the never-ending job search
Even though it took almost a year for D to get his security clearance, the timing could not have worked out better. His swearing-in ceremony coincided with S’s graduation from grad school, and several weeks later we departed for our first overseas assignment. Although this timeline made for a hectic move, it also meant that S did not have to look for a job while she was finishing her degree in international public health. Not only did S not have to disrupt her career to follow D abroad, as many Foreign Service spouses do, but we also hoped that joining the Foreign Service would give her career a boost.
Of the 95 posts on D’s bid list, Nairobi was our top choice. Its burgeoning public health and development aid sectors gave us hope that S would be able to find a job that aligned with her career aspirations. As the largest U.S. embassy in sub-Saharan Africa, Nairobi is the regional hub for U.S. engagement in East Africa, and almost every UN agency and development organization that works in Africa has an office here. Yet, finding work proved incredibly difficult. Although there were ample opportunities, there was also a large pool of candidates, Kenyans as well as expats. Considering that English is Kenya’s official language and given that many Kenyans hold graduate and professional degrees, many organizations almost exclusively hire locals for any position that is not senior management. When organizations do hire expats, they tend to recruit internally, paying mid- to senior-level employees to relocate to Kenya.
After three months of searching, S had been offered only two job interviews, and none of the opportunities she explored outside the Embassy panned out. So she jumped at the prospect of a three-month contract with USAID in the Office of Population and Health. Knowing that her contract was short-term and that the team leads were looking to fill open positions with Kenyan nationals, S continued to apply for other jobs. While she became more marketable with Kenya-specific experience, she was also cognizant that the clock was ticking and that there would come a point when the stress and hard work of constantly applying for jobs would outweigh the potential benefit of short-term employment. Fortunately, the connections she made at USAID enabled S to step into a communications position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a week after her contract with USAID ended.
The permanent position with CDC was an improvement on the short-term USAID contract, but it was also far from S’s dream job. Although the job was with a public health organization, it was not directly in her field. Moreover, the hiring mechanism used to create the position skimped on some of the benefits of federal employment. So, just weeks into her new job, S once again began searching for better employment options.