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Working in International Development can be exciting and rewarding. As the landscape changes, the definition of what makes an international development organization expands. This expansion creates more opportunities for professionals from varied backgrounds to leverage their skills and experience for a career in this field. If you’re considering a transition to an International Development career, here are four steps to help you make the leap.
1. Know who the employers are and who they are looking to hire
Before beginning your job search, spend some time getting to know the different kinds of employers engaged in development work, from consulting firms to nongovernmental organizations to funding agencies. Understand the role each plays in the sector, and what kinds of professionals and skills they are looking for to support their work.
Sites like Devex allow you to search for development organizations working in field and countries that interest you. During your search, you will learn what skills and professionals these organizations look for, the types of projects they work on, and the positions they typically fill. Having this information at your fingertips will give you a better sense of how and where you can fit in.
2. Align your skills and experience to International Development jobs
Once you have a good idea of the types of employers and jobs that are available, the next step is to align your current skills and experience to those opportunities.
The jobs where you see the most overlap with your skills and experience will be the ones you have the best chance of landing — even if the subject matter is vastly different from what you currently focus on. Concentrating on these positions will give you a realistic shot at getting into the sector.
You should be mindful of the fact that most successful career transitions do not happen in a single career move. It may take a few strategic moves to land where you want to be. Your focus at this point should be trying to break into the sector.
3. Supplement missing skills
As you take inventory of your skills, identify any gaps you may need to address. Look for opportunities to make up for these skills through training courses, volunteer programs, or in your current role. For example, if you work for a multinational corporation, helping out with a corporate social responsibility initiative may expose you to development programs and give you the opportunity to work alongside development organizations.
If your goal is to transition to a field that is very different from where you are starting out, it may be wise to start with development jobs where you have an advantage based on your current work experience. Once you break into the sector you can leverage that position to build the skills needed to make a more dramatic career shift over time.
4. Learn the international development lingo
Every industry has its own terminology to describe what it does. The international development sector is no different. If you are considering a transition to international development, invest some time in learning the appropriate international development terminology to frame your experience. This can improve your chances of connecting with a recruiter or hiring manager.
A good rule of thumb is to mirror the language used in a job description and on the website of the development organization you are considering applying to.
While career transitions are not easy, they are not impossible either. You will need to exercise lots of patience and have a plan. If you’re ready to make that leap, we can help you figure out a plan that works for you.