How to Have a Better Resume for International Development Job Applications

Among the most important elements of applying for a position with a firm in the international development sector, is to present a CV/resume that is easy to review for everyone in the organization you are applying to.  That includes the first line recruiters, the Hiring Agent and all the way to the CEO of the firm.   In the US, most International Development sector  organization seem to prefer the longer, more detailed, chronological format resumes.  This is quite different than the short one-page resumes that businesses in the private sector prefer.  The hiring agents in the development sector need information that quickly shows the applicant meets the minimum qualifications requirements listed on the position description.   This can be easily be shown in the bold headings of each professional entries with a set of quick critical pieces of information that gives the readers critical information. This information is comprised of six items listed in detail below and, as a regular blogger on this site; I will come back to it often as it is an important tool, that critical to bringing applicants closer to the job and on the short list of the hiring agents.

Chronological format resumes should have the most recent experience and end with oldest experience.  

In this sector, hiring agents also prefer the longer more detailed resumes that show a chronology of the projects ---especially those in developing countries ---  that the applicant has worked on.  Resumes organized by functional areas  or separated into sections according to type of assignments, or specialty areas etc... are useless as they make it more difficult for reviewers to find the information they need to qualify the applicants.  In fact, some recruiters may just give  up on a CV that takes too long to review as they have very little time to spend on each initial review. It is often said that a recruiter will scan your CV in 30 seconds --- I disagree  about the 30 minutes, but one minute or two is realistic for the first review to see if applicants are within the qualifications requirements. Resumes should also not be heavily formatted  with lots of boxes or fancy fonts, as the information within may initially be reviewed by a software program or may be transferred to a registry or consultant database later.  The formatting often makes any transfer of information impossible.

The employer/client for most positions request that we qualify applicants in terms of their past international development assignments/projects, length of assignments, positions held, type of project, employer & donor organizations, and country where they worked. I often return documents to applicants and request that they revise their CV/resume when the items below are not there or clearly marked.  After all, if I can't find the necessary information, neither will my clients who will not be inclined to spend a lot of time on an incomplete CV.   It is also advisable to keep this critical information permanently in a resume that you submit to any other international development sector organization.

To fairly evaluate you we need, at minimum, the following basic information on your past international development projects or work projects:  

  • Dates/Length of Assignment:  This can be exact dates or more simply: Jan 09-June 09 or 2009 (6 mos). Please do not use single year only, like 2009, to denote when you were on assignment.  This does not tell us how long you were on assignment in a given country or region.  It is advisable to show the number of weeks or months like this:  2009 (3 weeks). 
  • Title:   Please show your work title used while on assignment which may be an official or unofficial title.
  • Project nameIt is helpful for us to see what type of project you worked on and providing the official name or type of donor funded project you worked on will help recruiters or hiring agents know more about the relevance of your past experience.
  • EmployerProvide the name of the Consulting firm, company or international NGO (usually a contractor to a Donor organization) that hired, monitored and paid you.
  • Donor (if applicable)Provide the name of the organization that provided funds to your employer for the project. Examples: USAID, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, EU, DFID.
  • Country location:   Please, please, please provide the name of the country where you worked and resided while on assignment for a given project.  If you were in more than one country, please do separate work/experience entries by location. (Please do not provide the address of your employer, we usually know it or can find it on the internet and it could be confused with your country location.)   This refers to the applicants physical location while doing this work.  Many positions in International Development require past experience in one or more countries or in specific region and this is very critical information to recruiters.  Imagine their frustration, when it is not provided or when they have to struggle to determine the country, because only a province or region has been given.  The city or the province is not as important when applying to an International organization that is based in a different country but the country is critical.    Before applying to international organizations, one should make sure that the CV/resume is internationalized.  Countries should be shown in all contact information, in the educational entries as well as the professional work entries.

This very critical information should be in the main line of each professional work entry in your resume. To help you further, a sample resume showing a variety of entries is available on my website, www.internationalink.net, and also on other helpful sites such as Jobs4Development.com, DEVEX, and others.  They are not meant to be copied exactly but are simply intended to give ideas on how to present the various types of experience an applicant might have. 

I hope this article has been helpful to you and I assure you that if you put some of the above in practice,  it will be helpful in getting you to be interviewed by that elusive hiring agent and on your way to your preferred assignments.