Straight from the experts: Devex members share their career advice

The Devex community of international development professionals offer their career insights. Photo by: Devex

The Devex community of over 600,000 members is the largest and most experienced group of international development professionals out there. Who better to share advice with our readers than this group of uber-informed experts?

I’ve handed over this week’s Career Matters to Devex members, who share their advice for six common career conundrums, from transitions to cover letters.

1. On whether it is professionally detrimental to take a lower-level position at some point in your career. 

Careers aren't always increasing responsibility plus increased pay. Sometimes there are recessions, layoffs or family decisions or other factors that can disrupt a career. The costs of not working is bigger than it may seem (money lost from potential salary plus cost of living plus lack of maintaining skills), and a lower-level position can lead to higher responsibility gains. If you are a productive worker, the [organization] will give you more to do and given incentives to keep you, or the competition will. At the least, a lower-level position will keep skills sharp, keep one abreast in their field, even teach new skills perhaps and importantly pay the rent (or pay off student loans). Too much time out of work, say over a year, can be really damaging. Two years can have long ranging consequences.
David A.

2. On trying to transition from the private sector to international development, but not getting any interest despite seemingly relevant experience.

It may likely be the terminology you use in CV/cover letters, or perhaps getting people to know who you are [or] how you work (the networking bit). I'm responding as someone in the opposite situation, which is that I have 20 years of [experience] (team building, project management etc.) — but in international development, and am facing the challenge of getting to the interview stage with domestic organizations/companies.
Rebecca C.

3. On transitioning from Capitol Hill domestic legislative experience to international development.

My suggestion would be to search for stateside companies (many in the D.C. area) that do international democracy & governance technical assistance contracts for USAID. Take any job that is on offer, and then look for opportunities within the company to transition to international assignments.
 Mildred H.

4. On being overqualified with too much broad experience.

Sounds like you are grappling with the same problem I am. I worked for the U.N. for almost five years through a series of short-term contracts. In order to survive at the U.N., I had to take jobs ranging from disaster risk reduction to human trafficking. Eventually, I got hired by USAID to do a two-year contract that would give my resume some continuity, but they laid everyone off after 10 months. In my 30s I could sell myself as a "utility infielder" but now that I am in my 40s, people want me to be an expert in a particular area. I am considering a Ph.D. because with almost no reasonable job prospects, it seems like the only path available to gain senior level expertise.
Declan O

5. On how to structure a cover letter.

An approach I've taken for cover letters is the first paragraph, about 3 lines long, establishes my credentials (i.e. xx number of years, degree, work emphasis). Next I create a 2-column table with the hiring org's requirements in the left column and my matching experience in the right column. Finally, I close with a short paragraph. As someone who also hires from time-to-time, I look at the CV first, then go back to the cover letter if the CV meets the basics.
Scott W.

6. On whether or not to use color to make a CV stand out.

Unless you are in a creative field like graphic design, I would keep your CV to black and white. Recruiters are really looking for the content and strong writing skills; anything else tends to be distracting (and make us wonder if you'll try sending colorful reports to the donor as well).
Dawn J.

If you have a questions about managing your career in global development, please tweet me @DevexCareers. Check out more career advice stories online, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news.

About the author

  • Warren kate 1

    Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.