So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part III)

Part III.  Getting Hired

Note:  In this section we consider the two main ways of making your dream of working overseas a reality.

Ok, so you’ve read the first two sections (Seriously, read the second section.) and you still want to work overseas.  What do you do to get hired?  First of all I have a little more bad news, the CivPol and Justice Sector jobs are getting harder to find.  Here’s why – Iraq has wound down and Afghanistan is starting that process, Eastern Europe is winding down.  There are fewer jobs out there then there were 5-6 years ago.  The government is broke and cutting back funding.   At the same time you have a lot of people, who have done a mission or two, or who are currently in a mission and faced with being downsized.   Many of these people liked the work and/or the money and want back in or want to stay in.  There is a supply and demand problem.  I suspect this will result in the pay going down in the near future not to mention it being harder for a person who is new to this type of work to get hired.  The good news is Africa and Central-South America are picking up and with any “luck” Syria will be open in the future.  As long at the US wants to play world policeman and fight never-ending wars on drugs and terror there will always be jobs for Rule of Law professionals.  Someone will profit from our folly, it may as well be you.

Here are my thoughts on getting hired.  There are two ways to do it.  One is the “Who you know” game and the other is the “Numbers” game.  If you haven’t worked overseas before you probably should try both.

The “who you know” method is the easiest.  If you have experience in the Rule of Law area (Cop, Prosecutor, Judge) and you have decided you want to work overseas.  Think about who you know, or who you know who knows someone that does.  Contact them, network, and get them to give your résumé to their boss.  If you feel this is taking unfair advantage or not kosher, get over it.  That is how most of the people in this business get hired.  There are so many people looking for these jobs that potential employers are inundated with resumes, they don’t like looking at hundreds of resumes and there are so many idiots with good-looking resumes applying for these jobs that a recruiter or employer is looking for someone they know is “OK” or for someone somebody they know vouches for.  Trust me if the person(s) you talk to doesn’t really like you they won’t forward on your résumé or they will do it with a weak endorsement.  So don’t feel bad about asking.   They are, however at least likely to tell you whether there are any openings now or in the near future and they will probably know who you should contact.  Knowing someone in the biz is vital.

The second method, and the way I got started is the “Numbers Game” method.  I went on the internet, found all the companies I could that were remotely involved in anything I thought I might qualify for or be interested in and I applied.  There are a couple of things to remember about the numbers game.  First of all apply for every job you think you might vaguely be qualified for.  Employers, when they type up the job requirements, are thinking about the perfect candidate.  They might not get the perfect candidate and they might settle for you.  Good enough is a win!   Secondly fill out the forms completely, check for spelling and grammatical errors.  You should have several different resumes highlighting your experience in different ways for different types of jobs.  This method is a pain in the neck and takes up a lot of time as each employer probably has its own fill in the blank web application process.  If you have the option, save or print out the application when you finish, it could save you time in future applications.  Be aware I started filling out online applications in the spring of 2008 and it was the spring of 2010 before I was hired for my first job.  It could take a while.  But if it is something you really want to do keep at it.  Expect to fill out literally hundreds of applications.

Below are links to a number of companies I have worked for, received job offers from or applied to.  This is not a complete list.  Be resourceful, there are also websites out there who are headhunters for companies that hire people for overseas work, use those as well:

Engility (formerly MPRI):

Civilian Police International:




Checci Consulting:



Next:  Part IV.  Special Attorney Section

©2012 by Steven Fenner

So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II b)

Part II b.  The Bad Continued…

Note:  In this segment we consider some additional factors that can make living and working overseas a challenge.

I realize this isn’t politically correct but if your health isn’t good, you are morbidly obese or you have some disability (mental or physical) working overseas, at least in a dangerous location, probably should not be for you.  Surprisingly you can probably get a job overseas because of the employment laws in the US.  But be aware you may have to work in very physically and mentally taxing environment.  You may be in a very hot, non-air-conditioned or a very cold, unheated environment.  You will have to walk a lot more than you do in the US.  You might have to run, lift and carry things or even crawl.  Unless your contract entitles you to military medical care, the care you get will not be what you are used to in the US.   You may not be able to get prescription medicine overseas and what you can get may be of dubious quality and origin.  I have actually worked with people overseas who were well over 100 lbs over weight, their joints were shot, they had back problems, diabetes, etc.  No one wants to help you carry your things, or wait around on you, and no one wants you taking up more than your share of valuable space.  Do everyone a favor and if you are not healthy don’t be a burden to others, stay home.

The free market is alive and well in the international advisor field.  If you work as a contractor (and most of us do), you can bet that your company will know exactly what the minimum amount is that they have to pay someone to work in a specific place.  They will not pay you a penny more.   If the place they send you is really bad, it will pay really well.  If the place is nice it won’t pay very well.  What does this mean?  Afghanistan, South Sudan – lots of money.  Europe – a lot less.    For example, in 2010 I was offered a direct hire job in Afghanistan which would have, with overtime, paid about $300,000 per year.  I turned it down and instead took a job in Kosovo (SE Europe) which paid a lot less, and I mean a lot less.  Instead of living in a shipping container and dodging mortars and bullets I lived in a decent apartment in a nice part of town and spent my occasional free week-ends sipping drinks on a beach in Greece.  Was the loss of income worth it?  That’s a decision you have to make.

