As a coach and trainer for humanitarian aid and international development workers, I get a lot of questions about how to get the “dream job” in this field. Many times folks want a quick answer. There are, of course, no quick answers. There are, however, four tips that will set you in the right direction.
1) Be clear. It’s not only about knowing what you want to do (e.g. “I want to work at the UN.”), it’s knowing why you want to work for an organization, knowing what you want and don’t want from the job as well as what your boundaries are.
Being clear about all of these things will help you make mindful decisions when it comes to the work you will do, how you will allow others to treat you, how much danger your put yourself in, salary expectations and when/where/for how long you will make compromises.
2) Connect-the-dots. When writing a cover letter or in an interview make sure you provide only highlights that specifically demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the post.
For example, if you have done work for the UNDP in monitoring and evaluation but the post you are applying for is a Communications Assistant role, specializing in social media, the highlights you provide should demonstrate your experience in branding and marketing – not that you worked for the UNDP in M&E. Let your CV speak to your full work and volunteer experience.
3) Ask questions. The way you will get the job you want is by building relationships with people working in the organizations you want to work for. This means asking questions. The key is what questions you ask and how you ask them.
In an information interview, for example, or at a networking event, after briefly stating your interest (e.g. I’m really interested international humanitarian law) the question to start with should not be on how to get the job you want, rather, it should be about the person you are speaking with. What has their experience been like in this field? Where are the opportunities for the greatest positive impact, in their opinion? Asking these types of questions will build connection and help you gain insight on whether this is an area that truly aligns with your passion, vision and/or mission. Once you learn more from them you can then share what you want to do. Remember, you will be able to do this clearly if you have followed the first tip. You will also be able to connect-the-dots on how your skills and experience meets needs they have mentioned. It’s at this point that you can ask about work opportunities they may know about or tips they may have for you. Be mindful of their time and remember to thank them for it.
4) Be authentic. Making something up to show you can relate or create connection will ultimately not work. Learn to embrace being your awesome, imperfect self! It will be easier once you have followed the first tip. As the poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Getting a job in humanitarian aid or international development is not just about getting a job, it’s about building a life. Use the tips above to help you get a job and build a life that allows you to feel engaged, grounded and happy.
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