Where Do You Start? Careers in International Affairs


Washington, DC—On August 5, 2014, the WFPG hosted a panel discussion on careers in international affairs as part of its commitment to mentoring the next generation of women leaders. The panel of experienced professionals included: Ambassador Linda Jewell, a retired US Foreign Service Officer and Executive Vice President of International Student Exchange Programs; Stefania Piffanelli, Deputy Director of the United Nations Information Center in Washington, DC; WFPG Board Secretary and Treasurer Dawn Calabia; and moderator Patricia Ellis, WFPG President. The conversation covered a range of topics including career development and job-seeking strategies, as well as advice for building confidence and maintaining a work-life balance, with the panelists sharing personal stories and words of wisdom with the students and young professionals.

In her opening remarks, Ellis commented on the wide variety of jobs available for young professionals interested in a career in international affairs, from public service to non-profit work to the private sector. Jewell, a diplomat who served for 32 years in the US Foreign Service, offered her perspective on beginning a career in public service and described her experience being a “professional American” at embassies throughout the world. She mentioned the benefits of working for the State Department, citing the flexibility and range of available positions as appealing aspects of being a Foreign Service Officer. Jewell advised listeners to be open to unexpected opportunities, echoing Ellis’ remark that serendipity can happen when job-seekers least expect it and that one should be prepared for it. She stressed that applicants must be convincing in explaining why they are the best candidate, and encouraged more women to put their names forward for open positions.

In her remarks Piffanelli discussed the benefits of career planning, but reminded listeners that the journey to a dream job may not be the straightest of paths. While she started out working in the financial sector, a chance internship with the United Nations led her to a life-long career with the organization. She explained that her experience demonstrates the importance of transferrable skills, and advised job-seekers to build their credentials wherever possible to get the knowledge and experience needed to excel in their field. Piffanelli also urged young professionals to take on challenging roles and “impress someone” with their initiative.

Calabia, a consultant who has worked in both the public and civil society sectors, shared interviewing tips and career development strategies. She highlighted the value of volunteering and internships, explaining that they allow job-seekers to experience the culture of an organization before committing, and advised young professionals to think carefully before turning down a new opportunity. On the topic of mid-career transitions, Calabia encouraged individuals to assess their strengths and weaknesses to determine where they would fit in at their ideal organization.

A common thread throughout the conversation was work-life balance, with each speaker providing insight on how to manage having a career and having a family. Calabia urged listeners to choose their partner wisely, while Jewell and Piffanelli spoke broadly about the importance of having a strong support system in place. In addition, the panelists discussed building confidence through networking and work experience. Jewell explained that while failure seems to have more consequences, it can be used as a learning experience, and advised listeners to not take themselves too seriously. On the topic of confidence, Ellis encouraged the audience to “be courageous, be engaged, and don’t wait for things to come to you” when starting a career in international affairs.


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Stefania Piffanelli of the United Nations Information
Center in Washington, DC


WFPG President Patricia Ellis and Ambassador Linda
Jewell of International Student Exchange Programs

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WFPG Board Secretary and Treasurer Dawn Calabia


Stefania Piffanelli, Patricia Ellis, and Dawn Calabia

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