Craig Zelizer, CEO, Peace and Collaborative Development Network, Washington DC, US, @craigzelizer
Don’t rely on your CV: There is massive competition for places in this sector; our most recent advert for a receptionist attracted almost 300 applications. You have to make sure that you stand out from the crowd. A good CV is not enough. Actually, an amazing CV is not enough either. You need to get yourself physically in front of some of the people who you believe could help you into a desired role. So get networking.
Graham Salisbury, head of HR, ActionAid, London, UK, @grahamsalisbury
Speak to those in the know: Contact development professionals and ask for an hour of their time in order to get advice “straight from the horses mouth”. Academic advice is great, but professional insight is invaluable.
Diane Marker, director of recruitment, GRM International, Dubai, UAE, @GRMINT
Seek face-to-face contact: Finding out who the people are in the areas you want to work in, and request that they spare 30 mins to talk to you (“share their expertise”) will usually lead to a meeting where you can both learn and impress. One face-to-face meeting is probably worth more than 100 applications. Target your resources and time for maximum effect. Graham Salisbury
Avoid cliches: Showing that you’ve engaged with the sector and know the work of the organisation you’re targeting will come across really well. Think about what makes the idea of working in the sector so appealing to you and share it. Wanting to “give back” is a great reason for a career change, and putting it into the context of the organisation’s mission won’t sound too cliched.
Emma Holt, recruiter at Oxfam, Oxford, UK, @oxfamgbjobs
Don’t just apply to the big NGOs: The smaller NGOs and social enterprises often go unnoticed. Savvy candidates dig that bit deeper and are able to assist smaller organisations with their skills. Given the smaller nature of the operations, they can get a broad and more in-depth skill set from the experience. I often see a clear progression from small and medium NGOs to entry-level posts in the “big dogs”.
Tristan Shirley, recruitment consultant, Prospectus, London, UK, @prospect_us
Highlight transferable skills: Too many people who want to switch careers ignore their previous experience, which is often quite relevant or can be adapted. The key is to learn how to frame one’s previous experiences so they are relevant for the development field. Of course it may require a bit of extra training or volunteer work. Craig Zelizer
Volunteer: Although not formal training, volunteering is a good way to get not-for-profit experience or development experience. It doesn’t have to be a full-time internship. There are many small- to medium-sizes organisations screaming out for support on a more flexible basis. For more senior candidates, trustee work can be a vehicle. Some helpful sites are Do-It, Reach, and Career Volunteer. Tristan Shirley
Prepare for a step down: I spent 15 years in the aerospace and defence sector so it was a big leap [to start working in the global development sector]. I accepted that I’d have to take a big step backwards in terms of salary and seniority in order to gain experience, but that laid the foundation for a very rewarding career. It probably took three years to get established. Graham Salisbury
Look beyond the usual suspects: I never cease to be amazed at how quickly you can find yourself in a part of the development and aid world that you never knew existed. It’s incredibly easy to get focused on the usual suspects of job boards and hubs when there are literally thousands of other organisations, foundations, social enterprises and unique ventures that are looking for willing experts and offer the potential for very satisfying and sustainable careers.
Stephen Ladek, principal, International Solutions Group, Washington DC, US, @stephenladek
Join an agency: Recruitment agencies are a valuable weapon for candidates serious about getting into or transferring in development. They can offer advice and guidance and often work to match candidates with clients and create a connection that wouldn’t have been possible without their networks. Tristan Shirley
Demonstrate logical progression: The most important thing is to convince the hiring manager that there is a clear direction in your career to date and that your next move into the sector is logical and focused rather than something you are doing on a whim. Graham Salisbury
Know the sector: Be clear about why you’re interested in the sector and exactly what issue you want to work on. You should also understand that for every one sexy field position, there are three or four support positions – writing proposals, HR, finance, logistics – and these are all great ways to get your foot in the door. Stephen Ladek
Network online: I think Devex is a go-to resource. So is Idealist. I would also look for relevant LinkedIn and Facebook groups to join. The Guardian network is great, as is ReliefWeb, InterAction, Bond, and the Alliance for Peacebuilding. Stephen Ladek and Craig Zelizer
Read the full Q&A here.