Reaping the rewards of my gig with the government

I chose to work in the government 12 years ago. Looking back, I’m glad I did.

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“What’s that?” There was a split-second pause in our conversation as a friend tried to make sense of my response. “Ah, government… right?” he said. I nodded in confirmation, and wished we’d change the topic of our conversation right away. I could sense his surprise at least, or cynicism at worst, after I told him I was leaving my job, my first one out of college and less than three months into it.

Its less-than-stellar reputation and the meager salary that came with it are common knowledge. I could almost read their thought bubbles, “Why?” or “Are you out of your mind?” Or perhaps the more pitiful “Sorry to hear that.” As friends and classmates got a good head start in their careers in private firms and non-profits, my decision to work for the government seemed like backtracking right after I started.

Anyone who has changed jobs has done it one way or another. It’s like cheating, only in a professional way. You take a day off or show up late for work for that job interview. I must have done the latter, and brought a change of clothes as I was careful not to drop any hints of my transgression. I wore a short-sleeved maroon button-up shirt and khakis, which was already dressy compared with my daily ensemble of jeans and T-shirt in my first job at a non-profit organization.

My first job wasn’t necessarily my first choice. All along, even before graduation, I had set my sight on working in the government. Not just any government office though. I applied to a few others but the development planning agency was at the top of my list. How does one development-plan? I didn’t quite fully comprehend then what the job entailed, but “development planning” sounded too important to pass up. It had the reputation of accepting only the best and the brightest. Of course, I wanted to be a part of it.

I asked for tips from two people who were then connected with the office. I made acquaintance with one via an online forum for cellphone enthusiasts, who eventually switched careers to become a tech writer. The other was an alumnus of my college who went to work there for a couple of years, and later on left to pursue graduate studies on a scholarship in Brussels. Those didn’t seem to be terrible career paths. With limited knowledge of the possible entry-level jobs I could apply to, I thought I could forge something similar for myself.

I sent in my job application in a month after I graduated, in April of 2004, and got a call from HR for a written test a month or two later. The three-hour test consisted of management questions (!), economic concepts, basic algebra, and two essays. And again, like many of job applications then (and until now), there was silence. This was in 2004, an election year, and every time the Commission on Election issues a hiring freeze in the government. This dragged on until November when I finally got called in for an interview.

The panel didn’t bring up the test results during the interview, thankfully. I still doubt I passed the economics part of the test after only taking a basic economics course in my undergrad. I must have winged it on the essay, which asked the role of “sustainable development” in national development, a concept drilled down to us in college. It was the trending development jargon, the “inclusive development” of mid-2000. The panel consisted of four chiefs, each heading the four divisions of the Agriculture Staff, and two hiring committee representatives. I can’t exactly remember their questions. All I remember is that everything went smoothly. It was jovial, almost informal- encouraging if not reassuring signs.

There were three other applicants that day. We were corralled in a waiting lounge with blue walls the size of a big cubicle, which felt like being inside the dead-end of a maze when one looked around while seated down. Like the other interviewees, I was whisked back to the maze after the panel interview and told to wait our turn before the one-on-one interview with the director.

He was portly and in his late forties. I saw him a little earlier walk in with a swagger, and assumed that must be him. We talked about an upland agriculture project, a topic I should have known well, and wished I had, especially because I spent one month doing our practicum with the implementers of that very same project.

He probably caught my bluff. After all, it’s a project he knows too well, because his office reviewed the technical aspects of the project before it got the go signal for funding by a multilateral bank- one of the core tasks of the job. He asked probing questions. But really, what does a barely-out-of-college 21 year-old know about development planning? Until now, and several local and international development organizations later, I’m still looking for that definitive answer.

Albeit late, I still went to work that day, or at least tried to, mostly asking myself: “Will I be sitting on the same chair for a while? What could I have said differently? What now? I remember asking a friend about an interview he had once for an admin job. Only with a little enthusiasm, he told me that he “said all the things they (the interviewers) wanted to hear.” I wish I could have said the same after my interview. I wasn’t new at all to the professional world, already with two months of work experience then under my belt.

