Expert Advice for Starting your Career in International Development

Advancing your career can be especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 12th, Hayley Mundeva, Founder and CEO of ThriveHire, and Alli Bunting, Manager, Programs & Operations for CanWaCH, answered questions from students and young professionals during a live chat on Facebook

Here is some of their advice for kickstarting your career in international development: 

What are the best ways to find opportunities as a student? 

Alli: There are non-profit organizations that want to work with youth in your community. I would recommend doing a Google search to find out who is doing work that you're interested in and reaching out to them! If you are in university or college, then participating in co-op programs is also a great option! 

What are entry-level positions relevant to International Development? 

Alli: That is a great question. I was surprised when I started my own career in the diversity of types of positions available in international development! You can work in the sector, yet be working in communications, human resources, finances, etc. My advice would be to find the practical, technical area that you are interested in. Then, you can match those skills with the cause or mission that you are passionate about before you start looking at open positions.

What are practical ways of learning skills relevant to international development? 

Hayley: The best way to gain relevant skills in international development is to "get out there." For instance, you can get involved with international development organizations via an internship or fellowship position, volunteering, or entry-level jobs. Transferable skills can also be "relevant" skills that you will often apply to your next job, so it is also a good idea to emphasize those skills when you're reaching out to these organizations about different ways to get involved.

What makes a job application stand out? Any tips for current students would be great!

Hayley: Ensure that you are tailoring your application to the specific job and organization (do not copy and paste). Show tangible reasons why you are coming to them. Is it their mission? Can you weave in a story through your cover letter that showcases why you're passionate about that mission? Customization is key!

During the hiring process, what do you look for in a cover letter?

Alli: When reviewing applications, we look for a clear articulation of skills and experience. My top tip is to make sure that you tailor your cover letter to the job description. The employer can often tell when it’s just a vague or ‘boilerplate’ cover letter. I look for cover letters that show that individuals have an understanding of the role and have no grammatical errors!

Hayley: ThriveHire is also offering services for job seekers who want their cover letters and/or CVs reviewed. You can sign up here. 

What kind of volunteer experience should I have on my resume?

Hayley: Volunteer experiences can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Look for experiences that may not be directly related to your field of interest, but can allow you to gain transferable skills (e.g. communication skills, admin skills, etc.). These skills can be great to showcase on your resume. It is less about the specific volunteer opportunity, but your ability to showcase what skills and insights you gained during the process, and how you plan to apply in the future.

How can youth get involved in global health leadership (e.g. boards of directors, working groups)? Youth perspectives are often forgotten in these decision-making arenas!

Hayley: Many organizations are excited and keen to hear about ways to get youth involved in their work. Rather than seeing it as an impediment, it can actually be a strength in many ways. Reach out to them directly stating that you're an emerging professional who's keen to diversify your skillset and to share youth perspectives. Organizations like the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR), Canadian Society for International Health (CSIH), and Canadian Global Health Students and Young Professionals Summit (GHSYPS) often have ongoing opportunities to check out. 

Alli: Hayley is absolutely correct! There are also organizations, like CanWaCH and ThriveHire, that gather information and opportunities! You can check out our page for youth opportunities or our job board here.