Making smart moves to futher your development career means navigating a few tough decisions along the way.
In a recent live Google+ Hangout I hosted, a viewer posed this question: Should I take a promotion within a local NGO or make a lateral move to a larger, global organization?
Here’s what the viewer said: “I am a development practitioner and M&E officer with a national NGO implementing project in Pakistan. Recently I have been promoted to a HIV/AIDS project officer and will be implementing and managing projects in eight districts. I was also offered a position by a well-known international development and relief institution. But the position is M&E Officer and I have about two years of experience already in the same position. Now I am confused about which opportunity to take. The contract length is about two and a half years in both organizations and the monetary benefit is likely better with the international organizations. Can you please advise?”
First of all, trying to decide between two good work opportunities is a great problem to have. So count yourself lucky that you have a tough decision to make.
There is no perfect answer and only you can know which one is truly right for you, but the advice I gave this viewer would be important for anyone trying to make a similar decision. Here are five important points to consider:
1. Look beyond the job title
An M&E officer in one organization is not necessarily the same as an M&E officer in a different organization. The duties, responsibilities, and seniority level can differ wildly. For example, I’ve worked in a company where the title of senior associate was used for the most senior and experienced staff while in other organizations it may be a more entry to mid-level title. When comparing two opportunities, look beyond the title and instead at what the job actually entails. Will one give you more management experience? Is one managing a much larger project or team? These details are more important than the title.
2. What are your long-term career goals? Do you want to be an M&E specialist or an HIV/AIDS specialist or an M&E specialist focused on monitoring global health programs?
If you want to pursue M&E, which is a very in-demand skill, then having another, different M&E experience on your resume will be a good thing and help solidify you as an “expert” in this field. Taking a health-focused job, even if it provided more seniority, might set you back or make your experience appear more scattered for future M&E focused positions. If instead you are looking to move your career into the areas of HIV/AIDS or health, then taking another M&E position – even within a highly regarded organization – may set you back on this path. Many M&E specialists also focus on one or two sectoral areas of expertise, since monitoring projects often requires a level of technical understanding and knowledge. If you feel like you have a lot of M&E experience but no real sectoral focus, then you may want to consider the HIV/AIDS project officer position as a way of rounding that experience out.
3. Larger organizations often have more opportunities for growth
They may have more funding for training and capacity building than smaller groups. You may have more mobility either upward or into other areas of interest in a larger institution when your contract comes to an end. A well-known name can also help you get in the door at other global organizations who may put a higher value on this experience.
4. Local organizations are there for the long haul
International organizations may be well established in your country or may be there for one project and then packing up and moving out when the program ends or funding priorities take them elsewhere. Consider how invested the organization is in Pakistan: Do they have multiple projects in country? How long have they been there? Is their office temporary or permanent? It could be that the local, even if smaller, organization has a larger and more sustainable local presence. In this case, they may actually be able to provide more opportunities for growth than their better known counterpart.
5. Reputations matter
Just because an organization is better known in a wider circle does not necessarily mean it is better regarded. Think about the reputations of the two organizations you are deciding between. What do the beneficiaries and stakeholders think of their projects? Do current and past employees regard it as a fulfilling place to work? Which organization’s values align more closely with yours? Enjoying your work environment is more important than titles or salary. After all, most development professionals choose this career because it is a labor of love. Choose which one you think you will love more.
For more questions and answers on managing career transitions in international development, watch this Google+ hangout. If you have a questions about managing your career in global development, please tweet me @DevexCareers.