SEA Week: Sheena Horton on Breaking Into the Evaluation Field

My name is Sheena Horton, Senior Analyst at MGT of America, Inc., and Private Sector Representative and Board Member for theSoutheast Evaluation Association (SEA). I have been in the evaluation field professionally since 2008, and would like to offer a few tips from my experience breaking into the evaluation field.

Lesson Learned: Evaluation opportunities are everywhere, but simply searching “Evaluation” and “Evaluators” will not expose you to all of them. Evaluation job and organization titles vary greatly and can be vague. Similarly, desired skill sets vary across sectors and subject areas. Whether you are starting or switching your career, there are steps you can take to become more acquainted with the evaluation field.

Hot Tip: Investigate and evaluate. Start by researching online and expanding your keyword searches to other common words you encounter and by focusing on agency resource webpages. Evaluation is everywhere, so look everywhere: think tanks, consulting firms, law enforcement agencies, health/human services offices, governors’ offices, legislatures, and universities. Many organizations have their own evaluation units for assessing their processes, performance, and services.

Rad Resources:

  • Browse job listings – even if you are not actively seeking a new position. This includes organization listings and other directories such as AEA’s Jobs Database, The Project Management Network, and Better Evaluation. This will help you become familiar with common titles in the field and desired skill sets by employers, and help you frame your professional development plan.
  • Using websites like LinkedIn will not only connect you to evaluation organizations and groups, but you can browse the profiles of evaluators to see the skills they have for their position and learn what is available, such as sector-specific licensures or certifications.

Hot Tip: Connect and get involved. Contact evaluators to discuss their experiences and learn about the skills sought after in your interest area(s). Such contacts may open volunteer or job opportunities. Most importantly – take initiative! Attend/present at conferences, become a peer reviewer, subscribe to email lists or feeds, or submit newsletter articles or online posts. Seize every opportunity!

Rad Resources:

  • Project Management Institute offers certifications that are highly desired in evaluation.
  • Many websites offer free online courses, including MIT’s Open Courseware and Coursera.
  • Advanced Excel skills in data manipulation are critical. Many websites and YouTube channels offer free tutorials.
  • Other valuable skills that may not be obvious to newcomers include marketing, budgeting, contract management, client relations, and implementation management and strategies. Ask any evaluator – quality knowledge and skills in these areas will definitely get you noticed.

Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) is a regional affiliate of the American Evaluation Association (AEA).

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the SEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SEA Affiliate members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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