative ed classes in GSEHD, a Trachtenburg methods class, a cognitive neuroscience class from CAS, and even a linguistics class at Georgetown.  It gave me expertise in mother-tongue language literacy acquisition that I could talk up in interviews.  It also made networking easier by being able to “talk shop” with the people I wanted to work with/for someday.  Pairing that with the IDS core and the ESIA skills classes that taught me how to write PMPs and design projects helped me present myself as a total package.