Archive for networking

A student reflection on the DC Career Conference

The SIPA Office of Career Services hosted SIPA´s 39th Annual Washington, D.C. Career Conference from January 13 – 15. SIPA alumni and other professionals based in the Washington, D.C. area participated in the conference, which introduced attendees to the capital and informed them of employment opportunities. This three-day event consisted of 16 career panels, various employer site visits, an alumni/student networking reception, and a day for informational interviews with alumni.

Pablo Bejar (PEPM ’15) attended the event. Pablo attained his Masters in Business Administration with an emphasis in Economics from California State University, where he graduated with honors and published his thesis on Corporate Social Responsibility and Financial Performance.

Here, Pablo offers his reflections on the conference and its professional value for PEPM students.

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One buzz word you’re likely to hear a lot during your time at SIPA is “networking.”  We talk about the power of networking and its importance all the time, but even the most experienced SIPA student can feel intimidated at the prospect. Networking like any other skill, improves with practice and the better you get, the more comfortable you’ll feel using it. Here are some tips to exercise your networking muscle:

  1. Network Before You Need It.  Networking is not about “using” people, it’s about fully participating in your professional community. One of the great joys of my professional experience has been connecting people. A former intern wants to go to intern and the state department and I happen to know a SIPA grad who works there. A classmate wants to work for the Sierra Club and I attended a training session with someone who works there. Not only have I helped my colleagues find jobs or staff, but I know that there are competent people working for the causes in which I believe. By building a network before you need it, you enable yourself to help shape your professional community and people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes. (And you’ll feel better about asking).
  2. Value Yourself and Your Experience. You have every right to reach out to your colleagues and people you’ve done good work for.  Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If a friend of a classmate wanted to pick your brain for advice or you were in a position to forward your former intern’s resume, wouldn’t you be happy to help?  Why shouldn’t you expect the same professional courtesy?  Public policy people tend to be especially giving in this capacity because we understand what it takes to be a committed and effective advocate and we want to promote those traits. Assuming you’ve done good work in the past, there is no reason for them not to help you unless a) they are insanely busy b) they are being a jerk or c) they don’t feel you’ll use their time wisely (see below).
  3. Ask For Advice.  People like when you ask for their advice. It makes them feel admired and important. (Hello, advice column I am in the midst of writing.)  Asking career advice is a great way to get useful information and establish a relationship at little cost to the advisor. Good questions to ask include, “Who should I be talking to?” and “If I want x job eventually what kind of experience do I need?”  Asking these questions is a useful exercise in and of itself.  You should only ask questions to which you genuinely want the answer. That said, you may find that your questions are rewarded with an offer to help. If not, once you’ve established a relationship you can follow up with “That’s a great idea, do you know anyone there? Would you mind forwarding my resume?” etc.
  4. Do your homework.  I will let you in on a little secret, it drives me CRAZY when people email or message me asking questions that I have already answered on my blog.  Likewise, when they ask me questions that could be answered by Google. Don’t get me wrong, it is my absolute privilege to be a resource to my professional community, but as such I get a lot of requests for help or advice and I expect my time to be respected. Value the time and energy of your prospective sponsor or mentor. Don’t ask questions you could have figured out on your own. Don’t go on an informational interview without having done a little research on your interviewee or their company and…
  5. Follow up.  Just like it takes time to give advice, it takes time to do a favor. If I offer to look over or forward your resume, don’t take a week to send it to me.  If I respond to your email by offering advice, follow up thanking me. If you don’t, not only will I feel disrespected, I will doubt your professionalism and therefore be disinclined to link my name with yours. The way you treat someone after they do you a favor impacts the likelihood that they’ll do you one again.

I hope this helps get you thinking about ‘networking’.   Remember, you are worth it! Be respectful and I’m sure others will be more than happy to help!  Happy Hunting,


Microfinance Working Group 9th Annual Career Conference

By Deepika Sharma and Beatriz Guillen

On April 1st I attended the 9th Annual Career Conference organized by the SIPA Microfinance Working Group. As you might know, microfinance has been in the news a lot recently- for both good and bad reasons. There have been questions raised on the efficacy and sustainability of microfinance especially due to recent events in South Asia. These issues, as well as career opportunities in the field, were discussed in the Microfinance conference, that was held at the Office of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP, a 38th floor with spectacular views of the city.

This year’s Panel was comprised of the following people:

  • Olympia de Castro, IFC Advisory Services – Access To Finance, International FinanceCorporation
  • Erica Dorn, Partnerships and Volunteer Program Manager, ACCION International
  • Molly McGrath, Vice President of Development, Grameen America
  • Shamsudeen Mustafa, Program Director, SeedCo Financial Services and Co-President, Microfinance Club of New York
  • Carolina Murphy, Founder and Managing Partner of
  • Ben Shell, Senior Associate, New Product Development, Women’s World Banking
  • Adriana Valenzuela, Associate, Capital Markets Group, Grameen Foundation

The 1.5 hour long panel and Q&A session was followed by reception and networking between the audience and the panelists while they enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres. Unlike the last few years, the audience this year not only comprised of SIPA students but also students from Columbia College, NYU-Wagner and NYU-Stern as well as alumni and industry professionals. The speakers from the different organizations were extremely helpful and receptive to the students and greatly appreciated the event for facilitating their recruitment processes.

