How to leap to the next level of your career

By Kate Warren 08 September 2015

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

You’ve been in your position for a few years, mastering new skills and developing a reputation as a smart, reliable and hardworking professional. However, you’re ready for a new challenge, which means taking the next step in your career.

But how do you make the leap when positions at the next level feel just out of reach? Here are seven ways you can propel your global development career to the next level.

1.  Look for less popular jobs.

When positioning yourself for a job where you may not meet all the criteria, a good strategy is to look for open positions that are less popular and thus less competitive. With fewer qualified applicants to choose from, recruiters and hiring managers are more likely to take a chance on someone who is slightly under-qualified.

Hardship locations or non-family posts are one option, though not everyone has the will or ability to accept these kinds of positions. Another option is pursuing important but often overlooked career paths. 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.

Read: 5 reasons to work in business development 

2.  Develop a rare skill set.

If you have a hard-to-find skill, such as expertise in geospatial mapping, specific statistical software or winning funding from non-traditional 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.

Read: Who will you be working beside in 10 years?

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 within 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.

4. Consider smaller, less-resourced organizations

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 not uncommon to see people who would be in more junior positions elsewhere serving in a leadership capacity, even CEO, of a socially minded start-up. 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.

Devex members with career accounts can search thousands of global development organizations to find potential under the radar employers doing work in their 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 not uncommon 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 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.  Develop leadership skills.

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

In a Devex survey done in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Populations Services International on what skills the next generation of development professionals will need to thrive, 78 percent of respondents believe people skills are as or more important than technical skills for project leaders.

Read: Soft skills: The role of 'emotional intelligence' in development careers

7. Get another degree.

For most global development career paths, you’ll eventually need a postgraduate degree or will find that your career path will quickly plateau. For many sectors, a master’s level or equivalent is enough to reach the most senior positions. But for others, like those in the social sciences, you may need to earn a doctorate to continue growing in your field.

Before investing the time and money into another degree, consider these eight things to make sure it’s the right move for you.

What advice do you have for someone looking to jump to the next level in their career? What has worked for you? Please leave your comments below.

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or budding development professional — check out more news, analysis and advice online to guide your career and professional development, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news every week.

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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