Are You Following Up?

So you’ve met a contact at your dream company. You connected for a few minutes at an event and got their business card. Or you had a good informational interview and were excited about their organization.

What did you do next?

Did you write down the interaction, and send an immediate thank you email? Did you make a note to follow up with them in a month? Then did you follow up with them a month later?

Odds are you did not. Most people do not.

Why Not?

Are you apprehensive about aprpoaching them again? Do you not want to bother them? Do you worry they’ve forgotten you? Does it feel odd?

These are all real feelings, and totally normal. Most people have them and don’t follow up becuase of them.

Then there are a few who take a deep breath and follow up.

Those are the people that surprise, excite, and impress. Those are the people that get remembered, and get hired. Don’t you want to be one of those people?

Yes, its hard. Emailing someone you don’t really know. Making yourself vulnerable to a rejection, or worse, a non-response, is crazy hard. I have those feelings every day too – and that’s with colleagues I’m already working with.

And yes, its amazingly effective. I remember every single person who follows up with me. I make time for them. I know my friends do too. And all it takes is an email.

Wondering What to Say?

Are you at a loss as to what you should say? Here’s a few ideas that you can apply to almost any facts you can remember about the conversation:

  • When we met, we talked about X. Here’s a news article on X you might like [link]
  • You spoke about knowing A. Did you know her LinkedIn says she now works at B?
  • I’m still impressed by your organization. Did you see this press article about them?
  • I remember you said you were from X. How did you feel about incident Y?
  • You mentioned how A is impacting B. Has that issue resolved itself?
  • Good to meet you at X. Are you going to their next meetup on [date]?

And there are many, many others. Create your own. Send it. Follow up and impress!

Thanks for reading this far,

How to Ask for a Referral

I love subscriber questions – please ask me yours! I answer each question to help you, and then anonymize them here to help us all improve our chances for a dream digital development job

Here is this week’s question:

How Can I Ask for a Referral to the HR Manager?
I just applied to a job at an organization and I kinda know someone there – a friend of friend I met once. How can I ask this person to put a good word in for me with HR or the team lead I want to work for?

My usual response to this question is two-fold.

  1. You are starting late. You should never apply to an organization where you don’t at least one person there well enough to recommend you, or at the very least, give you the insight on how that organization really works. You are essentially flying blind, and I know from first-hand experience how painful it can be when you find out the org isn’t a good fit.
  2. Network your way in. So you’re applying anyway, and hey, that’s sometimes the only option. Then don’t connect directly with that person, but go through your friend, Have them contact your target with a request to refer you. That is a much stronger social bond and greater chance to success.

But what do others think about this situation? Luckily, Quartz just wrote about this exact issue.

What Experts Say About Asking for Referrals

In the recent Quartz article “How to network with job contacts you don’t know well,” Alison Green, who writes the popular “Ask a Manager” blog, points out that asking people you don’t know to give you a reference with their employer rarely ends well:

“When people say ‘I applied!’ they’re hoping the subtext is ‘So would you please recommend me to whoever is doing the hiring?’” But unless you’ve worked together before or are a known superstar, upon receiving your message, your contact will probably think “good to know,” or “good luck,” without being particularly moved to help you.

As I said above, its best to start with people you know and then work towards your target with very clear action items. Emily Miethner, founder of the career website FindSpark says that you should think of your email as a mini-cover letter and include:

  • The job title, and job ID if it’s a larger company
  • One sentence on the details of the role, and one or two lines on why you’re a good fit for it
  • Who you’d appreciate them “dropping a line” to. (Don’t guess—do your research to see who they’re connected with, or who the head of the department or recruitment is.)
  • Attach your resume and cover letter you used to apply to the email so they have a reference point.

And always, always follow up with your progress. Let your friend and their friend know when you interview, accept, and start. By helping you, they’ve invested in your success. Give them the feedback to know you succeeded.

What Question Are You Wondering?

The job search process is hard and never-ending. We all have questions. What is yours? Ask me your career questions now.

Thanks for reading this far,

How To Get Started in ICT4D?

I love subscriber questions – please ask me yours! I answer each question to help you, and then anonymize them here to help us all improve our chances for a dream digital development job.

For example, here is a recent subscriber question:

Where are the entry-level ICT4D positions?
I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in Computer Science and will graduate in 2018, but I am worried. I am interested in pursuing a career in ICT4D, yet all opportunities I find require heaps of work experience. How do I get a start in ICT4D?

My usual response to this question is two-fold.

  1. Don’t sweat prerequisites. Job descriptions are the ideal candidate, and just like an online dating profile, should be approached with a healthy skepticism. Use the job ads as general guidance on the skills you need.
  2. Network, network, network. The final year of graduate study is when you should be networking, doing internships, and getting exposure to real-world activities and future peers and employers, even if you need to volunteer, so that on graduation day, you have job offers in hand.

But what about the day after graduation? I asked my colleagues in ICT4D for their views.

