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Pigeonholed by my resume?

September 18, 2015

Q. Hi Nick, What a fantastic website. Thank you for making it available to people like me.

I have a question for you. I’ve long been in the NGO world — I’ve lived in third world countries, including some very remote areas and one high-conflict zone, for 9 years, working for a faith-based organization. For personal reasons I’ve transitioned out of that NGO and am currently teaching ESL in the U.S. But I find my heart still longing to be out on the field. Unfortunately, my background is in linguistics (I have an M.A. and I worked in literacy / language development), but I have no desire to continue working as an ESL teacher; nor am I interested in more schooling at this point (I’m 40). Anyone looking at my resume will immediately pigeonhole me as an educator. I’m interested in humanitarian aid, refugee work, gender issues, advocacy, and community development. When I look at job listings, however, they all seem to require some sort of degree in social work or something else.

Do you have any specific advice for someone like me beyond what’s on your website? Would an NGO give me a chance in a new type of role, seeing my field background?


A. Thanks for the question Sandra,

With a solid background in the field (9 years of field work on your resume is plenty), I don’t think most hiring managers are going to ding you too badly for your degree. I have a masters degree in a development related field and I can honestly say that no one has ever asked me about it at interview.

The only thing that I think might be an issue is that your resume could get screened out either automatically, or by a recruiting assistant who might circular-file you without reading your resume for not having a degree that the posting asks for. I think the best way to address this (if you think it is happening) is either to deal with it head on in your cover letter, or to develop your professional network sufficiently that you can get on the interview short-list without getting screened out.

Frankly, with your level of experience, I would expect that your network is pretty good at this point. If you think you’re actually having this problem drop me an email and we can talk.

Good luck!


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