Ahead of our alumni career panel on International Development Ria Sen, LSE alum and United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Expert, shares her tips and insights for building a career in development during a time of change and uncertainty.
- A rapidly evolving “developmentscape”. We live in a world of multiple co-existing complex risks – period. Be ready to adapt to remain relevant and marketable! COVID-19 is a case in point. Some countries are now at risk of food crises, and projected disasters coming their way. The professionals who can adapt, and continue to deliver – in the case of multiple risk scenarios – will come out on top.
- No singular work sector, or role, is “futureproof”. Be ahead of the curve, and do a rough risk analysis before you prepare deeply for “one dream job” or limit yourself to a singular sector. The pandemic has revealed that seemingly stable jobs can’t withstand the shocks of remote working operations. A guiding question to reflect on: if the world experiences various shocks, how marketable will you remain? That answer has guided a lot of my professional decisions, with strong successes – because “futureproofing” means remaining relevant and adapting to the market’s needs!
- “Digital mobility” is fast currency. Ask yourself: can your job travel with you? That’s the question of the moment. If you can deliver just as optimally from remote, then the edge is yours! COVID-19 may have accelerated this happening, but the “workplace of future” debates predict a shift of the idea of an organized sit-down workplace to more remote operations, which also have environmental wins.
- Use the self-isolation to stretch your mind. Go to new frontiers – in both mind and body. Pick up those skills you have been considering, but just never had the time! Try and identify which skills can put you at the competitive edge. For instance, if you are interested in breaking into the environmental sector, and mapping is fascinating, take the time to enroll on a free Geographic Information Systems course online!
- Build up your academic credentials. Many students in remote mode are now focusing on their thesis writing. Your thesis is a marketable piece of research, which can be valuable for your first work. For instance: I did my thesis on the UN’s technology policy processes, and my very first UN job also fell in this space. This time can help you to determine research which can be valuable for entities whose work you admire, and where you ultimately want to find yourself down the line. Try your hand at publishing articles and reflection pieces, if writing is an interest. Self-publish on different platforms! There is a “hunger for content” in the current times, and with more time at home and more folks online, your work can resonate with someone, and perhaps even provide a doorway to opportunities!
- Seek what industry leaders and experts are saying. Digitally “follow” your role models, and organizations whose missions excite you, to see how they are adapting to the “new normal”. Their reflections can give you’re a deeper insight of what to expect going forward, especially if you seek entry into the job market now.
- Keep you finger on the “digital pulse”. Whilst the world isn’t as open as it was in travel terms, the digital world is thriving – lots of learning opportunities and open events by some of the top development entities. Tune in, and get some fresh perspective, to inspire and propel you ahead!
- Clean out the pipes. We’re forever in a quest for the “next big thing” – the top job, the top place in the class, and so on… Take a breather, and evaluate where you are in the life journey, and how you want to move ahead. Strategize in this quiet time, and see your goals come to you faster than ever before! This doesn’t just extend to academic or professional goals, but also personal and spiritual goals. To perform optimally in the academic or professional space, an alignment with personal and spiritual goals is critical. I learnt this in the last few months, having undergone a recruitment in the times of COVID-19, with success.
- Seek out your “e-mentors” and build your “digital network”. Whilst physically meeting academics or professionals in the sectors you’re aspiring to break into is harder now, it may be a good time to build your “digital networks” and seek “e-mentors”. In this time, I’ve noticed an unusual readiness for organizations and professionals to engage freely and openly over digital media than ever before. Capitalize on it! I have also observed entry-level professionals and students openly approaching me on digital media platforms, which I personally welcome. I have also built my mentee network, and am now actively “e-mentoring” more youth than ever before — which all started with an email or LinkedIn message they penned to me!
The world has always faced challenges of different magnitudes, since time immemorial. This global crisis, whilst a time of sorrow for those who have lost their near and dear, also is a chance to propel the world to a greener, more inclusive growth trajectory. Take the time to align mind-body-soul, and find your purpose.
As a passionate environmentalist, I can only say – the world needs committed impassioned professionals. We need you.