#GradWeek: Answers to recent graduates’ 8 most common questions

By Kate Warren 05 May 2015

Are you a recent graduate? Here’s how to gain a solid footing in the world of international development. Photo by: Benoxyl / CC BY

As graduation quickly approaches for university students around the globe, many aspiring global development professionals are asking themselves: What’s next? Whether you’re just finishing an undergraduate program or wrapping up a graduate degree to help propel a career transition, making the jump from classroom to workplace is a daunting endeavor.

This week, Devex is hosting a special series, #GradWeek, devoted to soon-to-be or recent grads to help them get started — and succeed — in the exciting and challenging world of aid work.

View all global development career advice for recent grads

Devex works with dozens of university career centers to provide resources for their students and help them launch their global development careers.

READ: How career centers can better prepare their students for a global development career

Here are eight of the most common questions we hear from soon-to-be grads, along with our answers.

1. Does volunteer or internship experience count as work experience?

It’s rare to see a job posting that doesn’t’ require at least one if not a few years of work experience as a prerequisite. So if you’re just starting out, how do you get around this?

Some public institutions like the United Nations system can be stricter about what counts as official work experience, and some recruiters may not view volunteer or internship jobs as equal to full-time, paid employment, but the good news is that many recruiters will value your unpaid experience, too.

So if a job requires one to two years of experience, go ahead and count those summers volunteering abroad or semester interning at a local NGO. Just be careful to not fall into an internship rut.

READ: How to turn that volunteer gig into a paying job

2. Should I put non-related work experience, like waiting tables or working retail, on my resume?

The answer to this question is trickier. Some recruiters say experience working as a barista at the local coffee shop or cashier at the corner market isn’t going to impress them or the hiring managers, so you’re better off omitting those experience in favor of more relevant work like volunteer and internship positions.

However, many employers I speak with say they like to see this kind of experience on a young professional’s resume. It can show a strong work ethic and willingness to do whatever is necessary to get your career on track.

#GradWeek: Your global development career questions, answered

From the six things you — as a soon-to-be grad — should do right now to what recruiters look for in a cover letter, visit this #GradWeek page for answers to all of your most pressing career questions.

There are also valuable skills from service-level or clerical jobs — most notably, customer service and administrative skills — that can be transferable to a career in international development.

If you choose to highlight these experiences, try to focus on those skills that are most relevant to the positions you seek, advises international development recruiter Patricia Ferrett in this video.

3. How do I respond to salary expectation questions?

Probably one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of entering the working world is negotiating your salary. Many employers will request applicants to include their salary expectations when applying to jobs, leaving many new professionals unsure of how to respond. Include a number too low and you may be leaving money on the table; too high, and you may scare off a prospective employer.

Most recruiters recommend doing some research on the prevailing wage for similar positions in the same location to help benchmark where you want to be. Also, don’t cite a low number to get noticed if you in fact are not willing to work for that salary. Many organizations require this information because they have tight budgets and won’t have much room to negotiate.

If you really aren’t sure, you can likely get away with answering something non-committal like “negotiable.” If an organization is really interested in you, they will still reach out.

4. How far in advance of graduation should I start applying to jobs?

Everyone knows it can take months to land a job, so when should graduating students start applying? In most cases, you can start applying in early spring or a few months before your graduate. The hiring process can often take months before an offer is made, so a job you apply to in March may not make final hiring decisions until May. If you need a little time before you can start, most employers will be willing to wait a few weeks for the right candidate.

In cases where an employer needs to fill the position before you’re available, it never hurts to establish a relationship with the organization, which can open the door to future opportunities with them further down the road once you are available.

READ: Applying to jobs online, make sure you do these 3 things

5. How should I apply to jobs in a city different than my current location?

If your university program is in a city where there are few global development employers, chances are you will be applying to employers based in another location. Most recruiters admit they favor local candidates when reviewing job applications. It’s easier to call them in for last minute interviews and there are no concerns about covering travel or relocation expenses.

If you’re planning to relocate to a different city, be sure to include it in your cover letter and consider even including it in your resume under your address since this is the document recruiters typically read first.

Many professionals found it helpful to use a local friend or relative’s address when applying to jobs. If you go this route, just make sure you are available to jump in a car, train or plane when an interview request comes your way.

WATCH: The telltale signs of a confused job seeker

6. How do I get my first job overseas?

Most people want to work in international development because they’re excited about the prospect of working in different countries. However, if you read the job vacancies for overseas positions, you’ll see the vast majority are for very senior-level professionals.

Most global development organizations favor hiring local nationals for project-level positions whenever possible. They will only bring in international professionals for positions where there truly isn’t someone already in-country who can provide that kind of expertise. For entry-level positions, it’s hard to justify importing candidates. So, many aid workers get their start working in their home country or the home office of an organization before building up enough experience to be qualified for overseas work.

Volunteering can also be a great way to get overseas experience as a young professional.

Watch this video for more tips on how to get that first aid job overseas.

7.  How many pages should my CV be?

University career centers are typically accustomed to working with a broad range of industries and often stress the one-page rule for recent graduates. However, this rule doesn’t always apply in the international development sector.

International development recruiters like to see details and would rather you take an extra page to adequately communicate all of your skills and experience than cut it short. It’s common to see resumes or CVs up to three to five pages and longer.

Remember, though, that you don’t have a recruiter’s attention for long and don’t want to take up more space than necessary. Rather than page length, relevant experience should be your guiding rule when determining how long to make your CV.

WATCH: International development recruiters share their top CV advice.

8. How can I find employers working on my areas of interest?

While there are many household names working in international development, think the World Bank, Oxfam or Save the Children, there are thousands of other potential employers. Well-known organizations report that they can receive hundreds if not thousands of applicants for entry-level roles, while smaller or lesser known organizations may only receive a few dozen, so your chances of standing out may be higher.

Make sure you aren’t overlooking some of these potential employers in your job search by researching the full range of organizations out there working on the issues and countries that interest you. Devex members with a career account have access to a global directory of over 12,000 organizations worldwide where you can search by sector, funder, countries where they work or are based and get access to career profiles including current and post job vacancies and contact details.

Search the Devex directory of global development organizations now.

Are you about to graduate? What career questions do you have? Do you have differing answers to the questions above? Please leave them as comments below.

To view all of our advice for recent grads check out this page or follow #GradWeek. Have a question about launching your career in global development? Tweet me @DevexCareers.

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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