Career Networking is an important part and parcel at SIPA. There are numerous events that facilitate and encourage students to connect with alumni and professionals. In the words of one of the panelists: “staying connected with professionals in the field and building your network is not just important for the next internship or job search but is a lifelong source for advancing your career or just meeting more interesting people”. In fact, the Microfinance Working Group organizes the Annual Spring Career Conference at a prime location downtown because of continued relations Tony Gooch, the Co-founder of the MFWG.

Career Services – A Preview

Part of being a professional school is taking the career development of students seriously.  From the day a student arrives at SIPA the Office of Career Services is involved in making sure there is a strong focus on developing career management skills.

The message below was recently sent out to incoming SIPA students.  I thought I would post it here for students interested in our program to provide a glimpse of the type of resources available.  Note that most of the links in this message require a user name and password that is only provided to incoming students.

So, if you are an admitted student please take advantage of the links.  If you are a prospective student, this message is just meant to provide general information about the first steps new students take with our Office of Career services when they join us for Orientation.


Dear incoming SIPA students:

We in the Office of Career Services at SIPA are looking forward to meeting you upon your arrival for Orientation on Monday, August 30, 2010. It will be an exciting time as you embark on this journey to prepare for careers in international and public affairs. Obtaining internships and getting the opportunity to apply your new knowledge will be an important part of your experience at SIPA.

Many private sector employers and some federal government agencies begin recruiting for interns as early as September, while other public and nonprofit recruitment begins in the spring. You will be able to prepare for your internship search through various OCS programs available throughout the fall, including the Professional Development Class, career-related workshops and career advising appointments. Those of you interested in the private sector should register for the Private Sector Professional Development Class which will take place on Saturday, September 11, 2010. A schedule of additional classes will be available during Orientation.

We suggest you review the following information to ensure a successful internship search.

SIPAlink: OCS uses SIPAlink to advertise job and internship opportunities, career events, employer information sessions and on-campus interviews. As an incoming student, you will be able to register with SIPAlink at on Monday, August 30, 2010.

Resume: Make sure you have a well written and clearly formatted one page resume. You may refer to our Online Career Resources for sample resumes and fact sheets, such as Resume Writing-General Tips and Resume Writing Tips for Positions in Finance and Banking, listed online at

Business Attire: If you’re interested in private sector employers, be sure to have a conservative business suit to wear to all business/finance employer information sessions and on-campus interviews. For some public sector and nonprofit employer presentations, business casual attire is acceptable.

Employer Information Sessions: These sessions offer a company/organization overview and provide excellent networking opportunities with employers. You should conduct prior research on the employer and arrive with well formulated questions. This will demonstrate your seriousness and interest in the particular employer and their industry. Once you have registered on SIPAlink, you will be able to view and sign up for employer information sessions of interest to you. In order to see a list of recruiters who came to campus last year, please look for a document entitled On-Campus Recruiters 2009-2010 in the SIPAlink Resource Library.

All students attending employer information sessions should order professional name tags through OCS. They can be ordered by logging into your SIPAlink account at Under On-Campus Recruiting and Career Events, click Career Events. From there go to the event labeled Office of Career Services: Getting a Name Tag First-Year Students Only (Class 2012) and sign up for this event by clicking the RSVP button. The deadline for the orders will be Monday, September 13. In addition, it is a good idea to order business cards to give to employers after their formal presentations. These can be ordered during your first week at SIPA through the Journalism School or Printing Services at SIPA.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and we look forward to seeing you on during Orientation!

Summer Reflections 2010 – Post #5

John Hughes just graduated from SIPA and during his second year of study worked in our office.  He is spending the better part of the summer in the office to assist with projects and help fill in for a staff member on maternity leave.  John is set up for a job in Washington, D.C. and will be moving there in August (our second largest alumni network in the world is in D.C if you were interested).

I asked John to reflect a bit on his experience as a SIPA student and contribute to the blog over the summer.  This is his fifth entry.


I was asked a couple of days ago by a prospective student on the phone how many hours I put in during a typical week at SIPA.   I responded to him that though it was hard to define a “typical” week at SIPA, on average I put in about 50-60 hours a week towards SIPA-related activities.  To be clear, I did not spend 50-60 hours a week on academics.  Though studying was certainly an integral part of my daily graduate school existence, the experience was far more diverse than this.  In this post I’ll try to paint a picture of how those hours were broken down.

