How this Immigrant Cracked an Analyst Role at the IMF?
Vibha Nanda worked as a quantitative researcher at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where she served as an economist on IMF missions and co-authored several research papers — working alongside diverse stakeholders including senior business executives and government officials. She is passionate about analyzing data from both developing and advanced economies and applying this research to deliver solutions to challenging social issues.
Through this blog, you will learn about —
- The STORY of how Vibha ended up getting a job at the IMF
- What SKILLS, COURSES, and EXPERIENCES helped her get the FIRST interview and crack the subsequent rounds
- What networking advice does Vibha have for INTROVERTED immigrants.
What was your background before coming to the US? What skills did you learn during this time?
I graduated from Moti Lal Nehru College from Delhi University with a B.A. in Economics Hons. Right after graduation, I joined Ernst and Young’s (EY) Quality and Risk Management department as an Analyst and worked there for 3 years. I learned MS Excel and other MS Office Suite products in depth while working at EY. The majority of the Excel skills I have today are due to my stint with EY. On the non-technical front, I worked closely with a few senior partners at EY which helped me understand their approach to solving hard problems and refined my soft skills in the process.
What was your Master’s degree in, in the US, and what did you learn during this time that led to a position at the IMF?
I completed my Master's in Applied Economics (M.A.) from George Washington University (GWU)(2017). The program had several courses that required individual research projects at the end of the term. These end-to-end research projects helped me understand the dynamics of data collection, cleaning, modeling, and then writing papers. These term papers often required students to work in a set program language and thereby, I developed marketable skills such as R, STATA, and SPSS. Additionally, the courses got me accustomed to presenting this research in front of an audience and preparing me for the hard questions that followed. Overall, the program taught me how to use and apply economic concepts and also refine the socio-emotional skills that helped me a great deal at my work later.
“End-to-end research projects helped me understand the dynamics of data collection, cleaning, modeling, and then writing papers. I developed marketable skills such as R, STATA, and SPSS and the courses got me accustomed to presenting this research in front of an audience”
How did you end up getting a job at the IMF? What is the story here? How did you end up getting the first interview?
STORY: I heard about the importance of networking since week 1 of my arrival in the US. I joined a few groups on Meetups including one on international policy discussions, which was an area I wanted to pursue. I met many like-minded people there and made some connections. Little did I know that these connections would serve a specific purpose. After graduation, while job hunting, I was tapping into my connections to learn more about the process and the co-founder of this Meetup (a connection from 1.5 years ago) connected me to his friend (now mine too) who worked at the IMF. I quickly shared my resume with her and she referred me to a hiring manager at IMF, and I had an interview scheduled within a week!
“I was tapping into my connections to learn more about the process and the co-founder of this Meetup (a connection from 1.5 years ago) connected me to his friend who worked at the IMF. I quickly shared my resume with her and she referred me to a hiring manager at IMF, and I had an interview scheduled within a week!”
Build on Your Programming Skills. Having statistical software skills like STATA, R, etc., are great BUT you also need to show this evidence on your resume through projects and Github links on how you have used these skills. This will catch the hiring manager’s attention. I was still working on R certifications on the side even when I was job hunting and these certifications really helped me get an interview with the IMF.
Be Strategic while Picking Electives. Another thing could be to be strategic about the electives, if you know your specialization. Most of my term papers and projects also focused on socio-economic welfare topics that deepened my understanding of the field and helped me make a good case for why I wanted to pursue the field in my interviews.
Put Yourself Out There. Lastly, being proactive can take one a long way. All my internships and even papers published during my stint in the US and at the IMF were a result of me putting myself out there and seeking opportunities.
In pursuit of a job, and with the stress of an education loan, I focused more on quantity rather than quality. If I could do it differently, I would pursue the roles and companies that fit my interest instead of trying to apply for several roles online. Connecting with people on LinkedIn, through MeetUps, College Clubs, etc. to understand the roles and organizations of interest better can help you get on the path quicker.
Can you speak a little bit about the hiring process at the IMF?
