Transitioning into International Development Careers

Let me start out with my bias. I don’t help my clients “get a job, any job.” I help them figure out how they can best make a contribution in the world and live a happy, fulfilling life. Global development is a competitive field to get into and challenging to work in. Burn-out and turn-over are common, and it’s my goal to help people avoid the many pitfalls they can walk into when first entering the field. My process is a holistic one because I know that the people who make the biggest impact are: 1) strategic in the work they do and 2) take care of themselves so that they can continue doing that work day in and day out. Taking care of yourself means knowing what you want and need, knowing your strengths and challenges, and finding a career that meets your needs and leverages your passion.

As readers of my blog know, I take all my clients through a Career Design process and this is especially important for those who want to break into global development. The process is about gaining clarity about what you want, designing your ideal life and career, then being systematic and persistent in building your design. To use career design lingo, first you must understand your raw materials, then you create a napkin sketch to inform your career design, and finally create your career creation tools for what you want.

Examining your raw materials is primarily self-understanding, knowing what value you bring to your job, what your needs are, what your “nice-to-haves” are, and what your strengths and challenges are. When you’re creating your napkin sketch, you start pulling those pieces together to get an idea of the type of job you want and organization you want to work for. The career design process is when you start reality-checking your ideal by doing additional research, talking to people in the field, and getting clearer about where you want to work. Your career creation tools are the documents that help you get what you want: your resume, LinkedIn profile, references, accomplishments, etc.

When most people decide to get into international development, they jump into the career creation tools stage and start sending out their resumes to job postings. The most common result is… nothing. No call-backs, no interviews, no job offers. When you are unsure of what you want and why you want it, this shows up in your resume, in your networking, and in the interview. International development organizations are risk averse. They first want to hire people they know and can do the job. Next preference is referrals, then people with extensive experience doing this type of work in international settings, and finally, people who know what they are getting into and can demonstrate that they are up to the challenge.

If you want additional support, check out My Career Design Studio, a new online coaching program that walks you through each stage, step-by-step.

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