As I rapidly approach 10 years out of taking on my first full-time business development role, I find myself looking back on how I got started and thinking about what I wish I could have told myself in retrospect.
I fell into this world. Coming out of graduate school at 24, I was hell bent on working in the field of international development. But I wanted to stay as far away from business development as possible. I'd already worked in a role through school that was part program management and part business development and I was convinced that I would be stepping into a full time program management role. I thought that was the way to what I really wanted - hands on work, lots of travel, continuous learning.
Getting into business development can be an aspiration, don't get me wrong. That's just not how it happened for me.
As I explored more and more, I wasn't finding the program management roles that I dreamed of. For someone with relatively limited direct experience, I wasn't as competitive as I had imagined. And I was competing with hundreds of other recent graduates for relatively low paying jobs.
Widening my job search, I found myself getting interview after interview for business development roles. My relatively limited experience here set me apart. I didn't understand, but I loved talking to the folks doing that kind of work.
They were engaged and excited about what they were doing and all spoke about how amazing it was to see the direct impact of your hard work in a successful bid. Over time I was swayed and ended up accepting a great job with a great team. I haven't looked back since.
For those of you approaching this from the other side, here's what I would say. Try to get some practical business development experience. If that's volunteering support as a grant writer for a local community based organization, that's great. If that's taking on an internship with a business development team, that's even better. Study up too - look at the resources geared toward proposal coordinators and managers and learn the language of proposal reviews and processes. The more you know before going into an interview the better. Don't oversell yourself, but speak up about what you do know. Business development teams love to see enthusiasm for their work, so demonstrate that you are really interested.
Business development can be wonderfully fulfilling career. All you have to do is start.