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Dear Helen

I have a MSc. in Poverty Reduction and Development Management, nearly 4 years of working experience in international organisations and am currently working in an NGO. I have wanted to change my job and move onto a job with more money and more opportunities of advancement but I've seen that the development field is becoming almost impossible to crack. It is difficult to find another job despite months and months of trying. I often visit jobs sites and I apply here and there trying to match my qualifications to the job specifications but nothing comes up; it seems like the whole entire world is applying for the same jobs. What is your advice on this? What can I do to have a chance of landing something and not be stuck in the same rut, year after year?

Really frustrated, Addis Ababa


Your frustration is clearly evident in your letter and I wonder if that is driving you to apply for jobs that may not be the most appropriate. Sometimes, in our frustration, we find it difficult to think strategically and apply, almost in desperation, for any job that sounds more promising than the one we have!

As you are already working for an NGO, you will have some idea of the development sector. That said, there is a multiplicity of organizations operating in international development, with a wide spectrum of occupations - all with their own requirements.

My first piece of advice is to take a deep breath and review your situation logically. Why are you ‘in the same rut, year after year’? How well have you been performing in your job and does this warrant a promotion or sideways move into a more challenging role from the point of view of your employer? Before looking elsewhere, have you really exhausted all the possibilities of an alternative job role in your current organization? If the reason for being stuck is because of the size of your NGO and limited opportunities, you should consider carefully what you need in your next move to avoid falling into the same trap.

I would also suggest that you develop a clear idea of the next logical job role. If you have been working in the field, are you now looking for a head office job – or is it a case of the opposite? What skills and experience have you gained to date and how are these going to benefit your next employer? How clear are you on the best type of job role for yourself going forward? For example, are your skills in operational areas or are you more suited to policy development, research or advocacy? Have you done some research on the qualifications and experience that this type of job requires and does this realistically match what you currently have to offer or are you trying to match your qualifications against different criteria?

You speak of 4 years experience in international organisations and I wonder how many jobs you have held during this time? If you have changed jobs a number of times, this can be a cause for concern for employers. If you have held several jobs over the last 4 years, it is even more important that you stop and think strategically about what you want from your career before jumping into another job that will leave you bored within a short time.

If you have worked for other organisations and have left a good impression behind you, are you making full use of your network of contacts in other organizations to identify new opportunities? Networking is the number one route into getting a new job and you should systematically approach your contacts and, through them, their contacts, to help you on your way. Getting clarity on your job role options is vital if you are to make realistic applications and use your network effectively.

Finally, while you already have a Masters degree, even with a higher level qualification you will often find that there is a need to gain practical experience by taking on some relevant part-time voluntary or internship opportunities.

Resources for Research

An excellent resource for further research, although from the UK perspective, is Experience Development, www.experiencedevelopment.org. This site provides a comprehensive overview of the sector and includes listings of postgraduate courses as well as NGOs offering internships.

  • World Service Enquiry: The annual 'Guide to Working for Development at Home and Overseas', published by World Service Enquiry, lists the principal organisations, describes the talents and experience you may need, and suggests ways of finding work. It's available online at www.wse.org.uk
  • OneWorld is the world's favourite and fastest-growing civil society network online, supporting people’s media to help build a more just global society, www.oneworld.net
  • People and Planet's Ethical Careers Service is packed with information, advice and debate. It is specifically dedicated to helping students and graduates find socially and environmentally responsible careers, opportunities and lifestyles. www.peopleand planet.org/ethicalcareers
  • ELDIS is a gateway to information on development issues, providing free and easy access to wide range of high quality online resources, www.eldis.org/about/index.htm
  • 'Getting into International Development' by Jeff Riley (2006). This book can be purchased at The Careers Group website: www.careers.lon.ac.uk/output/Page90.asp

My last thought is that you should ensure that you have a well written CV that properly reflects your skills and experience. This is your first step in presenting yourself to an employer and will make all the difference to how your application is received. If you need help in creating a stronger CV, we offer online support to help you make the best impact when applying.

Best of luck!


Voted Candace Business Woman of the Year 1997, Helen Dupigny is a Director and co-founder of Working Plus, (www.working-plus.com) a Careers Management and Diversity consultancy and creator of the award-winning ‘Six Steps Career and Personal Development Programme’. A Sierra Leonean based in London, Helen is also the author of ‘Vicissitude’, a guide to making life and career changes.

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