A few weeks after the interview, I got an email asking me to submit documents to kickstart the hiring process, before assuming my government post. On the last workday of 2004 I became an “Economic Development Specialist.” I reveled in my job title. I’ll be doing development planning.

The Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan or MTPDP was our bible. Jeffrey Sachs lauded that version of the plan as “one of the best, if not the best, he has ever seen.” Those words would have looked nice in its dust jacket if ever it had one. The Plan was an infallible scripture cited in memos, quoted in government meetings, and subscribed to as our superior belief system during donor meetings. We deferred to its wisdom. At least for the next six years until a new leader is elected. The plan coincides with the term of the president, after which its contents are revised or recycled, or rendered irrelevant.

Some days we argued over the technical merits of Jatropha curcas as a source biofuel, other days we’re building capacity to mainstream sustainable development before we moved on to the mainstream climate change in local development. Yes, I learned its jargons. I met many technocrats, competent and controversial ones.

Those two and a half years must have been my busiest: reviewing projects, attending technical working groups, facilitating workshops. My blog that I started in 2003 was inactive during those years. It’s also the longest I’ve held down a job.

I observed that my senior colleagues, including those who have left, have a predictable career progression: work for a couple of years, go on study leave to study abroad, and return to government. Our office was notorious for its high churn rate. Those who didn’t opt for a study leave resigned from their post because they didn’t want to be bound to a service contract.

I usually went to work at 7:00 in the morning so I can leave at 4:00 in the afternoon. One day I stayed later than usual, making sure many of my colleagues have left for the day. I sent my then chief who concurrently worked as the officer-in-charge a Sametime message, asking her if she had a minute to speak. She said yes so I went to her office, sat down, and talked about my plans, which unfortunately no longer included them. She understood and respected my decision. I was one of those who didn’t want to be tethered to a service contract. After two and a half years, I left my job to study on a scholarship in Freiburg in Germany.

I became good friends with many of my colleagues, and still keep in touch with many of them. It’s a unique professional relationship I haven’t been able to replicate in my other jobs, for better or worse. We have bumped into each other in international conferences in South Africa, or worked together again a few years down the road at the United Nations or Asian Development Bank in Manila.

My stint with the government prepared me well in understanding its machinations. This appreciation comes in handy even up to this day. I’ve established lifelong friendships and a sturdy network. I’ve been shaping an interesting through the years. That second job provided me a mental model of the so-called bureaucracy, including its potential and foibles. After making a decision twelve years hence, when I thought I was making a backtrack, I didn’t know it would propel me forward.

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This is the second of a series of blog posts where I will write about my previous jobs. Read the first post here. If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments section! Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter.

My first job out of college

The first job holds a special place in every professional’s career.

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My ego took a blow right after finishing my undergrad back in 2004. I graduated at the top of my class at a top university and expected employers to come racing and tearing down my door with a contract, as if I were a first draft pick star athlete waiting for my multi-million dollar offer. But all I got after two months was a job I hustled to get via email, which I quit after working for two weeks without a contract. My boss was a lawyer by the way. I sent scores of job applications, worked my contacts, and got a couple of job interviews to various organizations: government agencies, NGOs, and an urban planning firm. The only thing they had in common were the rejections and unreturned email inquiries.

Six months later I managed to get a research assistant job for a UNDP-funded sustainable agriculture project, “Enhancing Capacities on Sustainable Agriculture for Poverty Reduction”. I got wind of the job posting from my university organization’s e-group, sent by an alumna who also happened to work for the NGO hosting the project. I was invited for an interview, and reported to work a week or two later.

