From how to network to making your CV stand out of the crowd, our panel of experts share their career advice
Jamie Furniss, programme director of MSc International Development, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK,@UofE_MScIDDon’t assume studying international development is the best plan:One mistake a lot of people make is to think that you need to study international development in order to ‘do’ international development. There are clearly many benefits to studying the subject, but depending on the career you are seeking it is not the only, or even the best, pathway.
Clare Dawson, careers consultant, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UKDo your research: My first top tip would be to research the sector well and understand its current priorities and requirements. From there, be clear about the skills you have to offer and where these might fit. You should then find out about the variety of roles in international development and focus on which area most suits you. Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with relevant organisations can also be useful. The Careers Group London for example have a good Facebook page.
Claire Schultz, HR manager for field staffing, Médecins Sans Frontières, London, UK, @MSF_ukBuild your practical experience: Generally speaking, recruiters in the sector will be more interested in the practical experience you have gained after your degree, as opposed to the finer detail of what you studied.
Tristan Shirley, recruitment consultant, Prospectus, London, UKBe realistic: We see successful candidates as the ones who take a realistic stock of how to get into the sector. For example, a general administration job in marketing may not be the same as working in programmes, but it will allow you to be in the organisation to hear about roles, develop relationships and be building relevant experience for your CV.
Don’t overlook office skills: To get the edge in the sector, strong administrative office based skills are vital for many entry level disciplines in international development. Relevant specialist skills such as fundraising, marketing, communications and digital are also useful to get experience in. Other weapons in your arsenal may be volunteering experience or internships, as well as the best CV possible.
Graham Salisbury, head of HR, ActionAid UK, London, UK,@ActionAidUKNetwork: People who work in the sector are generally only too pleased to be invited to share their thoughts and experience with those wanting to follow in their footsteps, so make use of that opportunity. CVs, cover letters and application forms are fine, but they can’t compete with some real one-to-one networking.
Use available resources to help polish your CV: Don’t forget that there are hundreds of available books on pulling together a good CV and covering letter. Your library will have plenty, so there’s no need to spend your hard-earned cash on them. Get your hands on these books and steal with glee any tips and advice that they contain. If I was, however, to recommend just one book which also contains some great tips, it’s How to write an impressive CV and cover letter’ by Tracey Whitmore.
Damilola Odimayo, careers adviser, University of Oxford, Oxford, UKStay flexible: I think one of the key skills in the sector is flexibility. The sector is highly competitive with far fewer jobs than applicants, so it’s really key to bear in mind that you may have to make a few ‘sideways’ career moves to get your ideal job. Sometimes this may mean taking a role abroad (even if the location would not be your first choice) or in a smaller organisation. This can provide you with great experience that will make your application look more attractive when you apply for future roles.
Nick Macdonald, humanitarian impact consultant, Portland, US,@MacdonaldNickUse your cover letter to shine: It is important to use your cover letter to highlight why you are the right fit for that job. Individual passion is really important in this line of work, and can compensate somewhat for a CV that is lacking in experience.
Invest in the core skills the sector needs: The sector is changing, but it has always been changing. I think the core skill sets remain constant. These include problem solving in tough environments, cultural skills and negotiation, management, and sound project and financial implementation.
Weh Yeoh, disability specialist and co-founder of WhyDev, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, @wmyeohGet a technical skill: This will increase your chances of getting employed. This could be something like physiotherapy, education, health or engineering. The sector does not need more international development undergraduates.
Let your passion, not the job market, drive your decisions: I would warn against the type of thinking which is “what skills do I need to get a job”. Instead, you should be thinking “what area do I want to dedicate myself to”, and then go for it. Seriously, life is too short to do the former, and you’ll probably burn out and get sick of it pretty quickly. Where is your burning passion and what is going to keep you getting up in the morning for often little to no pay? This is the question you should be asking.
Read the full Q&A here.
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