Top skills and professions you can transition to a global development career

By Emma Smith 20 March 2017

A district malaria surveillance officer, begins her workday at a health clinic, where she receives SMS and GPS messages about new potential malaria cases and their locations. Photo by: Morgana Wingard / USAID / CC BY-NC

The global development sector is quickly evolving. Trends such as localization, shifts in funding and private sector engagement are changing the employment landscape and impacting the opportunities available and skills and experience in demand.

A master’s in international development is still highly valued by most global development employers as is overseas experience, but the need for new technical skills and expertise is creating exciting opportunities for professionals outside the development space.

If you have been considering a career move, here are some ways you could use your experience from another industry to contribute to the meaningful work being carried out by global development organizations all over the world.

Looking for a career transition? Here are tips on breaking into global development from another sector, taking your career international  or domestic  and how to translate your skills to resonate with recruiters.

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Transitioning from the field to HQ

Human resources

Talented and skilled professionals are at the core of any global development organization. Human resource departments are responsible for recruiting top experts and developing the talent within their organizations to better fulfill their mission.

HR in a global development context can be particularly challenging. You are recruiting for positions that sometimes involves living and working in complex, even dangerous environments, frequent or extended overseas travel, and lower salary scales. An organization may have offices in dozens of countries, each with their own employment laws and regulations to navigate.

HR professionals also play a critical role in ensuring the well-being of staff, managing staff relations and ensuring processes are in place for them to do their job well.

Jayanta Bora, international head of human resources and operations at ActionAid International, spoke of a need for more efficient processes to help recruitment efforts, which can be expensive and time consuming. Professionals working in HR, or specifically recruitment, in other sectors may find they have the skills that can translate to similar roles in the global development. Emphasizing the new technologies, methodologies and practices you can bring to create greater efficiency within an organization can make your outsider experience an asset.

Technical skills in health

Across global development there is a need for technical skills related to specific program areas — from agriculture to the environment — but health is top of the list. In a recent Devex survey, 30 percent of global development recruiters said that health was the most in demand sector.

As the global health sector advances, new skills not readily found within the global health sector are needed. Professionals with experience in technical areas such as e-health administration, pharmaceutical supply chain management or health insurance financing scheme could find their expertise valued by NGOs, funders and governments improving health systems around the world.

Professionals with in-demand technical skillsets might be able to find work first as a consultant on short-term projects, which can be a great way to break into the global development sector and get that all important experience for your CV.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation is increasingly a critical component of development work, allowing an organization to track progress and facilitate decision making based on evidence.

The collection and analysis of data promotes learning of best practices and is critical for measuring what works so that organizations and their approaches become more effective and efficient.

All global development projects require some form of M&E and some donors will have specific requirements for this. Skills in this area are therefore valuable to any organization. In fact, 27 percent of global development recruiters report M&E as the most in demand sector.

If you have data analysis experience in another sector, your statistical, quantitative and qualitative research skills are highly transferable to the needs of development actors.

Tech skills

As with all sectors, information technology is increasingly involved in the work of global development organizations. As a technology professional, there are a couple of ways to leverage your tech-know how for a global development career.

IT professionals are needed to oversee the technology infrastructure and platforms within organizations. These positions are found both in headquarters offices and project offices to handle a wide range of systems, such as communications, knowledge management or financial platforms.

As approaches to global development evolve and become increasingly innovative and tech-focused, global development seek professionals with backgrounds such as app development, artificial intelligence, mobile banking and beyond. This trend is only likely to increase.

Program management

A strong management team is key to any organization's capacity to deliver effective solutions. According to Massimo Alone, who oversees several projects with an organization based in Ethiopia, in a global development context, that means being involved at every stage of the program and being prepared to fill skill gaps when resources are limited.

“To supervise correctly an INGO mission, it’s essential to have strong program management experience, that is the project cycle management — from project design to different steps of the implementation, until the final evaluation and reporting,” he shared.

Alone added that for global development management it is beneficial to have direct experience managing projects in difficult settings. If you are looking to transition to managerial positions in global development, highlight experience you have working in challenging environments or particular regions.

Business development

Funding shifts mean that global development organizations are increasingly looking to private partnerships and new streams of revenue. Professionals with a background in business development can bring value to these organizations in generating funding leads and facilitating these relationships. Alone said that in recruiting for positions such as country director or head of mission, they often focus on finding someone with business development skills.

“Many organizations are looking for skills in business development — networking, lobbying, donor relation, negotiation, partnership development, project proposal development, proposal writing,” added Alone.

With these news funding opportunities also comes a need for professionals from a finance background to assist in grant and budget management.

While these professionals may find opportunities within the global development sector, it isn’t always an easy transition. When writing your CV or interviewing for jobs, it will be critical to translate your outside experience to a development audience. Avoid industry jargon from your previous career and don’t assume a recruiter will be able to immediately make the connection that your previous experience is relevant for them. You will have to clearly show them how your skills translate both by using the right keywords and terminology and by adding context to connect the dots.

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About the author

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Emma Smith

Emma Smith is a reporting and communications associate at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.


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