What ICT4D Experts Say About Starting in Digital Development

I tossed the subscriber’s question out to my Facebook network, and 34 responses later, here is their generalized response:

Get Industry Experience

They will be a Computer Science graduate, so they should focus on getting a job directly in the tech industry in an area where they will have transferable skills. This will build your skills and your income faster than if you start in ICT4D.

Keep Involved in International Development

While they are working on this space, keep abreast of development trends, build solutions that address real world problems, and share their results. These basic entrepreneurial efforts that will give them experience, feedback and get them noticed by the sector.

Make the Transition to a Small Tech Firm

When they’re ready, get a job w/a tech-oriented firm liked Dimagi, InSTEDD, etc. as a coder or project manager-type position. With the previous private sector income, they should have financial cushion to go into a lower paying position to pay their “development sector dues”.

See Where Your Career Takes You

A person with a Masters degree in computer science shouldn’t have any problem if they have industry experience. Employers who who run tech companies in international development are looking for tech experience and a willingness to learn.

If they’ve started int he tech space, then moved into international development, they obviously have both and they’ll have a long a rewarding career.

What the Subscriber Said About this Advice

I shared the Facebook post with them in real time, so they could follow along and ask questions if they wanted further clarification. And their response?

Wow! This is amazing. I have gotten a lot of valuable insight. I will keep following the thread and ask where I can. Thank you very much!!

So what are you waiting for? Ask me your career questions too!

Thanks for reading this far,

How Do You Invest in Your Career?

How We Invest in Ourselves

In the last newsletter, I asked you all how you invest in yourself – build new skills, competencies, knowledge and expertise that can help you in your current and next role.

Wow! You responded to that question with a plethora of examples. I’ve condensed multiple people’s feedback into themes below.

Regardless of which approach you choose, habitually investing in yourself is the only way to strengthen your career resilience over time.

Invest in Conference & Event Networking

I scrimped and saved to self-fund work conferences and events on my vacation time for 4 years that led to contacts who hired me for my current job, which has a conference travel allowance because my employer knows how valuable it is for our work.

Bonus: I get free conference attendance now in exchange for helping facilitate sessions since conference organizers also know how good I am in conferences.

Invest in Formal Education

I invest in myself through formal online education such as TechChange classes and technical courses at major Universities. I am contemplating a Master’s Degree in International Development to compliment my technical knowledge and give me a more well-rounded educational profile.

I’ve found that I need a Master’s Degree to move past mid-level program manger roles into more senior management or even senior technical advisor roles.

Invest in Informal Learning

I was glad to see Wayan included “time” in investment activities. I spend time on things like podcasts, informational interviews, and following people I admire on social media (especially people who post about what they’re reading). This has been more useful than paid courses I’ve taken.

I invest in maintaining my foreign language skills through speaking clubs, audio books, Internet radio, and volunteering with organizations like Translators without Borders.

Invest in Paying Off Debt

First on my self-investment list is retroactive investment in the form of paying off my student loans for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

My spouse and I will be in debt for many years to come, and I feel frustrated that others have the time and money to invest in current and future skills when we are paying for degrees that just got us entry-level jobs. I get the sense that development is only for those already privileged.

Invest in In-Country Experience

I kept hearing that I needed “in-country experience” to get an entry-level job, but I wasn’t willing to dig wells for two years in the Peace Corps, so I invested in a 6-month internship with a local NGO.

The experience itself was awesome and eye-opening, and it got me interviews with a major iNGO and a job offer the day my internship ended.

Invest in a Start Up

I used a small raise, freelancing gigs, and vacation time to help bootstrap a startup. It was very hard at first, but the startup is now supporting everyone involved, we all genuinely enjoy what we’re doing.

I started a side gig with a friend of mine, and while the money isn’t the same as my day job, it is 30% of my family’s income, and a life-saver when I was laid off recently. I still had money coming in and a professional accomplishments to cite while I looked for a new job.

Thanks for reading this far,

Be an ICT4D Officer with Practical Action!

Practical Action has created an exciting new role to help develop and shape its Information, Communication, Technology (ICT4D) programme and policy work. They are seeking a highly motivated person, who brings his/her skills to successfully enhance their digital technology focus in their main sectors: agriculture, DRR, energy and Urban Wash.

The successful ICT4D Officer will keep abreast of trends in digital technology innovation and engage with key forums and stakeholders externally, working work with Regional and Country Offices and partners to develop integrated approaches and strengthening existing and developing new partnerships and alliances.

This role is an exciting opportunity for someone with ideas as well as the ability to listen, analyze and co-create new, exciting digital technology for development interventions. It will suit an individual who ideally has experience in the application of digital technology in development and a sound understanding of, or ability to, quickly get up to speed on digital divide.

The role is initially a 12-month fixed term contract around £25,000 per annum depending on experience, and will be based from Practical Action’s Rugby, UK office, with some international travel involved. All applicants must have the per-existing right to both live and work in the UK.

If you would like to learn more about this role, please refer to the full recruitment pack (a Word Document download) and email Emma Johnsen at, expressing your interest.

Be sure to mention that you heard about this job opportunity through our newsletter!

Good luck,