My commute was more than an hour going to work in Quezon City north of Metro Manila (we lived in the south), which included taking a tricycle (like a tuk-tuk), bus, jeep, train, jeep, and another tricycle. Our office was located in the NGO hub of the country close to the University of the Philippines, not too far from what’s now a popular foodie destination. It took a half-hour longer to travel back home. It was also hotter and sweatier. But those didn’t matter. At last I was a productive part of society; I was employed.

As my title suggested, I was responsible for doing research on the sustainable agriculture in the Philippines. Our project helped train farmers to produce their own organic fertilizers, and eventually assist them shift to sustainable agriculture and link them to the national and even international market. It was challenging work not only because of the complexity of the sector, but more so as it was my first job and specialized in environmental planning, and not agriculture. It turned out to be the first of my many future jobs working on agriculture and agriculturists, from policy, markets, and later on directly with farmers.

When not doing online research, I tagged along with our project manager to attend meetings outside the office. We met with other NGOs to identify any common areas we can jointly work on, or complement each other’s activities. There were also the occasional donors’ meetings to report on progress and issues of our project, and writing news articles for our newsletter.

Perhaps the highlight of my stint with the NGO was flying down south, in Cotabato, where we organized a three-day training for farmers to help them shift to biodynamic farming. I remember eating a lean but just-as-good bacon, and visiting the demo-site where it came from- a pig pen that, believe it or not, doesn’t stink. On our last day I joined some farmers for a hike and took a dip at a hot spring.

I never got to see the end of the project, but surprisingly I found a publication about it online. I handed in my resignation letter after three months to work for the government. It was a short three-month gig. But it was my first job where I received my first salary. It was an exciting first taste of the real world, just like with life’s many firsts.

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This is the first of a series of blog posts where I will write about my previous jobs. If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments section! Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter

Update: This blog post was featured in the online publication The Ascent.

How to write a cover letter

Guide questions for each paragraph to help you write that kickass cover letter

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Photo by Alejandro Escamilla

This was first published yesterday through my newsletter. Edited for style and updating of timeline. To get first dibs on my writing and other updates, subscribe here

I got a flurry of email requests to review cover letters and CVs over the weekend. Apparently the deadline for submission of applications for the World Bank Analyst Program is coming up, as in today, 05 April. I try my best to respond to all requests but alas, I’m only human and unable to do so. So I muddled through my slush pile and plucked out this (draft) quick guide on how to write a cover letter. Or at least it’s the guide I’ve been using all these years which has lent me varying levels of success (and countless rejections, too). Like most advice and things you read online, take them with a grain of salt:

You should treat the cover or application or cover letter as precious real estate. Keep it to a page, if possible, and do yourself and the hiring manager a favor. I believe the application letter should try to illustrate three things: your language proficiency, thought process and how you structure concepts, and knowledge and skills.

Below I formulate guide questions, where your response can form each paragraph that can make up the cover letter. Feel free to add a paragraph or two if the letter warrants the introduction of other topics.

Introduction

Guide question 1: Why are you interested in and what makes you qualified for the position? 

Paragraph 1 is the opening paragraph where you introduce yourself, and try to grab the attention of the reader. It could be someone from the HR, the hiring manager, or even the head of the organization itself. What you want to convey is that you’re the right person they’re looking for to perform the job. Cramming that information in the shortest paragraph in a job application letter sounds like a tough job (no pun intended), yet at a closer look it isn’t. Here you just state the position to which we’re applying and how you learned of the job posting, although the latter is really optional. The second sentence encapsulates your areas of expertise and skill set which you deem are valuable for the job and to the organization, plain and simple. Here you set the tone of the letter, and introduce our reader to what you have up our sleeve in the succeeding paragraphs. In these three to four lines of text your aim is to prime and hook the HR guy, showcase your abilities, that you’re the the best candidate for the job.

Knowledge and Skills

Guide question 2: What knowledge and skills do you possess, and how do you show that I am the perfect candidate to the job?

