An interview can go up in flames just as easily as a first date, and a poorly written cover letter is a surefire way to get cut from a candidate list.
In an industry as highly competitive as international development, there is little room for slip-ups. Devex asked global development recruiters for the biggest mistakes they see recent graduates make when trying to get a job — to help you avoid them.
1. THE MISTAKE: Jumping straight to salary
THE FIX: One of the biggest mistakes that came to mind for Alex Ginn, an international recruiter for Nathan Associates, starts with phone interviews.
“One of the first questions [candidates] ask is ‘what is the expected salary for this position?’... Although I know that four years (or more!) of eating ramen noodles and surviving off the fumes from your bank account can elicit a trigger-ready approach to salary discussions, try to hold off until the recruiter brings it up,” Ginn suggested.
Jumping straight to talking about salary expectations might signal to your recruiter that you are less interested in the type of work they do, he explained, and more interested in how much they’ll pay you to do it.
2. THE MISTAKE Cutting corners on research
THE FIX: Make sure you are as familiar as possible about the job and the organization you are interviewing for, suggested Ruth Iswariah, senior talent acquisition partner at World Vision.
“Think of interviewing like you would think of dating. Take some time to ‘date’ the company: Read up on us, ask thoughtful and well-researched questions to see if we’re compatible, and make sure to point out when we have ‘shared interests,’ or where your experience and our needs match, Ginn added.
THE FIX: This is your opportunity to write about who you are and what you bring to the table, so use it, Iswariah suggested. Not only include it, but proofread it to make sure that you’ve addressed it to the correct person.
Read more tips on how to make a great cover letter:
4. THE MISTAKE: Leaving out key examples of past experience
THE FIX: Interviewers like to know how you have performed or behaved in past circumstances, so make sure you are able to provide examples that illustrate circumstances, actions and outcomes, Iswariah suggested.
While you may not have too many working examples from university that you feel are relevant to the workplace, try to think of those relevant to the research you’ve carried out rather than from social activities, suggested Benjamin Salt, senior international recruiter for DAI.
5. THE MISTAKE Not showcasing problem-solving ability
The FIX: Employers want problem-solvers. Applicants should structure their CVs so that not only do they describe their experiences in internships, school, or work, but also a problem that arose, actions taken to improve the situation, and the results of those actions, according to recruiters at Nathan Associates.
Don’t have a problem? Include a sentence or bullet on how you improved a process, reduced a bottleneck, or took some initiative to contribute to the company in a way that was “above and beyond.”
6. THE MISTAKE Limiting your CV
THE FIX Forget the one-page CV limit. Be concise, be structured, but include everything that makes you an ideal candidate for the position, recruiters tell Devex. Use discretion; your CV length and experience level should be proportionate.
7. THE MISTAKE Acting entitled instead of confident
THE FIX Those who can demonstrate a willingness to take the academic knowledge and apply it to practical work will make the interview more engaging. Remember that the interview is a two-way process, but some organizations will be better placed to offer opportunities to graduates than others.
Rather than acting entitled, ask how you might be in a better position to be considered for those positions, Salt suggested.
“I often find the more proactive the graduate is in their job search and contacting recruiters directly, the more they demonstrate the right sort of attitude,” he said.
In her role as associate editor, Kelli Rogers helps to shape Devex content around leadership, professional growth and careers for professionals in international development, humanitarian aid and global health. As the manager of Doing Good, one of Devex's highest-circulation publications, she is constantly on the lookout for the latest staffing changes, hiring trends and tricks for recruiting skilled local and international staff for aid projects that make a difference. Kelli has studied or worked in Spain, Costa Rica and Kenya.
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