Three myths about networking in international development

Three myths about networking in international development

Hi! It’s Michelle, author of the Guide to Getting a Job in International Development.

Over the past few months, I traveled to a bunch of amazing places (I was in Ecuador, Colombia, Lebanon, and the US) so I haven’t written as much as I would have wanted, but now I’m back and can’t wait to share more strategies with you for finding a job in international development!

I still think that networking is really important for getting a job, so I wanted to write a bit more about that. In case you need a quick refresher, these two posts explain why I think networking is essential for anyone looking for work in international development:

Why networking helps you get a job faster

Three reasons you’re not getting answers to your networking emails

In summary, I see your job search as an opportunity to get to know people that you would either never get to meet, or that you’d get to meet much later on, when your career is established. Networking during your job search can become fun – you can really learn huge amounts from everyone you meet, and you get to talk to them about a field you’re passionate about. Also, networking really helps you understand the types of jobs available to you, and how you can frame your skills in your applications so that you’re more competitive. Networking also helps you compete with internal candidates and others that have broader networks.

I advocate for networking often – if you’ve written to me personally, you are likely to have gotten an email back from me saying that networking is a key part of your job search. Often, when I say this, I hear a few different myths, which I’d like to dispel once and for all here.

Myth #1: I cannot network because I don’t live in        .

Yes, you can network wherever you are. I get lots of emails from people saying that they live in Nairobi, or New Delhi, or Jakarta, and that networking is for those people living in New York or London. I promise you, this is not the case. First of all, places like Nairobi, New Delhi, and Jakarta are hubs for large organizations and there are plenty of people that you could meet in person if you are in one of these large regional hubs (other important regional hubs are: Istanbul, Beirut, Amman, Accra, Bangkok, Manila, and Singapore). Although not all of these cities have a networking culture per se, you will always find people within organizations in these cities that would be very happy to meet up.

And what if you’re not based in a large regional hub? Lucky for all of us in that situation (I live in Thessaloniki, Greece), technology has advanced to the point of making virtual meetings possible from almost anywhere in the world. You only need to set up a time to talk that is convenient for the other person, and then set up your call by Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp or any other similar service. These meetings, of course, are usually a bit more awkward than the ones that are in-person, but sometimes they are easier to set up, because they don’t require the person you’re trying to meet to commit to leaving their office to talk to you.

Myth #2: Nobody will want to talk to me.

My question to you, if you believe this myth, is why not? How many times do you freely give advice to others? I’m sure if you think about it, you can think of plenty of examples where you’ve given people advice either on their relationships, or studies, or diets, or anything else that you find interesting. I know that I, for one, started advising people on universities and applications when I was still in university. I, for one, love giving advice.

There are also more selfish reasons why people would want to talk to you. First, many people, at all levels, hire. They may not have the title of “manager,” but they nevertheless hire consultants, or temps, or unofficially advise the hiring manager. For these people, talking to potential applicants is also a way to get to know who is out there, and to be able to judge applications once they come.

The key to getting people to talk to you is simple: your requests need to be professional, well-written, short, and optimistic. They need to request advice and not a job. They need to make the person feel like they can help you – they need to think that their meeting with you will be a good, relaxing part of their day.

Myth #3: People with strong networks are more likely to get hired.

OK, so this one is not a myth. It is true that networks make you much more likely to get hired. But it is not true that everyone that has a strong network was born with it. It’s not your family and friends that will get you hired, it’s the people that get to know you for your work that will eventually hire you.

This means that you can develop a strong network even if you don’t know anyone at all. You can learn to identify the people you want to talk to, write to them, and then have great conversations about international development and about your future career. You can learn to keep in touch with them, help them get to know you and your work, and then get their advice throughout your future career. Who knows, maybe one of these contacts will hire you. I’m sure, though, that these contacts will help you open doors, develop great applications, and become great sounding boards in the years to come!

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope learning about these myths helps you become more confident that your networking efforts will pay off! And do me a favor, could you reply to this email and let me know what have you done to try to network and where you get stuck? You can find me at I look forward to hearing from you!

Wishing you the best in your job search,