3 instances when millennials fail to impress global development recruiters

The millennial generation has earned a reputation of entitlement, expecting a ribbon or raise just for showing up, but it is also perhaps the most purpose-driven generation. So how can millennials impress a global development recruiter? Photo by: Fairfax County / CC BY-ND

When it comes to matters of the workplace, millennials — typically defined as those born between the years 1982 and 2004 — are no strangers to media scrutiny and ridicule.

We’ve all read horror stories of the list of demands an entry-level hire expects of their employer, the mom who showed up to her kid’s job interview or the dad who berated a boss for not promoting his child sooner.

The millennial generation has earned a reputation of entitlement, expecting a ribbon or raise just for showing up. But it is also perhaps the most purpose-driven generation, looking for both a paycheck as well as the ability to make the world a better place. This is good news for the global development sector as more top graduates actively seek out a career with social impact.

As industries like the tech sector adjust their policies, benefits and recruiting to attract this new millennial talent, the global development sector is still, by comparison, fairly conservative. Strategies used to impress a hiring manager at a Silicon Valley startup, for example, may be a big turn-off to a seasoned development manager.

Read on for three common complaints about millennials interviewing for global development jobs:

1. Putting too much emphasis on “passion.”

If you’re pursuing a career in global development, it’s pretty much assumed that you’re passionate about (fill in the blank) cause, and it is hardly a trait that will set you apart.

What is more important is technical competence, cultural awareness, the ability to solve complex problems, analytical skills, comfort with ambiguity and a whole host of other skills depending on the nature of the job.

Placing too much emphasis on your passion can come across as naïve or even arrogant, implying that solving issues like global poverty is simply a matter of having the right can-do spirit.

2.  Equating vacation travel with overseas experience.

Most global development jobs, even at the entry level, require or prefer candidates with overseas work experience. Securing that first international position is not easy, so many early career professionals will understandably fall back on their recreational travel experience instead.

However, while a 6-week backpacking trip around Southeast Asia or a two-week voluntourism trip building houses in Haiti may excite recruiters in other industries, your visit to an orphanage in West Africa is hardly going to impress a seasoned development veteran.

It’s fine to reference travel experiences as motivation for pursuing a global development career, just be careful to not equate it with actual work experience in a developing country.

3.  Focusing on how the job will benefit you.

While this is in line with a lot of the stereotypical complaints of the “entitled” millennial generation, recruiters tell me this is increasingly becoming a common scenario when interviewing young professionals today.

Whether it’s requesting a flexible schedule in the first interview, expecting a guaranteed amount of travel or wanting to know when you will be promoted even before a job is offered, focusing too much on what the job will do for you, especially early in the process, is a huge turn-off to those in the humanitarian space.

Global development employers value creative, tech-savvy, and ambitious employees, all traits associated with the millennial generation. However, they also value deep experience, expertise, education and training. Applying a bit of humility when touting your accomplishments will go a long way in winning over a development recruiter.

What mistakes have you seen millenials make (or made yourself) when applying for global development jobs? Please leave your comments below.

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About the author

  • Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.

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