In a field as broad an International Development, understanding the landscape is key to navigating it. But once you’re clear on the available roles and key players, narrowing your focus can bring its own set of challenges. Here are five steps to help set you off on the right path.
STEP 1: Be Clear on What You Bring to the Table
As a job seeker, one of the first steps you should take is refining your personal pitch statement. This short, snappy explanation forces you to critically examine and distill your skills, experience, passions, and future ambitions into one short paragraph. To start your personal pitch, make a list of your top five skills and attributes and the top five achievements that illustrate how you have successfully used them during your studies, internships, or in your community. Try to draw the connections between them in a short paragraph. Now imagine you got onto an elevator with a director from an International Development organization you’d like to work for. You have three minutes until the elevator arrives on his floor. Can you impress him with your pitch and land an interview?
STEP 2: Follow Your Passion
When you envision leaving your mark on the world, which of the fields and sub-fields of the International Development sector comes to mind first? For instance, you may strongly believe that the youth are the future and more effort needs to be directed toward their development. That’s a good start. Now go one step further. When you think of youth development, are you more concerned with ensuring that youth have access to quality education and medical services or that there are enough employment opportunities for them to be engaged in meaningful and fulfilling work? By doing this, we’ve not only identified a field — youth development — but also several sub-fields — youth education, youth employment and livelihoods, and youth health (which again could be further sub-divided into youth sexual and reproductive health, youth mental health, etc.). Think about where you want to leave your mark and where you feel you could find the greatest fulfillment.
STEP 3: Narrow It Down
Once you’ve determined your core skills, attributes, and passions, connect this list to the roles available in the International Development sector. Let’s say you have a degree in Business Administration and enjoy crunching numbers and developing plans and strategies. You are also outgoing with a passion for youth development. When examining the roles typically available in the sector, you may realize that you would like to work in Programmes as this involves quite a bit of high-level planning and strategizing. Or you may be suited for a Fundraising role, which could potentially involve a bit of accounting, developing budget plans, and liaising with potential partners. Further examination of the roles available in Programmes may lead you to identify a position as an Operations Assistant or Junior Project Manager. And the good news is that you can take on all of these roles within an organization that focuses on youth development.
Essentially, by linking the various roles you may be suited for with the fields (and sub-fields) you are interested in, you will arrive at several permutations of potential positions that will form the basis of your search in the next step.
STEP 4: Do Your Research
The importance of this next step cannot be overemphasized. There are two ways to approach the research phase. Building on our earlier example, you could research organizations focused on youth development and make a list of what you find. Get as specific or stay as general as you want to. For instance, do you want to work for an organization that funds or implements youth development projects or is it enough that they focus on some aspect of youth development? Once you have your list, visit each organization’s website and peruse the career section for positions that match your interests. Pay attention to positions that seem similar to the ones that made your list in Step 3. Keep in mind that some titles may be used interchangeably and some functions — like “analyst” — may cut across different roles. If you don’t find any suitable positions, consider sending in an open or unsolicited application, expressing interest in applying for such a position should one become available soon.
The second approach is more general. Start your search by visiting sites that regularly post opportunities in the International Development sector. Perform a search for the role(s) you are interested in. A quick scan of the first couple of paragraphs of the job description should tell you whether the role is in a field/sub-field that you care about. Through this process, you may also identify suitable roles in fields/sub-fields of the sector that did not immediately come to mind earlier.
STEP 5: Align Yourself to the Requirements
Before proceeding with any applications, ensure you are aligned, or can reasonably align yourself, with the requirements of the position. The reality is that applying for jobs in International Development, and in pretty much any other sector, is not a numbers game. Applying for tons of roles whose requirements you cannot sufficiently prove that you meet is not going to increase your chances of getting a job.
For each position you choose, scan the list of requirements and experience. Can you show in your CV and cover letter how you meet the top three requirements? Your list of achievements from Step 1 comes in handy here. If a position calls for two years of work experience and you only have one, can you think of any volunteer activities that could count as experience? It’s time to get creative — but within reason. If you need help aligning your skills, attributes, and achievements to the requirements of the position, feel free to reach out to us at Launch Africa.
Finding the right position takes a proactive rather than a reactive approach. There is no point in passively perusing job sites to blindly apply for multiple positions without determining whether or not you are well-suited for them. Take the time to understand what type of position you are looking for and impress potential employers with your sense of clarity and determination.