consulting contract ict4d

How Do I Get Digital Development Consulting Contracts?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask your question! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q7: How Do I Get Consulting Contracts in ICT4D?

Another subscriber question:

I have experience in ICT4D and I want to get contract work as an independent consultant. How do I connect with recruiters in digital development for new consulting work?

I find there are really two different questions inherent in this inquiry. There is a request for consulting work, and the assumption that recruiters are the gateway to that work.

Consulting Work in Digital Development

In international development overall, there are a decent number and type of consulting opportunities to help humanitarian organizations achieve their goals. However, in ICT4D specifically, there are generally less opportunities for international technology consultants.

Typically, technology advisors at major humanitarian organizations contract internally with their country teams when developing and deploying ICT4D interventions. This strong bias is healthy. It makes sure solutions are relevant to local contexts and it builds local capacity to develop future solutions.

In contrast, at the country level there are many opportunities for local technology consultants to support humanitarian organizations. Like country staff, in-country consultants also ensure solutions are locally relevant and they can carry on ICT4D capacity after the program ends.

In conclusion, there are few international technology consultant roles, and many local technology consultant roles in ICT4D. So how to find one of them?

How to Find Consultant Opportunities?

The subscriber asked how to connect with recruiters to find consultant roles, which I don’t think is the best approach. I don’t see recruiters as the common route to consulting opportunities.

I firmly believe that the best route to consulting opportunities, or full time employment – is to connect directly with technology advisors and country teams. They are the ones who see the need for more help first, have control over budgets, and are the final deciders on who they will hire for their needs.

To connect with technology advisors and country teams, first be sure to start networking well in advance of your needs. Meet with them as part of an informational interview campaign to understand the ecosystem and alert people to your presence. Then consider a volunteer consulting engagement to gain experience and exposure. Finally, repeat the process with patience till you succeed.

Yes, its pretty simple, but it takes effort.

Good luck!

ict4d job qualifications skills

How Do I Get Needed ICT4D Skills to Qualify for a Job?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask your question! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q5: How Do I Get Needed ICT4D Skills?

Another subscriber question:

I want to enter the ME field and jobs require experience with statistical software, however, the last time I used SPSS was in grad school four years ago. How do I tell a potential employer that I’m willing to learn the skill if they can provide some training?

We Should Always Be Learning

Technology doesn’t stand still. Be it statistical solutions for ME or software development languages. So we all need to be learning all the time across our domains of interest to keep current in our work.

For example, right now I’m learning about machine learning, which is reminding me of my lone D in college – in statistics. However, that’s not holding me back in learning the general concepts of natural language processing, though I know I’ll never be a master at it.

Usually, though, we don’t need to be a master of all things. We do need to have enough knowledge and expertise to know our own limitations and to hire and direct experts who can do the work.

Show Your Own Initiative

This brings us to today’s question – how to get expertise needed for a new role?

One way is to take training courses on ICT4D topics. One could balk at paying for such a course, but when you compare $300-100USD in tuition to a year’s salary in a new role, the investment is trivial.

Likewise, the investment in time and effort for a volunteer consultancy, where you have a real project to work (and learn) on, and get exposure to potential peers, can be well worth it.

Finally, you can always explore a self-directed course of study in the new skill. Back in the day, a friend of mine told me about this newfangled Internet thing. I spent countless hours researching HTML and taught myself how to hand-code what was then called an online journal. 25 years later, much of my career is based on my blogging skills.

Regardless of which option you choose, the overall goal is to show a potential employer that you are not waiting passively till you are hired to learn new skills. You want to show them that you are actively improving yourself all the time, and you’ll bring both new skills and the motivation to learn even more to your new employer.


internal ict4d job candidate

Always Be the Internal Digital Development Candidate!

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask your question! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q4: What’s the Best Way to Get Hired?

Another subscriber question: I researched many different organizations and I found one that I really, really want to work for. What is the best way for me to get a job there?

The Internal Candidate Advantage

There are so many ways to get hired that choosing a “best” way is difficult. I’ll interpret this question as how to have the highest probability that you’ll get the full time job you want. In that case, the answer is simple: be the internal candidate.

Hiring staff is the riskiest thing a team can do. So anything you can do to de-risk the formal hiring process will put you on the shortlist to be hired. The three best situations, in descending order, are:

  1. Be personally known to the team as a co-worker
  2. Be known to the team through their trusted peers
  3. Be known in general as an expert on their need.

When you are known to the team as a co-worker, there are no surprises. They know exactly who you are and what you’re capable of. They have little risk in hiring you. Assuming you’re good at the role, it will be yours to lose.