Paragraph 2: Establish your expertise in support to the first paragraph. Here you drill down on work experience and skills you have gained through the years, while linking them to the job requirements all the time. It is easy to dump all the jargons and get lost in the writing. But you have limited real estate. In this case, limit it ideally to a page. So every word counts and has to be relevant to the job. This is important to not to loseyour  focus in what you’re writing. Here you should also show that you speak their language-bureaucratese. It may sound like a jumble of technocratic jargon to those outside the field of international development, but this is really how they speak. In the world of search, without the right keywords, you won’t be found. This is not to say that you could and should lie in your cover letter by including terms and phrases you don’t really know about. Once we had a talk wth a senior HR staff, and he said one of the few grounds of termination is false declaration and falsification of documents. So keep that in mind. Simply review the job description and pick out technical and action words, and show how you have performed them in your previous work.

Your selling point

Guide question 3: What other special skills have you acquired that will pique the interest of your employer and set you apart from other applicants?

Paragraph 3: Boast about your other valuable skills that could set you apart from other candidates. It could be skills you have been learning from a side project. If you are applying for a research post which requires data crunching and bending, have you made a couple of coding tweaks on Stata to smoothen your data or improve your workflow (no, not to influence the result)? Did you render any volunteer consulting service for a non-profit school to improve their operations? Or maybe you’ve started a blog, and give tips to freelancers on how to find clients. This would be a good time to highlight those, but make sure the skills you will feature are relevant to the job.

Summarize

Guide question 4: To summarize, how can you perform the tasks at hand, and be of value the team/department, and overall objectives of the organization?

Paragraph 4: Time to wrap things up. End your story with your educational background. I am putting this toward the end because a diploma from a pedigree school can only get you too far. While some hiring managers may still put a premium on the school one went to, I believe it’s only valid two or three years down the road, and its value diminishes thereafter. Moreover, most likely the best of the applicants will have more or less similar education, so this shouldn’t figure into and be a clincher in most hiring decisions, unless it’s a research-heavy job, where certain universities may have a tradition of quality researchers. I would hire someone from an OK university who has been doing interesting work and with a multi-faceted personality, than someone banking on the prestige of a top university. If you’re both, then you’re the golden unicorn your soon-to-be employer has been looking for. As I write this, I just realized maybe I should stop mentioning my education background altogether, and stick to my own advice and use the free space to summarize how my knowledge, skills, and previous work experience will be of value to the organization.


Got more tips on how to write a cover letter? Do let me know. Good luck to all applicants and keep me posted how your application goes.

Odds and ends: Previous jobs not written on my current CV

Untitled designModesty aside, I usually wow people when I mention that I have worked for this brand-name organization or studied in that university at home and abroad. Whether I’m really making good use of my education is still up for debate. It makes me feel uneasy and look for ways to respond appropriately. Though most of the time, I only manage an aw-shucks smile, because, truth be told, these people I meet outside of work seem to be doing far more interesting things, like running a tech startup or directing an art gallery.

My CV shows a well-manicured collection of job titles, development acronyms and bureaucratic jargons which, ironically, and I’m afraid, so far-removed from the people we’re trying to serve. But beneath the collection of development-esque and poverty-see language are small gigs and odd jobs I have done to earn an extra peso/euro or two. A few have fell through the cracks of my work history on purpose, scrubbed off my resume and replaced by more impressive job titles accompanied by arcane descriptions, while others will never see the light of day, or in this case, a line of space. Here they are in chronological order:

Telemarketer. For a few days one university summer break, three of my high school buddies and I worked the phones in a small corner office of a pharmaceutical company in Makati. We got the gig through one my friend’s sister-in-law who worked in the same company. We rang up drugstores to update a database containing their contact information. This was in early 2000 before the BPO boom. It was my first taste of the working life, daily commute and all. We were thrilled to have found a ‘summer job’, which were scarce back in the days. We also felt rich with our daily wage of PhP500 (About $10 back in 2001). It’s the one and only job in a private company that I’ve held down so far.

