Aid organizations are eager to boost value for money. Now what does that really mean to the job seeker?
Last Friday (Oct. 14), I moderated a panel discussion among consulting and NGO officials at the 3rd Devex International Development Career Fair in London. These were no Human Resources experts, but they were engaged in projects funded by bilateral donors such as the U.K. Department for International Development.
And although they expected hiring to continue at a healthy pace, their message was clear: Everyone’s feeling the pressure right now. And as donors push value for money, expectations may rise on their implementing partners and consultants.
For job seekers, that means: Be mindful and flexible — not so much about compensation, perhaps, but about flying coach instead of business class, working more efficiently and taking fewer days to complete a field assignment.
EuropeAid and other donors often have very specific expectations of their field staff. So, implementing organizations bidding for a contract often can’t, as much as they may want to, pay attention to soft skills such as personality and cultural fit. Instead, to win the project, they must hone in on consultants that have demonstrated all necessary hard skills and experiences.
It’s the reality of the bidding process.
It also means that hiring decisions can get a bit less personal. So, make sure your resume is well-structured and quickly gets across your value and how you stack up against each of the job requirements.
There tends to be more hiring flexibility in ongoing projects than projects during the proposal stage. Build a strong network of business connections so that when an implementer needs support quickly (perhaps because one of the consultants in the original bid turns out to be unavailable, after all), they’ll think of you.
Hiring is based on people that are already part of a recruiter’s network. I’m talking about more than just submitting your resume online. It means developing real relationships with people, and staying engaged. Pay attention to interesting news about a company; if they just won a new project, send them a quick congratulatory note. While you’re at it, share a bit of news about yourself. Perhaps you’re wrapping up a field assignment and will be in town shortly? Suggest lunch.
If you’re struggling to find work on projects funded by bilateral and multilateral donors, look for work with organizations that have a more diverse donor base, including foundation grants and donations. These organizations do not adhere to a strict set of donor-required skills and qualifications, and have greater flexibility over who to hire. They often prioritize soft skills and cultural fit over whether you’ve ticked all of the boxes.
And if you have highly specialized skills, beware that there may be fewer long-term staff positions for you. It’s just not sustainable for many aid organizations to keep a specialist on staff when projects are less predictable and your particular skill may not be needed for a while.
All that said, the ongoing value-for-money drive may also prompt employers to improve HR services. As a result, aid groups may do more to facilitate consulting and engage temporary staff in their organization — through “onboarding” services for incoming consultants and help with travel insurance and contract issues, for instance.
Read last week’s Career Matters.