Next, if at least their peers know you and can vouch for you, then you have an advantage over everyone else. Finally, if they don’t know you directly, at least make it easy for them to know of you, or get a good idea of who you are from your online presence.

How to Be the Internal Candidate

Now how to be personally known to the team as a co-worker if you’ve never worked there? Well, one way is to get a adjacent job with a different team, or as an intern with that team. However, if your heart is set on a specific role or you’re too experienced to intern, I’d suggest a volunteer consultancy.

Approach the team with an offer to support them as a consultant, with objectives, timelines, and outcomes – just like you would with any professional engagement. Except don’t ask to be paid in money, but in contacts and exposure. Be clear that you expect to work like any other consultant, just payment will be in access not cash.

This gives a clear signal that you are a skilled professional committed to the mission and organization, and will certainly make a positive impression. Now this should be done before they have a job opening. You are pre-positioning yourself for a role there, not working for free.

During your volunteer consultancy, network like mad and make a good impression by outperforming expectations. That way, when a job opening comes along, you will be the internal candidate. Or if they aren’t hiring, you’ll now have a team of people that can personally vouch for you at a sister organization.

ict4d job skills

Should I Specialize or Generalize in ICT4D Skills?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask yours! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q3: Should I Specialize or Generalize in ICT4D?

Another subscriber question: Will my career advance faster if I stay an ICT4D generalist, with different jobs that focus in each of education, health, and agriculture, or should I specialize in one sector for the majority of my career?

The Case for Generalists Skills

Spreading yourself over several sectors has two key advantages. First, you will not be bored, as each sector, while similar to the others, has its own opportunities, issues, and players.

The downside to this strategy is that it might take you longer to advance into a management role when you move from one sector to another, and have to learn its new norms and networks.

Personally, this is the role I’ve taken, as I thrive on the steep learning curve that comes with a new field. However, I’ve seen peers who stayed with one sector (though not always with the same company) move up faster than me.

The Case for Specialists Skills

If you decide to focus on one sector, say civil society, you can certainly become a key expert and make good progress in your career. If its something you love, by all means, go deep and enjoy.

However, you can become typecast – forever expected to only be in that sector. Then, the longer you stay in that sector, the harder it will be for you to work in any other. This can be very dangerous if that role phases out of need.

For example, at one point I was an expert in deploying desktop computers into computer labs. Yet that isn’t a role for international experts anymore, so I had to quickly adapt or I would’ve been unemployed and unemployable.

T-Shaped Skills for Sustainability

Many career counselors talk about T-shaped skills as the best of both worlds. Go vertically deep in a particular area and then be quick to horizontally collaborate with experts in other disciplines.

The benefit of this approach is a domain knowledge that can advance your career and a network of peers in other domains that will vouch for you if you need to move out of your subject area in the future.

This is what I recommend now too. For example: being a subject matter expert in democracy and governance, yet quick to share your social and behavior change communication skills with peers in health and nutrition. I think its the only way to ensure a life-long career in digital development.


get new ict4d job

How Do I Get Back Into Digital Development?

A subscriber has an interesting question: they were in ICT4D before, then left to start a business that while in international development, was not a technology company. Now they are wondering how to return to ICT4D and the roles they should apply for.

First: What Do You Want to Do?

I think the hardest part of a job search is figuring out what you want to do. The role, responsibilities, work culture, and experiences that will make you happy. I’ve found that writing it all down and ranking what matters can really help you narrow down your focus.

This is the first task, because you don’t want to do a job search just to get a job you wind up hating. I’ve done that twice now – its not fun.

Next: What Are Your Transferable Skills

The person writing in realized they wanted to lead an ICT4D team, so next up was to think through all the skills and experience needed to lead a team and then to find examples of that leadership in their present work.

For this person, that was easy – they were managing a team and often had to overcome technology problems to get their product to the right market in the way their customers wanted. So they can list out those experiences in their CV with the right emphasis for each employer’s desires.

Finally: Who Do You Know?

For better or worse, ICT4D is a very small field and getting in by a recommendation, referral, or direct friendship is always faster than blindly applying to job ads (including those in our jobs newsletter).

In fact, you should use job ads as a rough gauge of which organizations are hiring and what they looking for, and then start informational interviewing your way into their social/professional networks. You want to be known before you apply.

For this person, they can start with the people they knew in ICT4D from before they left, and build their network from there. They are not in the USA currently, which does pose a slight barrier, but thankfully we have Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and whole slew of connectivity options for them.

Their job search will not be easy.  No job search is ever easy. Its a long, hard, slog with many questions. Ask your questions now!