In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented global economic downturn resulting in increased unemployment figures. While it continues to be a challenging time to enter the job market, the good news is that current economic predictions are showing signs of recovery and many organizations are hiring.
“Destinations” is an interview series featuring recent CEU graduates who secured jobs during the pandemic. We spoke to Miguel Luis Arias who graduated with an MA in Public Policy from CEU in 2020 and is now working as a Technical Advisor at GIZ, the German agency providing services in the field of international development cooperation. Below is an edited version of our July 5 conversation.
What was your path to CEU?
I was looking for graduate education and there was a European higher education fair in the Philippines where I met alumni of CEU. I really enjoyed the conversation and how I was connecting with these people, and that convinced me to research CEU further.
It’s a really good school and ranks highly in world university rankings by subject. Another asset was the scholarship being offered and that the students and faculty come from all different parts of the world. All of these things led me to CEU, where I completed the one-year Master of Arts in Public Policy with a specialization in governance.
How did you arrive in your current role at GIZ?
I went to CEU to build my credentials and complement my six years of work experience . I was seeking advanced study in public policy and government. To add to my previous professional experience working with the governments of the Philippines and New Zealand, I wanted the theoretical background necessary to excel in the field of international development.
After graduating at the height of the pandemic I envisioned two potential paths. Initially I considered continuing my studies instead of entering the job market. I've seen studies about the impact on students of graduating into a recession or a depressed labor market and the possible impact on earnings.
Eventually, I concentrated on a return to the Philippines, and began applying for jobs with international development organizations located there. I wanted to find the best fit job for me.
I worked at a non-profit organization focused on migration protection and assistance for a couple months. (Prior to graduate school, I had worked as an immigration officer in New Zealand.) But because I had been applying to many positions, I got interviews and callbacks for multiple positions. Eventually, when GIZ offered me a full-time post, I took it because it really felt like the best fit among the offers.
What do you do at GIZ as Technical Advisor in the Global Program for Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change?
The global program I work for is financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and implemented through GIZ. We provide technical advice to the Philippine government towards improving development-oriented handling of internal migration in the country, while considering the impacts of slow-onset climate events.
We are working at the nexus of migration and climate change, so it cuts across different areas of social sciences. Our work entails human capacity building and developing knowledge products for different studies.
In this country, people don't tend to focus on slow-onset events as these take years for their impacts to be felt. More often, we experience other kinds of events - rapid or extreme weather events like typhoons. To this effect, many of the interventions on climate change in the Philippines are focused on disaster risk reduction and management, which emphasize a specific type of human mobility that is rather involuntary and immediate – forced displacement. Instead, the work that we do at GIZ introduces interventions related to the impacts of slow-onset events and how that drives internal migration – including how migration can be used as an adaptative strategy to slow-onset impacts.
The expertise of the cluster in which I am situated at GIZ is mostly on environmental science, climate change, and disaster risk management and not as much on migration. I had the migration background to offer and now I'm learning on the environmental side and working globally with colleagues from different parts of the world including the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, as well as East and West Africa.
What advice do you have for new graduates seeking their next career step?
I think it is helpful is to really reflect on your skills and competencies to make it easier to find alignment with the organizations that interest you. In international development, where the competition is very high and you're competing with people from all over the world for a single post, knowing your strengths, skills and competencies, and being able to articulate what sets you apart from all the applicants will help you stand out.
My other advice is to be focused. Once I started to apply for jobs that I felt like I had more of a chance of securing, I noticed that putting together generic cover letters with the goal of submitting a higher volume of applications just to save time did not bring the outcomes that I was after. Once I started writing cover letters that were more targeted, I began hearing back and received invitations to interviews.
It’s important to have several contingency plans, especially right now during the pandemic. I'd rather have a different set of plans so if one doesn't work out then at least I know what my next idea is. The world is unpredictable and the pandemic made it even more so. You need to be flexible and agile for different opportunities but never stop seeking the best fit job. Focus on transferable skills as a long-term investment, allowing you to go from one industry to another.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with CEU’s global community?
One last thing that has been inspiring for me, and that my colleagues at GIZ are encouraging, is that I recently received a funded opportunity to do a Master of Science in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. I feel like CEU really boosted my credentials building on my previous migration experience to be able to get this rare opportunity.
CEU’s Career Services Office serves students and recent graduates through resources and assistance to help them make an impact around the world and chart their next steps. Check out the office’s annual Destinations Reports to learn more about the career outcomes of CEU graduates.