One of the main questions people looking to get into a particular career area is ‘How do I get started’?  Of course there are so many answers to this question, depending on the sector and career area you are wanting to move into. However, whatever career you are thinking about, one of the first things a Careers Consultant would suggest is ‘talk to people’ working in the sector. Find out how they got started and ask for advice about next steps.

We recently hosted an event for our students interested in a career in environmental and development related fields. Audience questions included: ‘How can I get started?’, ‘What are the best ways to get  experience?’ ‘How can I work out what I want to do when I don’t have much experience?  This week’s ‘common sense advice’ is from a couple of alumni at Adam Smith International, another working in sustainable finance and another in local economic development. Thanks to all of them for sharing their insights and top tips for getting started on your job search.

Be flexible and open minded: because both environmental and development careers offer such a wide variety of different paths from finance to policy and social media, don’t be too concerned with securing your “ideal” job first time round. Instead devote some time to understanding the type of workplace dynamic that motivates you. Is it a corporate or business (small versus large), politics, not-for-profit/NGO/charity, etc.?

Look for opportunities that will develop you: don’t worry if your first job isn’t exactly what you wanted. Go in with objectives and seek out ways to develop what you need in terms of experience so that when the time to move comes, you have equipped yourself with the skills that will make it more likely that your next job will be a step closer to what you want.

If you are serious about development, get yourself abroad quickly from the start: development doesn’t happen from London. Entry level jobs in developed countries are often incredibly competitive, badly paid (relative to cost of living) and unsatisfying if you want to roll up your sleeves.

Look for locally based opportunities abroad: entry level jobs abroad advertised internationally are often as, if not more, competitive than roles advertised in London.  However, there are always lots of opportunities available locally, particularly if you are already in a capital city in a developing country.

Develop your in-country network: talk to people about what you can do and ways you can add to their effort. Initially, you might be valued for being able to write a report in English well, manage a project’s finances effectively or know how to develop a sound research design. However, you’ll find you are able to build up what you offer quickly, gain lots of experience in interesting work, and probably become indispensable to your colleagues before they or you realise!

Build and maintain relationships and networks as you go along:  support your fellow classmates and get out and meet people, especially at events while you are here in London. You are much likelier to find job opportunities through your personal networks whether now or in the future.  You never know who knows who, and who might be able to help you get a foot in the door!

Keep things in perspective: your first job is just that, a first job.  Have realistic expectations and acknowledge that it is much easier to change jobs after 6 months – 1 year with experience than with none.

Our Meet an Alum series offers students the opportunity to hear directly from practitioners working in a wide range of fields including international development and the charity sector.  Over the coming weeks we have alumni coming from international organisations including DFID and the EBRD as well as charities including Save the Children, Oxfam and Cancer Research.  If you are interested in finding out more about how to get started and hearing different alumni career stories why not sign up?  Bookings open two weeks in advance and you can download the flyer to see some of the Meet an Alum Lent programme [pdf].

Don’t forget too that there are also a series of seminars and presentations as part of our International Development Events Programme (IDEP).