House cleaner. Once tapped into the Filipino expat community in Freiburg, I met many a Filipinas who seem to be mostly working as cleaners. Over merienda one time, one of them (I can’t recall her name now) asked me if I’m interested in a cleaning job at her parent-in-laws’ house. I said yes. We agreed to meet there the next Friday, where she showed and helped me clean the house. And for a few months every Friday at 10 in the morning, I went to the elderly couple’s house just outside the city center to vacuum the floor and carpets, wave a feather-duster on the antique furnitures, and pick-up old, stale bread from the kitchen counter and wipe it clean of crumbs. Yes, the cleaning included scrubbing the toilets. For two hours of work once a week I pocketed 20 Euros (this was above ‘industry’ rates, where the going rate is between five to seven Euros), half of which was spent right away that evening on Weisswurst and a glass of Railer or two.

Restaurant cleaner. Waiting tables is a popular student job in Freiburg, but I never got to do one. One summer, the same lady who offered me the house-cleaning job asked if I was interested to clean in the Thai restaurant where she waited tables. For 7 Euros an hour for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, I wiped chairs and tables, swept and mopped the floor, and cleaned the toilets before the restaurant opened its doors. I only remember doing it for a couple of weeks, and just stopped getting a call back one day. Looking back, I realize I was laid-off from my job for the very first time, and I hope it will also be the last.

Research assistant. Over wine during one gathering hosted by graduate program, I chatted with the head of the head of the sustainability unit of my university. I told him of my own background on sustainability, and a few days later, got an email from him offering me a research assistant post in his department. The work paid about 11 Euros an hour. I held down the job for about a semester, until I had to write my Master’s thesis.

University blogger. Perhaps inspired by my blog and the emerging new media opportunities at that time, our program coordinator asked me if I wanted to write for a blog led by the university admin, with the aim of promoting my program and the university. I didn’t think twice, of course, and was soon employed part-time as a student assistant. Unfortunately, I can no longer find links of what I wrote.

Editor. Probably the most one I enjoyed doing, I edited thesis manuscripts for ten Euros per hour. Friends and classmates who hired my service got a discount, of course.

Have these jobs helped me in building my career or personal growth? But if you ask me if my apartment any cleaner, the answer is no. Am I a better data collector? Maybe. I mostly worked to earn extra or because I was very interested in writing. On those times I got lucky they were both. I can only think of two take-aways from these experiences. First, friends and acquaintances can open up job opportunities, however odd they are. Second, after working as a cleaner, I am now repulsed by lemon-scented cleaning agents. What about you? What odd jobs have you done, or are you currently doing?

My alternatives to unpaid UN internships and staff positions

The past days, two separate yet related news have been going around in international development circles: the unpaid UN intern living in a tent in Geneva, and short-term consultants (STC) working long-term at the World Bank. These two career pathways could open doors to international development professionals. Both can parlay into much coveted long-term staff positions and a rewarding career in these development organizations.

One can’t deny the ‘wow’ factor an internship at the UN could give a fresh graduate’s CV, or the networking possibilities of working at the World Bank headquarters even as an STC. But at what cost, and in the intern’s case, even literally? And are there alternatives?

As an undergrad, I enlisted to the Oblation Corps, which is part of the extension arm of the university which deploys volunteer students and professors to provide community service. They initially told me that I would be assigned to teach high school students over summer in a far-flung village in Quezon province, which is anywhere between three to six hours south of Manila, depending on where the village is exactly located. At the last minute, they re-assigned me to Negros Occidental, an island province in the mid-western part of the country. Together with two university associate professors and three other volunteers, we travelled overnight by ship, and spent two weeks teaching junior public high school students in preparation for their college admission tests as part of my university’s affirmative action program. The hosting municipality housed us right beside the classrooms, which the school must have used for its home economics classes. Every day, a local caterer brought food which served a simple meal and fed us including the students. Looking back, we were pampered, and the experience is quite luxurious for a volunteer work.

