Opinion: Looking to transition to a global development career? Follow these 4 steps

By Mark Horoszowski 22 November 2016

Jamie experteering with Sistema B in Argentina and Chile. Photo by: MovingWorlds.org

There is something powerful about the idea of working overseas, and when it’s combined with sustainable development, that allure is even stronger. So while many global leaders are talking about closing borders and turning inward, more millennials than ever are looking for jobs that truly make the world better.

But finding an international development job is hard; and finding one that you’ll actually love is even harder.

Strange as it may be, according to Glassdoor reviews, employees seem to like their work at Monsanto or Amazon more than employees of global development organizations such as the  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Certainly this comparison is ripe for debate, but what the data shows is clear: you don’t have to work in social change to like your job, and just because you work in a social good career doesn’t mean you’ll love it. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that you should not go work in global development; but I am saying that if you follow the average path to this sector you’re likely to end up disengaged and dissatisfied.

But there is hope. These four steps share how you can find a development sector career that is truly enriching and engaging.

1. Make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

As it turns out, most people are bad about understanding what will make them happy. Maybe that’s why most people end up dissatisfied in their jobs — with dissatisfaction percentages even higher in the nonprofit sectors.

Many people are surprised to see that job engagement rates in the social good sector are low, but the reason is surprising easily to understand: just because your organization creates social good, doesn’t mean that you’ll find purpose in your work there. Dan Pink calls this finding your drive: a place of engagement in your career where you find the right balance of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

But autonomy, mastery, and purpose mean different things to different people: As an example, you might prefer a very ambiguous environment with lots of freedom while your friend might like a more structured role with clear tasks. People’s sense of mastery and purpose also vary greatly. To help figure out your preferences in each of these “engagement drivers” it’s critical to map out your assumptions, and then validate those assumptions by researching, experimenting, and networking. Using lean startup principles to validate your career choice will help you walk through a process to figure out your preferences, and which employers are the right fit for you.

2. Get more highly relevant experience to stand out.

Research shows that employers are increasingly searching for people with relevant experience, not just education. There are no shortcuts here. Many international development organizations won’t hire you unless you’ve already spent time overseas living and working. Many nonprofits won’t extend you an offer unless you’ve spent time supporting their cause. To get hired by these groups, you have to spend time in their sectors, and volunteering is a great way to do that — but don’t just jump at the first project you see. Not all projects are created equal.

First, figure out what moves you, what skills you need to develop, and geographies you need to experience to qualify for your dream job. Then, preferably with the help of a friend, mentor, or coach, identify the parts of your profile where you need to stretch yourself and grow. Then, find a skills-based volunteer experience in that role.

3. Build your global network.

Your network really is everything. Some reports show that a majority of jobs seekers find jobs through their personal networks over any other method. That’s why you need to build out your network — and fast. But building a network, especially in the international sector is hard. Even if you’re in a city such as New York, Washington D.C., or London with many international positions, it can be hard to find the right contacts. Simply asking for a coffee chat won’t always get you the warm lead you need. Instead, you have to earn your way to network. In Adam Grant’s great book, Give & Take, the author provides tips on how to earn connections. Additional ways include joining skills-based volunteering networks, giving circles, meetup groups, and ongoing education programs. Remember, as with experience building, be intentional about the type of networking you do.

4. Stand out in the job hunt.

Once you have new experiences, it’s important to talk about them the right way. All too often I see people misrepresent their past experiences with disconnected storylines, poor descriptions, or improper categorization. As an example, a volunteer project, provided it’s a skills-based project as described above, belongs as a “pro bono consulting” or “experteering project” on your resume, not just “volunteer experience”. From there, you should talk about your experience in a way that proves your ability to create impact.

We know this is a hard path, it takes time, and it takes a lot of work, but the prize is a fulfilling career that makes you and the world better.

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

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Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, a platform that helps people volunteer their skills around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programs. Its newly launched MovingWorlds Institute, accepting applications through November 30th, combines experteering, curriculum, mentorship, and networking to help people transition to social good careers.

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