6 Tips for New Evaluators by Sara Vaca

Hi, everyone! I’m Sara Vaca, independent consultant and AEA365 Outreach Coordinator and Creative Advisor.

Some weeks ago, I was approached by four graduate students from the University of Rochester (pursuing the Master’s degree in Program Evaluation), who had been tasked with interviewing a practicing evaluator and had chosen me to know about my career as an evaluator (!). At the end of the interview, they asked me if I could give them some tips for entering the evaluation field – which inspired me to do this post.

Rad Resources: I know others have already written about this issue. I could easily recap these 4 posts with great tips:

Hot Tips: I totally agree with the good advice given by my colleagues. But in case, if my particular mix helps someone, here they are:

  1. Try to get invited to an evaluation

Getting the first contracts when you have no experience feels sometimes like mission impossible. If you know an evaluator, you try to get him/her to “invite” you to an evaluation, even if it is as an intern.

  1. Offer something new

The sooner you identify your passion and start developing content about it, even if it is just theoretical, the sooner you may get specialized in something you like… and people may start hearing about you.

  1. Go to conferences

Do not expect to have fun immediately though (my first one, AEA2013, was a bit of a disaster), but ever since I feel I’m on my planet every time!

  1. Talk to your heroes

The evaluation field is unique in so many ways. One of them is that your favorite authors are your contemporaries and go to the conferences too (or have social media). So carefully find what to share or ask or talk about, and encourage yourself to say hi to them.

  1. Engage into pro bono stuff

Although the time that I devote to it has decreased now that I regularly have paid contracts to work on, I still engage into (too) many initiatives and ideas that do not involve money. I do it to learn and for fun, as I can choose what I commit to and who I work with with great freedom. Writing papers, preparing to present at conferences and other collaborations are a key part of my self-development strategy and it is clearly interconnected with my evaluation practice.

  1. Have a website

You will obviously have to send your CV to apply to offers, but I have found that having a website of your own often reinforces your image and help people trust you. Also, if you have a blog in it, you can pour your work and passion in it!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “6 Tips for New Evaluators by Sara Vaca”

  1. Sara,

    I appreciated the tips you provided for new evaluators. I am currently undergoing my first course in program evaluation and find it a daunting experience. There is a lot of background theory and research to go through before even beginning to develop an evaluation. I like your tips to attend conferences and to try to get invited to an evaluation. Experiencing an evaluation first-hand would certainly make understanding the process more authentic.

    I was also able to check out some of your ‘Rad Resources.’ Ayesha Tillman suggested in her post to find a good advisor or mentor – this is key when you’re just starting out and have so many questions! Thank you for the link!

    Laura McGinty

  2. It was so great talking with you Sara! Thank you for sharing your advice with the world, I know the four of us found it so valuable.

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