Many people aspire to a career in international development for different reasons – from helping those living in poverty to gaining cross-cultural experience and travel. Whatever the motivation, getting your foot in the door of an international development organization is not easy, especially if you are at the beginning of your career. Understanding the sector’s processes and knowing what skills are in demand could be the keys to succeeding with your job application. We have gathered some tips and ideas from international development professionals that will help you to jumpstart your own international development career.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE ENGAGING IN A CAREER IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
“Besides a solid skills-set, one is expected to be a good mentor and have proven capacity strengthening skills because, whatever position is offered, there is additional demand for mentorship and skills transfer to national staff.”
“You have to be an excellent performer in the employment you are currently in as then it will be easy to convince those that have consultancy assignments available in the future that you will do a good job. You should also market yourself widely. For example, by using the DevelopmentAid platform, many organisations will see your CV and include you in their bids for consultancy work. This way, you will be able to get work to do.”
WHAT ARE THE MAIN SKILLS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR STARTING A CAREER IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
“One needs to have excellent mentorship and interpersonal skills and be a proven team player. Success in the international environment requires to have excellent oral and writing skills because you will be required to communicate deliverables clearly to national teams and other actors spread all over the world.”
“A good technical background and preferably some experience in the relevant sectors in your own country, regardless of whether or not that matches the jobs that you are seeking overseas. You need to be work smart and ready, with basic foundational capacities such as good interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, a proactive approach to problems and opportunities and be a team player with emerging leader attributes.” (https://nkrichards.com/)
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR FIRST JOB IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
“In my case, I got my first consultancy assignment in 1996 from one of our donors. I was, at that time, the National Coordinator of Africa 2000 Network, a UNDP project. We were given the go-ahead by UNDP to mobilize resources from other donors and the Dutch Embassy in Uganda was among our first donors. I did whatever it took to ensure that we performed well, making sure that we implemented all the planned activities and that reporting was done promptly. It was as a result of this excellent performance that our contact person in the Dutch Embassy recommended me to be a member of a team that carried out an evaluation of the ‘Sustainable Farming in East Africa’ project implemented by the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF) and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation. In 1998, I was given two other assignments by HIVOS, a Dutch NGO. The official in the Dutch Embassy in Uganda is the person who recommended me to the Dutch NGO.”
“Referral by former employers and employees is by far the easiest way to land an international job. Therefore, excellent performance in your current assignment, being a good team player and having excellent interpersonal skills in a multi-cultural environment is the best ticket to landing a future international job.”
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES OF STARTING A CAREER IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
“Number one: getting your first assignment. That can be very difficult and requires tenacity, determination, application, passion and learning from failures.“
“The biggest challenge in starting a career in consultancy work is that there is nowhere to get the training needed to be able to do consultancy assignments. You will need to learn from the experience of others by reviewing what they have done.”
“The biggest challenge, without a doubt, was adapting to a new environment. Most jobs are located outside one’s home country, and most times, one has never lived anywhere else. I personally had to leave home for a country where most of the locals do not speak English, or any familiar dialect, which meant having to learn how to communicate with them. However, many years later, it has become a second home.”
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WORKING IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
“Most people have the misconception that to work in international development you need to have obtained advanced university degrees in international relations/development. Though a good education and an advanced degree in international relations may be useful, most organizations will value a project-specific academic background and a proven skills-set coupled with good references on performance more than academic degrees in international relations or development.”
“Most people think that all consultancy assignments pay well. Yes, there are assignments which you will do and will earn as much as USD 400 – USD 450 per day but there are also assignments which you will do simply because you want to be busy or gain experience.”
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