Fast forward two summers later, I volunteered for a month for a coastal resource management project with WWF-Philippines. I got a call from them telling me that a volunteer had to cancel at the last minute and they were looking for a replacement. They asked if I was interested, and I said yes right away, even if I had started volunteering for a non-profit in the business district. My new volunteer work was in Anilao, a coastal town known for diving. One of the perks then, was that our lodging was just a few steps away from the sea. Here I went snorkeling for the first time.

We were four volunteers, each working on different project functions. I was assigned with general day-to-day operations, from collating project documents to drawing maps of project sites on Manila paper that were used in community consultations. I bunked with another volunteer, and occasionally, we had free leftover food from official project gatherings. The organization also reimbursed our weekly travel expenses to and from the project site when we would go home on the weekends (coincidentally, the WWF headquarters is located in Gland, not too far from the UN in Geneva).

On my two internships during my stint in Germany, at Deutsche Welle in Bonn and the World Future Council in Hamburg, I received an honorarium of 400 Euros per month. There must be a German law somewhere there that encourages firms to pay their internships however meager. Deutsche Welle gave me a peek into a media organization where I sharpened my writing skills. It has served me well even in my current job which entails translating technical documents into bite-size information. Meanwhile, the highlight of my other internship was being sent to Copenhagen to assist in the UNFCCC COP meeting back in 2009.

The recent report on the ‘long-term short-termers’ also makes me think about my own situation as a local consultant in an international organization similar to the World Bank. Do I want to be a national consultant long-term, earning less than my international counterparts? Sure, I am conducting research and communications work, maybe not as exciting than directly working to turn around a faltering Asian economy, or assembling a cutting edge econometric model that will predict the flux of labor in the garments sector in India. I’ve made amends with my professional strengths and limitations. What matters to me now is the flexibility of my job (work from home!) and its relaxed pace which allows me to do things that I love after office hours.

There are other viable opportunities out there to build your skills and your profile beyond that much-coveted UN internship. Meanwhile, any less than perfect opportunity, like short-term contracts, should have an upside to it, whether monetary or otherwise, such as flexible work hours (I chuckled when the auto-correct function changed it to “workhorse” – not that different, I guess), telecommuting, or level-headed supervisors to allow you of these little ‘perks’.

What about you? Would you intern for a non-UN and less renowned organization which offers a meager stipend, or maybe take on a short-term contract knowing you’ll be in such position long-term? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Top websites for international development job search

job-search-international-developmentThe world of international development job search can be daunting. Clicking through multiple jobs board to keep track of new job openings from different organizations can be cumbersome and frustrating at times. Thanks to techy folks in development, a few job search websites with add-on functions such as alert subscription, social media integration, and even data analytics have cropped up. How do they stack up against each other? Here’s a quick a look at popular websites for searching international development jobs:

UNjobs.org is the mother of all international development jobs board. I have relied on this website from way way back, and could be the pioneering website of its kind. It’s a basic, reliable database where you can quickly access opportunities according to organizations, duty stations, and those about to close soon in addition to new listings, of course. Other new job sites take inspiration from UNjobs, with a few added features here and there.

UNjobfinder differentiates itself with multimedia features such as podcast interviews of development professionals and articles on career entry-points in international development. Are videos not far behind? Let’s wait and see. The creator of the website is an HR professional, so you’re ensured of insider tips and him tapping his own network for future content.

UNjobslist brings to mind two words: data-driven. The website shows the most viewed jobs, number of days a job has been online, job suggestions from the same organization, a widget, and pie charts. Bonus points to the creator for his microsite about a Lego figure’s travels and troubles through The Little Peacekeeper . Analytics, graphs, and Lego? Geek out to your heart’s content. Remember, job-hunting is just a numbers game.

reliefweb is a platform that focuses on humanitarian aid, so job vacancies lean more toward ‘hardship’ posts. Think development work in areas classified as UN L3 emergency– disaster response, famine, civil war, you get the (harrowing) picture. HQ-types need not apply.

