If you’re interested in finding a job abroad, the experience can be exciting and overwhelming. How do you even get started? We chatted with Michael Oghia, who recently moved from Kentucky to India to work at a conflict resolution firm, an opportunity he found on Idealist. In the interview below, Michael talks about how he found his position, what he did to prepare for the Skype interview, and his advice for job seekers.
When did you start your job search and what were you looking for when you came to Idealist?
I did my undergraduate studies at University of Louisville. After I finished a bachelors of science in sociology in 2009, I moved to Lebanon, where I pursued a masters of arts in sociology. I lived in Lebanon for 3 years—it was amazing!—and once I graduated, I moved back to Kentucky. I started looking for jobs in May or June and a friend of mine suggested I try Idealist.org.
I went on the website, registered, and it looked really cool. I liked that it emphasizes nonprofits, NGOs, government, think tanks, volunteering. There were a lot of fields that I thought were more applicable to me and my experience, as well as my values.
Tell me about your new job and the organization. What will you be doing?
I’ll be a research and advocacy associate with Meta-Culture, conflict resolution firm. I’ll be consulting with them about a project that is aiming to foster critical thinking and more effective dialogue in order to promote an active citizenry.
I will mostly be working with NGOs and activists, going to schools and doing a lot of grant writing—the basic NGO roles. I’ll also be doing a lot of social media outreach and I’ll be doing research as well, all of it within the consulting context.
The firm is small with less than 10 people working there. It’s a diverse group and they do a lot of great work when it comes to conflict mediation and conflict resolution in India. They are trying to become a premier South Asian conflict resolution firm.
Were you looking for an international opportunity specifically, given the fact you got your masters in Lebanon?
I was looking in Washington, D.C. mostly, because I thought my skill set was best for DC, but I was also looking on the west coast. A friend was encouraging me, back in December, to get out of United States. I was looking around and was like, “What about India?” And it just so happens that this conflict resolution organization had posted a position on Idealist and it happened to fit perfectly with my values and what my experience is. And so, I applied.
Did you have any concerns about working abroad and finding a legitimate organization that was hiring?
I’m a bad example because I’ve already lived abroad. For me, going back abroad is more natural than staying here in the United States. But finding a legitimate organization is a great point. Even my thesis advisor, one of my closest mentors, asked, “Are you sure it’s legit?” I understand that it is a concern, and it should be. I used a lot of different filters to determine what kind of opportunity this is.
The first filter I used was that I found it on Idealist; I trust you guys. You are sanctioning good programs and good companies and good firms. The second thing was doing my research on the organization. I looked on their website and read every word. The third thing I did was cross-referencing names. If somebody at the organization said “I used to work for X NGO,” I went to X NGO’s website and looked for them.
And then, when I had the Skype interview, I could tell it was real. Everything was genuine and real and I felt comfortable. What was even better was that the director talked to some of my references, and having that extra bit of encouragement from the people who had talked to him put me over the edge to say, “let’s do it.”
You mentioned the Skype interview, but what was the interview process like overall?
It was very casual and easy. The interview process was simplest out of everything, probably because I prepared so well. I went to the website, and already felt strongly about the values of the organization and the position I was taking. It wasn’t even an interview, it was more of a discussion or conversation. It was, by far, the best interview I ever had. It basically exemplified the perfect kind of interview. It shouldn’t be about “what do you have to offer?” or “what are your skills?” All of these things should have already been said or mentioned in a resume or CV.
What advice do you have for someone who is in the midst of a job search?
This is going to be my first real position since I’ve gotten out of school; pretty much in my life really. It can really get you down, especially if you’ve done so well and you are trying as hard as you can to find a job to do something good. I was unemployed for more than six months and there were some days where I just wanted to give up. It was very depressing, basically.
The best advice I can give is that you have to stay positive and you have to surround yourself with people who are encouraging. Just keep looking. You really have to put yourself out there. I hate that cliche, but are you looking just in Washington, D.C. or New York? You have to look everywhere. You have to be open and flexible to moving or going somewhere else or seeing where life can take you.
And use your network—that is a big deal. Don’t be afraid to ask if people know a place that would be a good fit or if they know somebody you should talk to. It’s an old Arab philosophy, actually, that says, “the only way to get somewhere is through the people you know.” It’s an Arab concept, but it’s an interesting concept. It transcends culture. Now, I didn’t get my job through knowing people, so between those two—networking and Idealist—that’s the best way.
Did you find your job on Idealist? We’d love to talk to you! Email me at kimberly [at] idealist [dot] org.