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Creating Your Own Career Path in International Development - With Zoe Hamilton

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

Hi everyone! Welcome to the second episode of the RE: Project Career Advice series.

Are you a recent grad or a current student wanting to break into the ID industry? Are you a qualitative researcher by training, but feel like job markets are only looking for quant-minded candidates? This episode is for you!

In this episode, I sat down with, Zoe Hamilton, Insights Manager at Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation at GSMA, from LSE Development Management class of 2015, Zoe shared an amazing story about how she created her own career path into the development field as a qualitative researcher by training.

Zoe’s story is particularly intriguing because today’s job market for social scientists is changing quickly, the odds against us (especially us qualitative researchers) are more than ever before, and academic training from a “good” school alone is no longer sufficient for young professionals.

Specialists and STEM majors are preferred systematically, while inexperienced generalists are less and less favored. So, what can us young generalist professionals do to become competitive? I think Zoe’s story sheds some light on how to sell yourself as a generalist in a manner that is favored by employers.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

The importance and relevance of qualitative skills in international development

Qualitative skills are highly valuable especially in development, it helps us to design the bottom-up human-centered development program opposes the traditional top-down development intervention. The private sector and the tech world have a lot to offer for working in development

Fieldwork as an important IN-point for young people aspired to work in development

For Zoe, her fieldwork experience in India has not only opened here eye to reality on the ground but also opened many doors to unexpected opportunities. It also allows her to travel and understand the local context and work with local researchers.

Create your own opportunities

The international development sector is a very competitive sector and it is quite difficult to gain a foothold when you first starting out at the entry-level, that is why it is very important for young students to be creative and make up their own opportunities. Zoe started freelance writing during her fellowship program in India, her writing caught the eye of a documentary filmmaker where she was asked to collaborate on a project. The documentary has given Zoe much worthwhile research experience that employer values.

A set path? “Small v.s. Large” organization

Zoe started out in a smaller organization which allow her to take on more responsibilities in multiple areas that entails a steep learning curve on the job. Now Zoe is working under the mentorship and structure of a larger organization, which benefits her professional development. Having worked in both small and large NGOs Zoe sees both of them have unique benefits. Zoe’s advice is that it is up to you to choose the one that fits your goals and aspirations.

Specialize in a topic area or a skillset as you main selling point

For young people aspired to work in development one of the major frustration is the lack of directions because development is such an all-encompassing field. Zoe suggests that it is very important to either develop a specific expertise or learn to package yourself as a specialist. Zoe and I have talked about this off the camera, and one piece of advice she gave is that we should all create a few tailored versions of your resume that portray you in a focused-specialized light depending on the job requirement. For instance, if you are applying to a communication role even if your past experience isn’t too “comm heavy”, your CV should sell you as a communication specialist with all communication-related experience on top of the CV and structure and rephrase all your other experience around it. Thus, it increases your chances during the initial AI keywords screening process. A lot of the job application is all about how you present yourself. An effective and focused CV would really boost your success rate and shorten the long and painful journey of job searching.


If you are interested in learning more about how to tailor your CV, like our video on Youtube and share this article with your network to let us know. Once we got enough likes, we can start an online webinar about how to better market yourself a “specialized generalist” in the near future.


Here is a timeline of our video so you can skip to the parts you want!:

[0:22] Zoe’s experience right after grad school: from Msc to documentary filming in India

[1:34] Zoe’s current role at GSMA Mobile for Development

[2:39] Role of a qualitative researcher

[3:20] Zoe’s experience during job search

[4:08] Path to breaking into the industry: field experience

[4:29] Make your own opportunities

[6:00] Specializing in human-centered-designed skills, technology, private sectors

[6:44] Resources for training in design thinking

[7:05] Value of fieldwork experience

[7:54] Advice in breaking into the industry for younger professionals

[9:31] Zoe’s final advice: Create your own selling point

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If you got any good content ideas, any interesting people you’d like us to interview, or interested in joining the team as a content creator email us at

Why should you join the RE: Project Community?

One main reason behind the high unemployment rate among recent grads is the gap between the structured academic training and the “messiness” of the real-world career market. This is especially true for International Development students, on average with 0–3 years of experience, that look for impact-driven work. However, the development sector requires significant work experience, specialization, and networking to break into — none of which academic training alone can adequately offer.

The RE:Project is a community of re-skilling and career support for millennial and Gen Z social scientists, born with the idea that millennials and Gen-Zers can help one another out for today’s job market.

In the short-run, we offer tailored career support by creating curated real-life, authentic content generated by real people of the millennial generation working the industries. Practitioners with 4–7 years of experience can offer as many insights (or more!) as 50-year-old CEOs and Directors about how to break into the industry.

This way, young job seekers can interact with mentors using social media live (visit our Linkedin page, Instagram coming soon), and blog posts.

User-generated blog posts, interviews, and tips will also be very welcome.

In the long run, the ultimate goal of this platform is to grow into the forefront community for the Future of Work for social scientists.

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