Global Workers Series #2: “What Employers Really Want”

In one of the few sunny days of Seattle’s early spring, over fifty people traveled to iLEAP’s presentation and meeting space for Global Washington’s Second Global Workers event. The second installation of this series asked speakers Andrea Ballard and Deborah Agrin to dissect a question that many current and prospective professionals struggle with: What is it that employers really want?

Andrea Ballard, Human Resources Consultant and Career Coach, and Deborah Agrin, current Director of Development and Engagement at Vittana, both brought different perspectives on the job hunt to their talks. The event began with a networking skills workshop led by Ballard. All attendees were asked to practice networking skills they would soon use with employers with each other; and began meeting fellow professionals in the process. The event culminated with a question and answer session addressed to both speakers to build on each other’s perspectives. When asked for final tips, Agrin suggested “be[ing] curious and experiment[ing]”. Ballard implored attendees to “get out of [their] houses and away from [their] computers” when applying for jobs.

But what experimentation did Agrin mean? What did Ballard suggest other than endlessly filling out job applications over the internet?

Both speakers attested to the need of certain skills in the development community, and both speakers assured the audience that those skills could be refined in a number of environments. In short, a perfect candidate for the development field may not come from the development field. Project management is one capacity that the audience was told employers find impressive. The ability to set targets, plan strategically to carry out an assignment, and follow through is a necessity in a field where funding is always at risk. Impact evaluation was also cited as an attractive ability. The speakers pointed out that specialists in statistical analysis, research, or project design could find their skill sets welcomed in this field. Finally, business management was highlighted. Knowing how to do what you say and knowing how to run projects and organizations efficiently makes candidates more competitive.

Both speakers also noted that the most effective people in this field are those with a certain faculty of flexibility. A person who has lived overseas demonstrates that they can survive and work in another culture while a person who is entrepreneurially minded demonstrates a mental agility to take advantage of opportunity where others may not.

When the conversation turned to resumes, several points stood out. Ballard advised applicants to list job accomplishments rather than job duties on their resumes. Often an employer has a partial idea of what you do based on the title you’ve been given. Using your resume as a way to elaborate on how well you did a job or how you did your job differently than most is a good way to display competence in the small space on a resume. Displaying a fluency in different kinds of language is also a skill that many possess but few use their resume to highlight. “Good communication skills” is a common resume phrase. A phrase like “able to adjust communication to fit written, verbal, and business settings” may more accurately describe the importance of your communication abilities.

Ultimately, both speakers were at the event to illuminate the many paths a person with ambitions to enter the development field could take. Recent graduates and students were encouraged to take on all the internships and fellowships they could to accumulate direct experience and responsibility. Mid-career professionals were urged to leverage the skills they’ve already acquired to interview better and build up their resumes. Global Washington thanks the speakers, and those that were able to attend the workshop. We look forward to seeing you all at the next event in the Global Workers series.


by Bryan Gamble