SIPA classes usually meet once a week for two hours.  There are many exceptions to this, however:  The year-long econ first-year sequence meets twice a week for 1 ½ hours each time, as do a few other quantitatively-heavy courses like corporate finance.  Language courses, if you choose or are required to take them, meet 3-4 days a week for 1 ½ hours or so depending on the language, how hard it is to learn that language, and whether the class is an intensive module or not.  These language courses are usually offered through Columbia College, though SIPA has a few of its own courses as well.

Some courses have what we call Recitations (again, usually quantitatively-heavy ones), which are optional review classes held once a week for two hours (typically on Friday) and led by second-year students who did well in the class.  Though these are not required it is very common for students to attend them, especially for difficult classes like econ.  Some actually are required, such as the labs for the required stats class.  Finally, the first year Conceptual Foundations (MIA) or Politics of Policy-making (MPA) classes have, in addition to lecture, a recitation once a week led by a PhD Columbia fellow that is mandatory.  This overview does not take into account courses taken at other graduate schools at Columbia, which may meet more or less often than SIPA courses, though usually also meet once a week.  All in all, I’d say SIPA students spend about 15 hours in class/recitations.

These hours only represent actual class time, however, and do not take into account studying.  This studying generally falls into two categories:  Self-study and group work.  I probably spent 15 hours in a normal week reading/writing etc., and an additional 5 hours on group work.  Group work, though less time-consuming, was also more difficult to coordinate with others to find a good time to meet.  It could also very easily take up much more time depending on the project.  There were some weeks where I spent 20 hours on one group project.  I know people who spent much more time doing homework and group work, and others who spent less.  This is also only an average.  Some weeks, especially those couple just after mid-terms and finals, I did very little work.  Other weeks, in the week leading up to mid-terms and finals and during those periods I seemed to do nothing but study.

The third thing I spent time on each week was on professional-related activities.  The time I spent on such activities varied, depending on the week, though I spent at least 5 hours and usually more like 10+ on this.  I logged these hours in a variety of ways:  I spent a good bit of time networking with alumni, sending out initial e-mails of introduction, conducting informational interviews in person or over the phone, and meeting alumni at various networking events.

Depending on the season, I also spent time attending company/government agency presentations on campus.  Most of these occur in September and October for the private sector and early in the second semester for the public and non-profit sectors.  There was about a month at the beginning of both Falls that I attended at least a couple recruiting events a week, though at other times of the year my efforts were more self-driven (contacting alumni as described above).  I also attended talks and other networking events offered by associations in New York outside of SIPA and Columbia from time to time, though these were rather sporadic.  I did not spend that much time actually applying for jobs and internships.  I certainly checked SIPALink, our on-line jobs database, regularly, and applied to some jobs and internships that appealed to me.  However, this was never more than 2-3 hours a week as I felt that my time was better served networking unless I saw a job on there that I was really excited about.

Each week at SIPA I tried to attend at least one speaker or other similar event on campus.  Though I certainly didn’t succeed every single week, I managed to do this most weeks and even go to more than one quite often.  These events ranged from guest lectures from people in numerous fields to student group cultural nights.  The events often came with food, and were a great way for a busy graduate student to take his mind off studying and get a quick, free meal.

Finally, I spent time socializing at SIPA.  As a married student, I did not spend nearly as much time as some friends of mine socializing with other SIPA students.  Nevertheless, I did make it to most of the bigger parties and a few smaller ones as well, and spent a lot of time just hanging out with friends I met at SIPA.  Almost every week (or at least every other week) the student association sponsors parties of all sorts, ranging from clubs rented out downtown to smaller parties on the 6th floor at school.  Each student group also hosts parties, and groups of students go out and do stuff in New York together all the time.  If you wanted to, it would be possible to find something social to do with other SIPA students every night, though this might not be good for the academics or the wallet.

When I add all of these things up, I come up with my number of 50-60 hours a week.  It is definitely possible to spend less time doing something SIPA-related (other than academics nothing else is required), and it’s also possible to spend a lot more time than I did at SIPA.  I know people who seemed to be at school everyday from 9-9, not just in class and studying but often just hanging out on the 4th or 6th floor with whoever else was around and attending as many lectures/events as possible.  I know others who I had a class with, but who had a completely separate life outside of SIPA and liked it that way.    Regardless of what you choose to do, I guess my point is that the choice is yours to make.  All of you will get a top-notch education, and for those of you who choose to get more than just an education out of the school you will certainly have opportunities.

I can say, definitely, that I never felt like I didn’t have time to simply enjoy New York and/or just hang out with my wife, except during mid-terms and finals.  Those periods are rightly tough and do require you to study a lot.  At other times, however, you are able (and I encourage you) to get out of school and go explore this wonderful, crazy city and all it has to offer.  I think you’ll find that time away from school, even for only a few hours, puts graduate life in perspective.  It makes you both realize how great you have it to be a student again and, at the same time, reminds you to not get too stressed about school.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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