The process can vary depending on the hiring teams. Some teams like to start with a STATA/Excel test and may prioritize a UN language proficiency. When I interviewed in July 2017, I had an introductory call (more of a casual interview) with the hiring manager who was focused on trying to understand my background and interests better. I had the opportunity to ask questions and I tried to use that time to understand the expectations from the interview better. I learned that there would be one more round which would be a panel interview.
“During the panel interview consisting of 5 economists, about 30% of the interview was focused on macro-economic related questions such as the Balance of Payments, Fiscal accounts, GDP components, etc. 40% was focused on programming, data visualization, Excel, and econometric/statistical skills. 10% was going over my previous work and education experience and the rest 20% was an in-depth discussion of a research paper I worked on and my research interests.”
What about the visa do you need to know about and be aware of before applying to work with the IMF? What do immigrant job-seekers need to be aware of?
As an IMF employee, one would be on a G-4 visa (UN diplomat) and needs to be on a 4-year fixed-term contract, if you are a research analyst. These contracts are non-extendable and unless one is a US citizen or a permanent resident, you cannot work here on any other visa. So it is very limiting in that sense. It is essential to plan how to utilize one’s time at the IMF in a way that could help one make the next move. If one wants to study later or get into research, one should try looking for more research projects and likewise try to go for missions if that is relevant for the next pursuit. All in all, IMF may not be the final stop after Masters in the US, but it is a huge exposure and opportunity to expand one’s horizons.
You say you are an introverted person. As an immigrant, can you speak a little about how NETWORKING got you closer to your dream job? What advice do you give to INTROVERTED immigrants?
Not many of us are skilled at talking to strangers and asking for help. And this can make things difficult in a new country, especially while job hunting. Regardless, we have to learn the rules of the game. Sometimes, we have to shut the narrative of how we might embarrass ourselves, and go for it anyway. Almost every job in the USA I have had, I got through proactively asking for it at some point.
When I came to the USA, I needed a campus job. I remember walking through the entire campus and knocking on every door asking if there is a vacant position (I found 2–3 positions over the first 2 semesters with this approach). Later, while working one of these campus job shifts, I stopped by a senior official and asked him if his team could be hiring a summer intern. That is how I got my summer internship. And there is a similar story behind every other job or internship I undertook!
I used to identify as a very socially awkward person and can understand the struggle of approaching strangers. But I would like to tell others who may be in a similar boat is that our need to survive and desire to achieve cannot be overpowered by our fear of embarrassing ourselves. A lot of it is also about practice.
“Expect the first few such conversations to not go so well, and believe that you would gradually figure out the process. An “I will figure it out” attitude can help people deal with a lot in a new country.”
What is the ethos of being an immigrant in the US? What is it that you bring from your home to this country?
I believe being an immigrant is a great opportunity to explore a new world. Having an open mind and curiosity about other cultures, cuisines, languages, history, etc. is a great way to grow both intellectually and emotionally. One could get a degree and a job even back home but it is the overall experience that shapes us. At the same time, one should be proud of their roots and all that one brings to the table. Being abroad is also an opportunity to educate oneself about other cultures, and illuminate others about our history, cuisine, cultural diversity, etc. Additionally, grit and curiosity are the tools most immigrants can bring with them, and that for me is the ethos of being an immigrant.
“Having an open mind and curiosity about other cultures, cuisines, languages, history, etc. is a great way to grow both intellectually and emotionally. Being abroad is also an opportunity to educate oneself about other cultures, and illuminate others about our history, cuisine, cultural diversity, etc.”
Interested in learning more about Public Policy, International Development, and Humanitarian Aid? Below are a few resources that might help you!
- Networking Skills to Build a Career in International Development | 4 Tips to Network during COVID-19 (Video)
- Cracking the data analytics interview by a World Bank data analyst (Video)
- Opportunities in Public Policy — Landscape as an Immigrant student? (Blog)
- 5 Intelligent Ways to be Optimistic — An Immigrant Guide (Blog)
- FREE Job Hacks Cheat Sheet — Accelerate the pace at which you get that FIRST INTERVIEW (Blog)
This Blog is co-written by Vibha Nanda and the Editorial Team at TIP Co. (The Immigrant Project Community). In case of further questions, connect with Vibha Nanda on LinkedIn. You can stay on top of your job finding process by interacting with TIP Co. (The Immigrant Project Community) on our social channels:
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