Pursue volunteering opportunities – they don’t always lead to paid work, but they’re still a great foot in the door and a way to build your resume while doing something meaningful in your community.
|Name: Alyssa Robinson||Current Position: Publications Coordinator|
|Main country of residence: Australia||Organisation: Australian Red Cross|
|Qualifications (and University): Bachelor of Arts (Communication) majoring in Journalism (University of Technology, Sydney); Master of Development Studies (University of Sydney)|
|Years of experience (development/overall): ): 1/4|
|LinkedIn Profile/Website Address: http://au.linkedin.com/pub/alyssa-robinson/8b/622/834|
|Languages (and level of fluency): English (fluent), French (basic-intermediate), Spanish (basic)|
Tell us a bit about your career before moving into development/not-for-profit.
My main area of interest before completing a degree in Development Studies was journalism/media. I did internships and freelance work for a range of newspapers and magazines, but it wasn’t long before I decided to go back to uni for my Master degree.
If you had previously pursued a non-development career, describe how you made the transition and the extent to which your existing skills were transferable.
I made the transition from journalism towards development by firstly studying for a degree in Development Studies, and then applying for media-based jobs in the development/not-for-profit sector. I’m hoping to gradually move closer and closer towards the development side of things, but as a career advancement strategy I’ve chosen to maximise the use of my existing skills, hence why I’m working in publications at Australian Red Cross.
When did you first start working in development/not-for-profit and what was your first role in this sector? Tell us a bit about the organisation that you worked for.
I started working in the sector in 2013 as a volunteer at Red Cross. I volunteered one day per week in the main Sydney office as an assistant to the person who was then Publications Coordinator.
Red Cross is a huge organisation to try to summarise in a few sentences (though of course as a publications worker that’s my job!). Red Cross’ mission is to work to alleviate human suffering or hardship wherever it may be found, and that’s one of the things I love about it – that the organisation doesn’t discriminate and has broad goals. The work of Red Cross in Australia includes providing support to migrants and asylum seekers, increasing food security, preventing homelessness, helping people to prepare for and recover after disasters, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and a whole list of other things. We also work in international development and international emergencies.
How did you obtain your first development/not-for-profit role? Did you apply for it, and if so how many applications did you submit to get in? Was the role paid or unpaid?
I applied for heaps of media and/or office-based jobs in the not-for-profit sector, and also a couple of Australian Volunteers for International Development placements, but it took a while to have any luck – the area is extremely competitive and sought-after, which is something I didn’t realise when I started out. In the end I got my role at Red Cross through staying around as a volunteer for several months, making myself available to do extra work (for example small stints of paid work when my manager went on leave, in order to pick up her workload) and making my goals clear. I made sure that my manager knew that I wanted to work full time at Red Cross, and she made an effort to help me out once it was clear to her that I was reliable and skilled.
Did you have experience in the field before obtaining your first paid development role? If yes, do you think your field experience was essential to your job application?
I had two months’ experience of teaching English in Peru as a volunteer, but that was a few years ago and I generally think for field experience to be valuable to job applications it should be over a longer period. Since my current job is more related to media and communications than directly to development, my field experience was more or less irrelevant to that application.
How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?
I think it’s important to build strong relationships with a couple of people, but I’m not sure yet whether it’s necessary and important to cast a really wide net of contacts and attend networking events (though I’m sure it can’t hurt!). It’s also good to recognise that university is a networking opportunity – there are other people from my course now working in the same office as me!
What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?
In terms of my career goal to work in the field, the main disadvantage of my current job is that I’m in an office and reporting on fieldwork third-hand. But there are also huge advantages in that I’m building working relationships with a range of people who work in several different areas of Red Cross, and since I edit stories from all over the organisation I’m exposed to a much broader array of information than most employees are. I get an ‘umbrella view’ of the organisation that is quite unique. This puts me in a better position to decide where to move to next, once the time comes.
What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?
Pursue volunteering opportunities – they don’t always lead to paid work, but they’re still a great foot in the door and a way to build your resume while doing something meaningful in your community. Don’t be disheartened if you’re applying for jobs and not getting anywhere – from what I’ve heard this happens to just about everyone, and getting a role is just as much about good luck and timing as it is about hard work. Strategise – work out that you may need to start in one place in order to get to another. And I think the best career advice of all is pretty simple: love what you do!
Image credit: Christian Mehlfuhrer