7 ways to leap to the next level of your career

By Kate Warren 20 March 2017

Pursuing important but often overlooked career paths is one way you can propel your global development career to the next level. Photo by: Flazingo Photos / CC BY-SA

If you have been in your current position for a few years, you may be feeling restless and ready for a new challenge. It can be difficult to see where your career is leading you and to know next steps to prepare for your next position.

Here are some tips on how you can leap to the next level of your career.

1. Target hard-to-fill jobs

While global development is in general very competitive, there are some positions that recruiters have more difficulty hiring for, often due to location or travel commitments. One way to move up the career ladder is to apply for those positions that are slightly less popular. In these situations, recruiters and hiring managers may consider applicants who might not meet all of the necessary criteria.

As revealed in Devex’s 2017 Hiring Trends report, recruiters report having the hardest time hiring international candidates in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Liberia and Pakistan — so professionals who are willing to relocate might find they stand out as an applicant in these regions.

Are you a mid-career professional ready for the next step? From navigating your first management position to building skills of the future, here is what you need to take your career to the next level.

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Advice from peers: How to succeed in your first management position

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Certain career paths might also enable you to progress to senior positions more quickly. For example, people working in business development, recruitment or operations often find themselves in higher seniority positions than someone with the same experience level working in technical or program areas.

2. Stand out with a rare skill set

If you have an in-demand skill set, employers may be willing to overlook your lack of experience in other areas. According to the Devex 2017 Hiring Trends Report, professionals in the monitoring and evaluation and health sectors top the list of those most in-demand by recruiters this year.

If you have even rarer, hard-to-find skills, such as expertise in geospatial mapping, specific statistical software, or winning funding from nontraditional aid donors, employers are less likely to care that you have a few years less experience than they thought they needed.

Read the requirements in job ads and talk to people in your sector to find out what sought-after skills you can develop to be attractive for more senior level positions.

3. Take advantage of staff turnover and new projects

One of the easiest ways to get a jump on your career is to look for opportunities with your current employer. Did someone just leave a more senior position? Was a new project won? It is much easier for an employer to fill vacancies internally than to open up recruitment externally, which can take months and a lot of resources to manage. If you’ve proven yourself hardworking and capable, managers may be more likely to give you a chance than wait to hire someone who may be technically more qualified, but also unknown.

Don’t wait for them to approach you, either. If a new position opens up in your organization, make sure to let your supervisor or the hiring manager know you are interested rather than assuming they would ask you if they wanted you for the position. 

4. Don’t just focus on the big names

From locally based organizations to startups, there are thousands of small NGOs, consulting firms, and social enterprises in global development that don’t have the name recognition or advertising resources as the more established players.

While salaries and benefits may not be as competitive, what they can’t offer monetarily is often made up with job growth potential. It’s common to see people who would be in more junior positions elsewhere serving in a leadership capacity, even CEO, of a socially minded startup. Those working in smaller organizations often find themselves wearing many hats and being given responsibilities normally handed to more senior employees because of the simple fact that there is no one else around to do it.

You can search thousands of global development organizations on Devex to find potential under-the-radar employers doing work in your areas of interest.

5. Look for positions on projects ending soon

Global development positions tied to a specific grant or contract will typically have an end date. If the person originally hired doesn’t stay for the duration of the project, employers will have to find someone to fill the remaining time. It’s common for organizations to lose a key staff member a year or less out from the close of a project, causing them to scramble for a replacement.

These positions are less attractive to many professionals since there isn’t long-term job security. Employers may be willing to hire someone slightly less qualified if it means filling the role quickly. Once you prove yourself on the job, they may keep you around if the project is extended or if they have other positions open up. With a new title on your CV, you’ll be better positioned to go for jobs of the same level on other projects.

6. Prepare for leadership roles

If you want to continue growing in your global development career, eventually you’ll have to pursue management positions. While some institutions such as the World Bank are trying to create career paths for both technical and management-focused professionals, there are very few senior level positions that don’t have a heavy management component.

Advice from peers: How to succeed in your first management position

Your first experience in a management position can be both exciting and daunting as you learn on the job what it means to oversee people, programs and budgets. We spoke to global development professionals in mid-level and senior level positions to hear their advice for surviving and succeeding your first management position.

To build this type of experience, take advantage of opportunities within your current job where you can assume more responsibility and learn from team leaders or project managers.

Talk to your employer to find out about any existing management training schemes and enroll in courses focused on people management or professional growth and leadership to demonstrate your commitment and help develop these skillsets.

7. Go back to school

A master’s degree is increasingly becoming the norm for a career in global development, particularly for the more senior positions. Some sectors, such as social sciences, may even require you to hold a doctorate if you wish to advance your career.

But going back to school can be a huge financial investment, not to mention demanding on your time. Here are 8 things to consider before pursuing a graduate degree.

Devex Communications and Reporting Associate Emma Smith contributed to this article.

No matter if you're a recent graduate looking for your first job in the field or an executive level professional looking for your next leadership challenge, Career Navigator offers articles, reports, videos and online events to help guide you on the first step, or next step, of your professional journey. Where do you want to go?

About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with 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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