On the subject of the contractors you will work for.  Their concern is making money not making you happy.  You are a short term resource to be exploited.  I have heard horror stories about people signing a contract getting on a plane to their new job and when they arrive being told they aren’t getting paid as much as their contract calls for, or being sent off to do a totally different job then they were hired for.  Do not expect your employer to care about you.   They will not do anymore for you than they are required by your contract, maybe less.  No one is looking out for you but you.  I have had good luck so far with the companies I have worked for and have no major complaints, but go into this with your eyes open.   If you don’t like something your contractor does and you complain about it you should not be surprised if the only question they ask you is “Window or aisle?”

It seems inevitable that you will have to work with someone with absolutely no redeeming qualities what-so-ever.  For some reason CivPol (Civilian Police)/ Rule of law work seems to draw some of the biggest jerks and idiots you will ever meet.  As an added bonus they may be your boss.  I do not understand this but the Peter Principle is alive and well in this sector.  My personal theory is that since most contracts are for one year and it is such a pain to find a new person if they fire someone, companies would rather keep an asocial moron than go to the trouble of finding someone new. – As long as they don’t directly cause the company grief.  These types of people are able to move around yearly and stay in this field.  They lied shamelessly to get the job in the first place then every year they get to add a new important sounding position to their résumé.  I cannot over stress this, I have met two of the biggest freaks I have ever known doing this work.  To be fair I have met a lot of good people and made some good friends doing this as well, but most of the friends I have made who work in this field will tell you the same thing.

Finally for those with spouses and families you have to consider the ramifications of being absent from them for at least a year.  Are the events you might miss in your children’s or grandchild’s life really worth the money you will earn?  Being away for months at a time generally doesn’t help a solid marriage and can be the death knell for one on shaky ground.   Are you here to get away from your wife?  Putting off dealing with problems at home is seldom the best way to deal with them.  Being overseas puts you at a distinct disadvantage if your spouse decides to divorce you while you are gone.

I am not joking about any of these issues, please be sure you understand the gravity of what you are considering.  There are more potential problems but I am way over my 500 word per article limit.  Suffice it to say yes there are things you may not like, but many people successfully makes the transition and find working overseas rewarding.

Next:  Part III.  Getting Hired

©2012 by Steven Fenner

So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II)

Part II.  The Bad

Note:  In this section we continue our discussion about working and living as an advisor overseas. I set out some aspects about living overseas that you might consider less appealing.  Overseas assignments vary widely depending on the location, company and type of in mission in which you are working.  All of the factors listed below will not apply to all missions.

“Wow!”  You say, “That sounds great where do I sign up?”  But a little voice in your head may also be saying, “Wait, this sounds too good to be true.  Is there any downside to this big adventure?”   Well the short answer to that is “yes”.  Or perhaps it is more a matter of perspective.  It depends on your personal situation, personality and ability to adapt.  The following information will give you food for thought about whether overseas work is for you or not.

Here’s a quick list of things to think about.  After the list, in the next post, some bigger issues will follow:

  1. If you expect things to be like they are in the US you will be disappointed.  It is different here. That’s kind of the point.  If it is important to you to shop at Wal-Mart and eat at Appleby’s you won’t like it overseas.
  2. If it bothers you when people don’t speak English you probably shouldn’t work overseas.
  3. If you can’t make yourself try strange new foods you probably won’t be happy here.
  4. If you need to pack three large suit cases for a week-end trip, working overseas isn’t for you.
  5. If there is no way on God’s green earth you will ever understand the metric system, you could have problems.
  6. If you can’t imagine working unarmed.  This work may not be for you.  Some missions allow advisors to carry a weapon, many do not.
  7. If you are a type “A” personality and have to be moving at a gazillion miles an hour all of the time, overseas work may be unduly frustrating for you.  On a daily basis everything moves slower here and no matter how hard you try you will not be able to speed it up.
  8. You may feel much of your time is spent unproductively and the way work gets done may be extremely frustrating and hard to comprehend.
  9. If you think the rest of the world love’s Americans, the American Dollar and wants to be like us you are in for a rude awakening.
  10. If you are unfamiliar with the phrase “situational awareness” please, please stay home.
  11. On a related note:  No one outside of the litigious US really cares much about civil liability, it is a dangerous world out there, full of sharp pointy things, electrical hazards, unsanitary conditions, holes in the ground, really bad drivers, etc.  If you can’t pay attention to what you are doing and your surroundings you are likely to get hurt.
  12. If you think you would totally freak out if you were shot at, mortared, rocketed or if someone tries to blow you up you should think twice about working overseas.
  13. If creäture comforts are important to you, you may not like it here.  If you are living on a FOB (Forward Operating base)in Afghanistan if you are lucky you will live in a CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) this is a finished out shipping container which may or may not have electrical power to it.  It may not have a bathroom and you may have roommates.  You might live in a tent.  You might have to walk a couple of blocks to use the shower or the toilet, which sucks at O’dark-thrity on a brisk January morning.  If the shower works it will probably be cold.
  14. You may be required to work long hours.  Seriously, you might be working 12-hour days six days a week, sometimes even seven.   This is one factor to consider when you are thinking about the “big money” contractors make.  If you work 72 hours per week is your hourly wage really all that great?  Does it matter since you won’t be home for a year to spend it?
  15. That’s right most contracts are for one full year.  You will get a chance to go home a couple of times during that year, but every time you go home it costs you money.

Next:  Part II continued, more factors to consider.