Over the past several weeks an increasing number of you have written directly to me asking for advice on how to find an aid job or how to successfully apply for an aid job.
This is the condensed version of my best advice, as a frequent hiring manger:
I will Google you. I will look up your profile on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. I will check all of your references. Make sure that you really really want me to see your blog before mentioning it on your CV. Just saying.
Have at least a Masters Degree in something not totally irrelevant. A technical degree (MPH, something in agriculture, etc.) lines you up for a technically focused position. A generalist degree (MBA, something in the social sciences) lines you up for a generalist position. But once you’re in either way there is a lot of latitude for lateral movement. Don’t overthink it. As much as anything else, I’m looking for evidence that you can handle the pressure, deadlines, multiple demands and overall stress of a graduate level academic environment.
(Yes, we all know people who have managed somehow to get in with less than an MA. They are the exception, not the rule. An MA Degree is a basic aid industry minimum. Don’t assume that you’ll be an exception.)
Be a good writer. Have solid expository writing skills. Be able to get your thoughts down in succinct, clear prose. As much as anything else, the heavy lifting of aid work comes down to good writing. Prove that you have this basic, universal skill from the get-go: Include a good writing sample with your application.
Know another language. I’m not all that concerned about which one – in my experience the chance of getting hired into a position where the specific second or third language that you happen to know is a point-of-sale is slim. The chances of your next job being one where your second or third language is a point-of-sale is next to zero. Language ability is one of the best proxies I know of for evidence that you are able to work cross-culturally, and that is what I’m looking for primarily.
Experience commensurate with the position that you’re applying for. You don’t need years of field experience under your belt if you’re applying for an entry-level position. But if you’re applying for a senior position with a large number of direct reports and a lot of management responsibility, I’ll be looking for some pretty solid evidence on your CV that you’re capable.
Don’t tell me about the NGO you started. Really. Don’t tell me.
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