More tips on International Development

Continuing on yesterday’s theme, in the same essay that she wrote on the international development landscape, APSIA alumna Michele Carter provided some additional advice to those of you thinking of international development work. Again, the following is taken from the Seventh Edition of Careers in International Affairs, edited by Maria Pinto Carland and Lisa A. Gihring, and published by Georgetown University Press in 2003. If you’d like to read the full version of the book, the Maxwell Center for Career Development has a copy on file in their library.

  • Get field experience.  Nobody will take you seriously if you talk about addressing problems in developing countries without having worked and lived in one.

  • Do internships.  I broke into international development … in CARE’s fellowship program.  CARE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) have yearlong programs that provide training while you work overseas.  It requires serious persistence to convince an organization to take on interns, but it is an ideal way to circumvent the “catch-22” of needing field experience when no one will give you field experience in the first place.

  • Financial sacrifices.  If you just want to break in, you have to prepare for financial sacrifice.  Although organizations such as Concern, MSF, or GOAL pay small stipends, many organizations don’t, but if you make the investment for one year, you will earn experience for your CV.

  • Do emergency work.  If you have no family responsibilities, work in an emergency situation.  If you can handle a year in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Somalia, or Kosovo, it is almost guaranteed that other doors will open for you.

  • Learn more than one language.  If you speak Spanish and want to work in Latin America, remember that there are fewer jobs and you’re competing with people who are completely bilingual.  Learn Portuguese or Arabic or Russian.  For a bonus, learn “exotic” languages such as Kiswahili, Bengali, or Thai.

  • Be persistent.  We all know human resources offices are typically overworked and underappreciated.  They receive hundreds of applications a day, so get the HR person’s name, follow up, and make sure your resume doesn’t disappear in a filing cabinet.

  • Be flexible and adaptable.  You may decide to focus on one country, but if so, you must realize you are limiting your options.  Organizations value the willingness and ability to work in several different regions of the world.  Certainly there are advantages to being the Central Africa or Eastern Europe specialist, but it also helps to broaden your experience.

  • Be deep and wide.  Development organizations recognize the need to technically strong programs.  Thus, technical assistance is required –whether it is consultants or technical “backstops” – so the more you specialize, the more valuable you are.  And at the same time, it helps to have a holistic, interdisciplinary view.

Given the challenges of globalization and the global economy, the international development field requires talented and committed people.  Those in developing countries deserve nothing less.”