Fit for development: Tips for career switchers

I am constantly amazed at how many professionals are looking to move into a career in international development. This is great news for development as the talent pool widens and fresh ideas and approaches are introduced.

Last week, several of you tweeted me questions @DevexCareers about how to transition from other fields to a global development career. Here are a few of the questions and my advice.

@KFHereandNow asks: As a Marketing professional for 15 years, how can I position myself for a dev career?

There are many skills in other sectors that are relevant to development and marketing is definitely one of them. There are a couple of different tracks you could pursue.

  • In-house marketing. International development organizations often have marketing departments to market the good work they are doing to help secure additional funding and raise awareness around their brand. Development can be a competitive business so helping one nongovernmental organization, consulting firm or even donor stand out from another is important to its longevity. These organizations need people to help design their websites, run their social media strategy, decide which events or initiatives to sponsor, and create marketing collateral. Many organizations do not use the term “marketing” for positions that, in reality, are marketing-focused. For example, marketing skills are very transferable to positions in partnerships, fundraising and business development. These kinds of positions will likely be based in a home office environment.

  • Applying marketing skills to programmatic work, typically positions based in the field. Social marketing is often a component of aid work, particularly in the areas of global health. Stakeholder engagement is also a marketing skill that is frequently needed in development programs. Search for jobs using these keywords and try to phrase your experience using these terms too to resonate with a global development audience.

@peggymcdaniel asks: I’ve been a RN, medical sales, now a corp trainer in marketing. Any ideas how I can break into the NGO field?

Similar to my advice above, you could look into social marketing jobs for health-focused programs. Your medical background coupled with marketing skills could be very transferable to these kinds of positions. Right now on Devex, there are more than a handful of jobs with social marketing and health as a focus.

A lot of development work is comprised of training. Training health clinic workers on how to administer a malaria test or what questions to ask when screening a patient for HIV, for example. Training of trainers is another important component of aid work so if you can acquire this experience it will help you to break in. Also important is what training methodologies you have experience in. For example, participatory methodology is a popular approach in development. A lot of training work is described as “capacity building,” a popular buzzword to look out for and use to describe your experience.

@margagual asks: Hi Kate! Would you have advice on transitioning from a PhD in biomedical sciences to intl dev (health, technology, education)

Right now, there are several jobs requiring biomedical expertise posted on the Devex jobs board. The analytical and likely research skills you acquired in your Ph.D. will be valuable to future employers. They may also want to see experience in health technology, clinical research and experience working in a developing country.

@Russell_Rusden asks: trying to make mid-life career change to development and change donor agencies. Help?

For any job seeker looking to change sectors, it is all about the transferable skills. Examine the skills you have and then focus your search to jobs that require these skills in international development. It may take a couple of job changes to get where you want to be, so don’t look to go from A to Z in one leap. Leverage the skills you do have to get a job where you can acquire some additional skills that will later set you up for the job you really want.

Sometimes it’s all about the vocabulary you use, too. Every industry has its own vernacular and often each uses different terms to describe the same thing. Using the right words in both your job search and resume is key to your strategy. Read more advice on transferable skills.

Please share your tips, advice and experience in the comments section, and tweet me @DevexCareers — your question may just be the focus of an upcoming Career Matters blog post. You can also subscribe to my video blog on YouTube.

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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.