international ict4d job

How Do I Get an International Job in Digital Development?

Question 13: How Do I Get an International Job?

Do international organizations ever hire someone for an international role, or its it always a local hire? How can I get a job in another country in humanitarian relief?

Different International Jobs

This question has many meanings as the concept of an international job has many meanings as well. Generally, a company wants to hire someone local to that country.

Be it Botswana or Belgium, the person from that local context will know the culture, rules, and expectations of that culture better than someone from somewhere else.

Still, there are cases when the company will hire someone from one country to work in another, and generally these people are called expats if they are from the headquarters country, or Third-Country Nationals if they are from one country and now working in another.

Which International Jobs Are For You?

So yes, development organizations do hire people for international jobs. However, it is not common, and of the two types, TCNs are more common than expats.

It’s very rare for an international organization based in a wealthy country to hire from that country for a job in another country, mainly due to the great expense involved. TCNs are usually also paid better than local hires, so they have a greater cost to the organization too, though less than HQ expats.

Either way, good luck if you’re offered a role in a different country. It is an amazing opportunity, when it works out. When it doesn’t work out, it can be a major failure.

ict4d job digital development career

Companies Are Still Hiring Digital Development Experts

Most economists are predicting that we are about to enter into one of the largest recessions ever. This is a scary time for anyone – regardless of how secure you feel you job.

One touch of good news is that companies are still hiring. You can see our newsletter where there are new openings for you to review. There will be more competition for each job, so you’ll need to have a strong application game.

Having a strong network is the core to any good application game. Be sure you are doing informational interviews now. Follow up to those you’ve already talked with. And keep at your networking, every day.

Then establish and grown your professional presence. Everything from LinkedIn comments to (virtual) conference presentations, make sure you’re known as an expert is your niche. This will help grow your network, which will also improve your presence.

Finally, this is the time to focus on what you are good at and known for, not for jumping into a new role or niche. Build on your strengths and work at it. New jobs are there, you could get one.

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:

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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 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.

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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.


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!