write thank you note

A Handy Trick to Stand Out in the Crowded ICT4D Job Market

As a subscriber to the ICT4DJobs email list, you are a technologist in some way. You believe in the role of ICT to improve development and more importantly, the lives of people in developing countries.

Now I want to tell you about a very non-techie way to stand out in the job search. It’s probably one of the oldest tricks, and still stunningly powerful, yet its also one of the most forgotten.

Send a Thank You Letter

And I don’t mean an email. I mean an old-school, handwritten note on nice card stock, that’s put in an envelope, with a stamp, and sent to who you interviewed with. Either an informational interview or an actual job interview.

Why is this a trick? Because handwritten notes are so rare, you will certainly stand out from the crowd. I learned this lesson back in my first ICT4D job when years after I was hired, I was talking with my boss about hiring staff.

He told me that my thank you note is what got me my job there.

Then he reached into his desk and pulled out the very note I’d written years before. He said it was the only one he’d ever received, and so he kept it to remind himself who to look for when hiring staff.

From that day forth, I’ve sent handwritten thank you notes, and twice, I received them. I distinctly remember the two people who sent them – they’re top of mind when I think about who my friends should hire.

So simple, so effective, and yet so rare. Maybe you can start a trend?

start ict4d career

How To Get Started in ICT4D as a Recent College Graduate?

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,


ict4d job interview questions

Please Ask Interview Questions for Digital Development Jobs

Recently, I was hiring for ICT4D positions at my company and the experience reminded me of a strange trend: interviewees not asking any questions of the interviewers and their company.

Always Ask Questions

I don’t know why someone would not ask questions in an interview. The whole point of an interview is for us to get to know each other. To find out if we will be a good fit for each other. If this will be a good working relationship – the goal of every hiring manager and you.

Yet, I am often surprised by how many people don’t have questions or are reluctant to ask questions in an interview.

Questions Show Interest

When you ask a question about the role, the team, and the company, you show that you are interested in the position, and you want it to be a good fit, vs. just a job.

You should be asking a list of questions about how this role fits into your career goals, and just your day-to-day work wants. Every question is a good one, and helps you and the hiring manager learn about each other.

Questions Show Preparation

When you ask questions, you show the hiring manager that you’ve given thought to this role, this team, and this organization. It shows that you care about this job – not just any job.

When you ask detailed questions, that’s when the hiring manager knows you’ve done your homework, that you are a detailed person who cares about your work and will be prepared on a daily basis.

Questions Show You Care

Above all, questions show that you care about the time your spending thinking about this job and the time the hiring manager is spending on you. So your questions are not a waste of time. In fact, they are just the opposite – they are the key to winning your new job.

So do yourself, and your potential employer a favor – ask questions at your interviews.

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.