Devex claims to be the “world’s leading global development jobs board”. The website is a primary source of news, analysis and occasional career advice, but for job postings, not so much. The website needs to unclog its job filter system. For instance, openings under ‘entry-level’ includes a “Deputy Program Manager for Latin America” and “intern”. As an integral part of the Devex platform, it definitely has the best design compared with its barebones counterparts.

UN ICSC is an official UN website where you can filter information akin to an Excel sheet, based on organization, duty station, job title, level, deadline and type of work or job family. But seriously, no search function? Also, figuring out how to use “Create Advanced Filter(s)” at the bottom of the page requires an MS in Computer Engineering to make it work. Or maybe it is a practical test for a P-4 position as IT Officer.

These job search websites do not necessarily post all types of opportunities. It’s better directly go to the official jobs page of say, ADB or the World Bank, for national positions, short-term, technical assistance or consulting firm opportunities.

Other websites of note:

International Development Jobs for Young Professionals Facebook group (of course!)

Technical Assistance Consultancy Network; LinkedIn Group for discussions on working as a consultant.

Did I miss any online resource for international development job-hunting? Let us know in the comments!

How to start a career in international development

This blog post originally appeared as an answer to the Quora question “How do I start a career in international development?”, and has been slightly edited.


I am a young professional with seven years of experience in international development, and recently got a job at the headquarters of a regional development bank. This list generally leans toward graduates fresh from university, and to a lesser extent those coming from another industry. It is by no means exhaustive, but here’s what I have personally done and observed from my peers to land jobs and build a career in international development:

    1. Volunteer. School breaks are the best time because it allows you to work without interfering your studies. I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, tutored high school students in an island, organized and joined river cleanup and other community outreach programs, and joined a coastal resource management planning project. When I graduated from university, I already had two months of development ‘work experience’. Starting early also establishes your dedication to development work come job-hunting time. This will set you apart from other applicants for that first entry-level job.
    2. Get a government job. Government ministries directly work with many international development organizations. In my case, I worked for the economic ministry. Moving on to the latter seems to be the natural career progression for most of us. Many of my colleagues are now placed in project offices, country offices, and headquarters of development organizations. You will learn the internal workings of bureaucracy, which is valuable when you start working on the other side of the fence. And yes, priceless professional network.
    3. Intern during grad school. Some of my former classmates have gone on to work for the organizations for which they interned. Whether you have worked in development prior or just entering the sector, you have definitely acquired work ethic, knowledge, and skills by this time which are useful in any organization. They would be willing to take you in without the long-term commitment, and it’s free/cheap labor for them. This assumes that you will pursue graduate studies because it is a requirement for many organizations.
    4. Work on a side project. I like writing, and am crazy about digital media despite having an entirely different specialization: environmental planning. I maintain this blog that has been around since 2003, dabbled with Twitter and other social media networks, created (crappy) videos, and have interned for Deutsche Welle, a German media company. I am not the most prolific blogger around the block, or a social media ninja for that matter. In 2011, I was selected as a Junior Professional Associate at the World Bank and stationed at the Global Environment Facility in Washington, DC, out of a pool of hundreds of applicants. The job mainly entailed formulating and implementing online engagement and digital communication strategies. My work experience and environment background definitely helped. But my director said he also hired me for my experience with blogs, Linkedin, and Twitter.
    5. Set-up informational interviews. As a form of starting your own international development network, the goal here is to get yourself out there and make it known that your are interested in international development, not really to ask for a job per se. Ask around or scour the internet for email addresses of potential people to meet. Only very few will reply, but do your homework for those who do. Be genuinely interested and ask questions on what they do, what they look for in applicants, what they think of your skill set, and how you can improve your profile and chances of getting hired. Tell them your areas of interest or expertise, and finally, to keep you in mind if an opening comes up that fits your profile.
    6. Just submit an application. This is almost crap-shoot and probably not the most efficient and strategic approach, but it has worked for people, myself included.