Devex brought hundreds of mid- to senior-level development professionals together with dozens of international organizations to discuss jobs and opportunities in the Philippines and broader Asia-Pacific region last week at the Devex Career Forum in Manila.
The day kicked off with a plenary panel of recruitment and business leaders from RTI International, Engility, International Care Ministries and UNICEF to discuss how trends in the region are impacting careers with international NGOs, consulting firms and funding agencies. Here are six key takeaways from the event:
1. Using data to show impact
Our world is increasingly data driven. Political campaigns, retail chains and governments are all leveraging data to influence messaging, predict customer behavior or monitor public opinion with the goal of seeing more impact, be it winning a campaign or increasing revenue.
International development is no different. With finite resources and ambitious mandates, development organizations — and professionals — are harnessing the power of data to monitor their work, and make smarter, real-time decisions that will create more impact. Today’s professionals need to feel comfortable with data and analysis and showing results through monitoring and evaluation. This trend is only increasing and is likely to be a required skill set for all professionals, alongside management and technical expertise.
2. Multi-disciplinary experience
To solve complex development challenges, organizations are moving away from a “silo” approach and instead are looking at multi-disciplinary methods for more effective programming. During the Devex Partnerships Forum in Manila, Paul Weisenfeld of RTI International gave the example of nutrition not just being a health issue, but also an agriculture, climate change and economic development issue.
During the Career Forum, one participant asked how she should display her vast — and admittedly scattered looking — experience across many sectors in her decades-long career. Her assumption was that without one clear technical focus, her varied expertise wouldn’t be as valuable. However, RTI’s David Spiro concluded that her varied experiences could actually be an asset. While today’s development professional should have a deep level of expertise, they should also understand how other sectors impact their work and be able to work across disciplines to develop more integrated approaches. If packaged right, Spiro advised, experience in multiple sectors could actually be a big advantage for today’s work.
3. The regional expat
The demand for hiring local professionals is here to stay and is only going to increase as more countries develop the capacity to lead and implement programming. However, there are still roles that can be difficult to fill without expanding to a global search. For example, UNICEF had to look outside of the Philippines to fill some of their senior child protection or water and sanitation positions as part of the Typhoon Haiyan response. Rather than looking at some of the traditional candidates from the North, though, organizations like UNICEF and others on the panel are first looking for professionals from the region.
There will still be a role for expats, but increasingly that expertise will be recruited from neighboring countries rather than places like Europe or the United States. With ASEAN integration, this will increasingly be the case across Asia as it becomes easier for organizations to hire professionals across borders. This also means there should be more opportunities for seasoned local professionals to work internationally in their region.
4. Private sector skills are important, but not without necessary soft skills
Private sector experience can be very valuable in international development. ICM chairman David Sutherland, former CFO for Morgan Stanley Asia, described how he leveraged his experience in the banking world to develop an extremely efficient model for delivering aid and showing impact to his donors. However, professionals will also need to possess soft skills, like humility, to successfully make the transition. If you come to global development with the attitude that your previous private sector experience is more important, you won’t get very far, Sutherland warned. The work is just as — if not more — difficult and valuable; the only difference is you get paid less, he advised.
5. Squeaky wheel gets the grease
Though she prefaced this tip saying other recruiters may be upset she let the secret out, Kelly Tobin of Engility encouraged candidates to follow up with recruiters to make sure they get noticed. A polite phone call or email indicating your interest and requesting feedback will likely get her to look up your application and take a harder look at your resume, she admitted. The key is to keep your communications polite and brief, showing respect for a recruiter’s time and the entire process.
6. Keep CVs concise and include a summary of experience
Advice on CV length can vary depending on what kinds of positions you are applying to, the kind of employer and your level of experience. However, we got a consensus across the panel that a good rule of thumb for a CV is two pages. The most important part? The first half of the first page. If you don’t grab the recruiter’s attention there, they are unlikely to continue digging through the rest of the document.
Including bulleted highlights of your key skills and experience at the top was the preferred format by all panelists. Bettina Hasel of UNICEF also said that while the U.N. system requires a specific P-11 format for all of their vacancies, she prefers to read CVs in a more traditional CV format and encouraged applicants to submit both versions.