After I wrote the article on landing my dream job, many young people reached out to me with questions about embarking on a career in the International Development sector. By far the most common was: How do I know if I even meet the basic requirements that employers in the International Development sector are looking for?
Based on my experience and research into the backgrounds of a cross-section of International Development professionals, here are the five basic requirements anyone looking to enter this sector should have:
1. Academic training
This one should be obvious. Because of the nature of the roles within the International Development sector, most employers look for potential candidates who at least have an undergraduate degree. However, technical specialist roles that call for expertise in a certain field may require a master’s degree or an undergraduate degree coupled with a few years of experience in that field. It could also work to your advantage to complete a few certificate courses alongside your undergraduate or graduate degree. For instance, combining a bachelor’s in Business Administration with a certificate in IT could make you an attractive candidate to a development consulting firm that requires junior analysts have analytical and data management skills. For those who’ve already been out of school for a while, consider taking certificate courses or looking for volunteer opportunities to brush up/gain some extra skills.
2. Strong administrative skills
While you don’t need to have experience as an Office Assistant, many roles within the International Development sector will require organizational and administrative skills. How can you show demonstrate your superior skills without direct work experience? Consider other areas where you may have put these skills to use without realizing it. Have you been involved in organizing an event at your school, church, or local charity? Did this involve many moving parts and many different actors whom you had to keep track of? Did you contribute to managing the budget and other resources for this event? Was the outcome successful? If so, then this is just one example of how you can show that you have strong administrative skills that would come in handy when working in the International Development sector and dealing with different stakeholders simultaneously.
3. Excellent writing skills
From writing fundraising proposals to creating invitation letters to drive certain actions to developing reports, blogs, and social posts, you will spend a lot of time writing. It is imperative that you are able to do so clearly and effectively. Thankfully, there are easy and practical ways to improve your writing skills. A good starting point would be to read more articles on the development sector and the fields you are interested in to get a sense of how effective writing works. Brush up on your grammar and punctuation. And lastly, look for opportunities to practice in your everyday life, whether it’s writing better posts on social media, putting in more effort into your assignments and projects at school, or mocking up blog posts and articles on topics related to your field of interest.
4. Relevant work experience
Depending on where you went (or go) to school, you may or may not have completed an internship alongside your studies. If you did, this work counts as relevant experience. If you didn’t, opportunities still exist for graduates to gain work experience through internships or volunteering. This shows potential employers in the sector that you are able to make wise decisions about how you spend your free time and that you have dedicated time to engaging in meaningful work and developing new skills. You are also allowed to be creative here. Did you tutor your classmates on subjects at which you excelled? Are there yearly events in your community that you volunteered to help organize? Did you spend a holiday working at your mother’s shop and helping to make sales and monitor expenses? Did you use your creative skills to help with the promotion of on-campus events? All of these count as work experience.
5. Passion and commitment to the cause
When it comes down to it, there are roles and functions that you could perform in either the private sector or the International Development sector. What sets applicants in both sectors apart? For the most part, people choose to go into development because they have a desire to contribute to efforts that address and alleviate pressing socio-economic concerns in their communities, countries, or continents. They are willing to forgo the promise of lucrative careers to pursue their passions and display their commitment to the cause of their choice. Before you put in an application to work in the International Development sector, there should be evidence that this passion already exists and that in some small way, you are already contributing to solving a challenge in your community. Do you care about ending world hunger? Start by volunteering with your local food bank or joining efforts at your local church to feed the hungry. Do you long for the day when every child has access to basic education? Get involved with an after-school reading program or organize a book-donation drive. Do you believe that good governance is needed to alter the trajectory of the fate of most developing states? Join the student council group at your university and advocate for better services for your fellow students.
In my opinion, these are the basic requirements that all graduates and young professionals should possess if they intend to embark on a career in the International Development sector. How do you measure up to these requirements? Let us know in the comments.