As a current undergraduate student, reading Development job applications makes me quite depressed. The ‘entry level’ jobs listed on Devex almost invariably require some years of previous experience and a masters in ‘a relevant subject’. I don’t know how that constitutes ‘entry level’ in any way shape or form. You can go lower, down to the scummy depths of internships, but they aren’t always the easiest things to get into either as well as only lasting for a few weeks and not paying. Bit of a downer.
After a few hours of clicking through these positions I tend to go and weep in a darkened room for seven or eight hours. After recovering my cool I start to look at masters programs which means looking at a lot of massively irritating, carefully staged and remarkably gender-ethnically diverse prospectus photos. There is a lot of choice. I want to do Development and I’m quite special at sciences/maths so there’s a whole bunch of course that I cannot do. There’s still a huge amount of course to choose from: management type courses, communications, NGO specialist development, law, human rights, ICT type things, business, policy/political science – I find it very difficult to know which of these would be most useful. As nice as it would be to waltz into a university department with the simple aim of increasing your knowledge it’s a pretty tough thing to be able to do, particularly in a world where almost nobody is giving young people jobs. You need to have a plan.
If I were to put together a start-up tomorrow I’d want to have four people: a money person, a fundraiser, a techie, and a project specialist. Of course, the personnel choices for an NGO depends on what you want to do (or should) but, more or less, I suspect you’re always going to want to have these people on staff. If you want to get into development but you aren’t really sure what bit of it you want to focus on then you should probably base your masters choice on one of these four jobs types. Also, if you are a doctor or an engineer there are more than likely going to be plenty of jobs available for you.
Management: a gap in the market?
As far as I can tell – and it’s something that has been told to me by development types with ten or twenty years of experience – the thing that development agencies tend to have a deficit of is managers. One of the major issues in almost any organisation is oversight: people tend to know what they’re working on without necessarily knowing what anyone else is working on, particularly in organisations where there are multiple offices in multiple countries. People are not utterly disinterested in their colleagues’ work – if they are then there is a major cultural problem within the organisation – it’s just that they’re very busy and it is not their job to know what everyone else is up to. But maybe it could be your job.
Choosing a course
When I look for a masters course I ask three questions:
- Will this take me closer to paid-employment?
- If so, what type of development jobs will I be able to do?
- Do I have the skills or interest in these jobs to actually be able to help people at the end of it?
If you have a yes for all of those questions put that course down on your shortlist. Once your shortlist gets to about 5 you need to get practical again.
How much will it cost?
If you have enough money to pay for it, that’s terrific. If you don’t, take a look at the scholarships/grants offered by the university itself – there is very often quite a lot more money available than you might think. Failing that, take a look at rotary scholarships or, if you want to study abroad, this site for more information. WARNING: these scholarships require diligence and time for successful applications so get them in early and make sure you do your research before you fill out the appropriate forms. Good luck!
- Masters course search: can be a little imprecise but has information about courses from all over the world – http://www.findamasters.com/
- Development job advice: from Alanna Sheikh who also runs an excellent development blog or two – http://letter.ly/alannashaikh
- Development job listings: sign up to get weekly or daily updates on useful job listings – http://www.devex.com/en
At some point, I will be putting together a proper tab for useful sites/lectures/twitter profiles etc for people looking to start in global development – if anyone has any suggestions do send them to me.