Getting Started in International Consulting

by Laurie Krieger

I have consulted internationally in health, gender, policy, research, and even once in irrigation (that was weird).

Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Use your networks; in international work, people are hired through whom they know.
  • Carefully research how much consultants get paid by the organization or donor for whom you will work (e.g., U.S. government agencies have policies for paying consultants based on degrees, years of experience, and sometimes by languages spoken; the World Bank and UNICEF have different policies; various other private companies have still different policies).
  • Once you know the policies, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, and understand that it’s unlikely that you will get above the top of your qualified range.
  • Trying to justify your rate by explaining that you need to pay for your own benefits and taxes does not work with U.S. government agencies, but private companies are sometimes more understanding.
  • If you think the days allocated for the assignment are too few, negotiate for more days; if that does not work, learn to say “no” to assignments, or be prepared, potentially, not to get much sleep for the duration of the consultancy.
  • Understand that you may wind up putting in 24 hours non-stop, but you’ll only get paid for 8 of them.
  • Organizations requesting a consultant almost always allocate too few days to get the job done (hence the 24-hour workday).
  • In the beginning of your consulting career, you may not be able to accurately estimate how many days you should ask for in a scope of work (SOW; sometimes called “terms of reference” or TOR). So before committing, ask an experienced consultant.
  • Having both qualitative and quantitative skills helps enormously, both in getting contracts and carrying out the work.
  • Write quickly and well.
    • Do not use social science jargon
    • Unless you know that the organization is theory friendly, do not refer to theory explicitly
  • Always complete assignments on time (even if it means pulling all-nighters).
  • Be aware that, unlike academia, you may not get much credit for what you do, but make sure that your name appears somewhere as an author or the author of the work.
  • Whenever possible, negotiate your right to publish your part of the resulting report; but be aware that most of the time you own neither the data you collect nor the report you produce. Whoever pays you for the work owns the products (known as “deliverables”).
    • Despite the above, you do not have to give your raw field notes to anyone–even if they require it. If you must in the end, then disguise well the identities of the research participants (this consultant has often just refused and said that it violates U.S. government rules [when it does], or that she would be thrown out of her professional organization); the people who ask will generally back down
    • Practicing anthropology does not absolve you from the anthropological ethics of research; far from it. In fact, it often creates new ethical dilemmas (e.g., protecting your respondents versus serving your client). Periodically refresh your memory by reviewing NAPA’s Ethical Guidelines.
    • Consult other practitioners if you have an ethical issue–they have probably faced something similar before
  • Remember to make your estimated self-employed income tax and social security payments quarterly: do not forget!

I hope some of these items are useful. Good Luck!

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