A woman was asking a question in a facebook group of international development followers – she had been offered an (unpaid) UN internship, and due to a lucky situation with her scholarship, she could actually afford to do it. However, she heard it may look bad on her CV and she was worried that by doing that internship, she would miss out on other chances later or not land jobs.
I was stunned. It puzzled me so much, it stuck in my brain, and few days later I poured out all my thoughts to my boyfriend. How are we still living in a time where it matters more how something looks in your CV compared to how much you actually want to do this job because it is interesting and you are passionate about it? How are we still living in a world where even a six month or one year internship apparently can ‘spoil’ your CV – considering a forty-something-year-career? Where does this fear come from and how are we succumbing to it? Should it not matter most to do something you are really passionate about? And yes, maybe passion in the workplace is not for everybody – but at least do something that you are interested in? Also, we are talking about a job in international development. Am I asking too much if people should take those jobs out of interest or passion, and not because ‘it looks good on CV’?
The best career advice I have gotten was that the career will find you, if you keep doing what you are passionate about. I have been in a similar type role, working in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone for nearly six years now, and committed for another two years. Different directorates, different funders, always similar mission. Someone asked me recently if I am not bored. Again, I was puzzled by this question. This type of work is my passion, this is what fascinates me, day in and day out. Yes, some days are boring, but most days I learn new things, I understand a bit more, I see another piece of the puzzle, I try another fit, I fail spectacularly, I grasp another complex truth, I become more effective and better at what I do and achieve more.
Let me be honest – every now and then I also get caught up in the ‘CV worries’. People tell me I should leave, because “otherwise you will never get a job outside Sierra Leone”, they tell me I should not have left my senior management job because “people will think you were not good at it”, they tell me I need to get in with one of the big names (e.g. World Bank, WHO, Global Fund, Gavi, etc) now, otherwise “my CV won’t have weight”. But guess what I realized – people often give you advice and direction that validate their own choices as the right ones. And let me tell you another truth – our worklife is so long, we can easily fit several careers in there. I have worked for about 8 plus years now, and have at least another 35 years to go – see the dimensions?! One or two or three or even four more years in the same job won’t make any difference at all in the long run. Stop thinking so short term and take a deep breath.
We should all worry less about careers and more about passion in our jobs. And passion can be found in any job – when I was looking for a job for some work experience, none of my desired companies were interested in my application – I got rejected for two months with no positive replies. Finally, a company producing and selling flags hired me, so I went to sell flags. And yes, I became passionate about flag poles, flag designs, flag materials and customer service. You can have dedication in any job.
But anyway – I expect more from people in international development. I expect more passion, more dedication and less focus on a classical career as the main motivation.
My boyfriend patiently listened to me and then asked me why I didn’t give that lady this exact advice. A very valid point, so I went back to the facebook group and typed my answer. 26 people had replied before me and NONE OF THEM, not a single one!, had told her she should go for the internship if she is really interested in it. All 26 gave some answers relating to how it will make her CV look and how this will help her get into the next job or not, what else she should do to brush up her CV and so on. I closed facebook feeling a bit depressed with the (international development) world. We need to get better than this but until this happens, please – just keep doing what you are passionate about.