In an ideal world, we’d all have a mentor. And on golden day, around 10:30 in the morning, our mentor would take us out to coffee and tell us when we’re ready to move to the next level professionally. News flash: that’s not how it works.
In an ideal world, we’d all have a mentor. Maybe two. But at least one mentor from the organization we work for. Someone 10 or 15 years older. Old enough they’ve got perspective on our situation, young enough that they still remember the early career struggle.
And on golden day, around 10:30 in the morning, our mentor would take us out to coffee and say “Susie, it’s time for you to play with the big kids. You’re ready. Here are three internal jobs I think you’re ready to take on. Go tell HR you are interested and I’ll recommend you.”
News flash: that’s not how it works.
I work in international development. In this field, there is a big difference between the entry level jobs – which either pay badly or consist mostly of paperwork and admin – and the mid-level jobs. This . The mid-level jobs are awesome. I could have happily done mid-level development jobs for the rest of my life. But the entry level jobs are the pits. If they are interesting, they pay badly. Very badly. As in, no salary or a stipend. If they pay a standard salary, they’re boring. What you want to do is get through the entry level phase as fast as you can and get to the good stuff.
This is clear from the questions that are submitted to the I run. Probably the most common question I get is: “When am I ready for the mid-level jobs?”
Obviously, you can’t graduate with an undergraduate degree and decide that you’re a mid-level candidate. Self-confidence is not a magic wand. There are several different measurements people will suggest to identify mid-level readiness. Some say five to seven years of experience overall. Or a year or two of management. I myself tend to mention a vital three skill set of management, budget background and experience maintaining relationships with donors or governments. But the fact is there’s no real consensus — probably why I get this question so often. And I can name several people off the top of my head — including me — who found mid-level jobs without some of those skills.
If you think you’re ready, start applying. That’s all. No one is going to sit you down and tell you you’ve grown up now. Keep an eye on job vacancies. When you start feeling like, “hey, I can do that,” start throwing your hat into the ring. Tell your contacts you’re ready. Get your resume out there. Go to the happy hours and the meetings.
You’re ready when you can get yourself in there.
is an international development consultant currently living and working in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. She is the editor of the International Development List, a newsletter that examines jobs in international development, and a senior TED fellow. Visit her for more details.