CV Convos (CV Conversations) is an Instagram Live series on navigating careers and CV writing tips, created by Circumspecte and the New Career Platform. Career coach and Circumspecte founder Jemila Abdulai talks to African young professionals about their career paths and the lessons learned along the way. In our final CV Convos, host Jemila Abdulai was joined by Edem Agbe, the Managing Director of Participatory Development Associates. During the session, they discussed many topics including the importance of research in its various forms, what skills come in handy as a social researcher and what not to do on your CV if pursuing a development career. Watch a replay of the conversation or keep reading to discover the nuggets of wisdom shared. 

“Beyond the hard and soft skills you bring on board, you need to ask yourself, ‘How do I get things done even when my boss is not there?’" – @edemresearch #CVConvos #Circumspecte Click To Tweet

Edem Agbe: From Potential Banker to Passionate Researcher 

An internship led Edem Agbe to his career path as a development practitioner. As an economics student he was preparing for a future in banking, but curiosity got the best of him when he got an internship opportunity with a research firm. That internship ended up being a great learning experience and awakened a desire in the budding banker to switch tracks and focus on a research and development career. “All that you do everyday [in research] is learning, improving upon your knowledge to try to solve problems and reviewing programs,” he recounted. Immediately after finishing his studies, Edem went back to the same firm for his national service and that’s how his research and development career started. Since then, Edem has witnessed just how pivotal research is for building organizations, countries and professionals. His experience also highlights how important internships and volunteering are; they may even help you discover your true career path. 

We all do research in different ways, it’s just that we don’t call it research … Almost everything we do is informed by some form of research which illustrates its importance.”

– Edem Agbe

Must-Have Skills for Seizing Research Opportunities 

What three skills should a successful researcher have? Learning is the first, said Edem. Working “in the knowledge commercialization space” where learning is continuous, requires one to understand ever changing circumstances in the ecosystem. The second key element is interpersonal skills. No matter how skilful you are as a researcher, you will need to engage people to get your primary data. Well-honed interpersonal skills and a strong social network are therefore valuable. The final must-have skill is data analysis and reporting. A researcher can put in 200% of effort into gathering data, but it is the data analysis and reporting which helps unveil the quality of your data, Edem explained. How well you analyse and present your work is essential for a research and development career, as is one’s willingness to take on new challenges:

 “I have encountered people who believed in me although I was young. They gave me opportunities in new spaces. They said, ‘Edem I like your knowledge on data but can you move [your expertise] to program evaluation?’. This required me to analyse issues in context. I also tried to live up to these challenges and seize them as opportunities for growth.

– Edem Agbe

Edem has been the Managing Director for Participatory Development Associates for over three years now, a role he describes as “exciting, challenging and frustrating – all at the same time”. Taking on a leadership position forced Edem to develop new skills and expand his repertoire from being a technical person to a new territory involving people management, concept development and building partnerships. Edem also contributes to the organisation by researching opportunities, trends and what research approaches his team can employ to address problems. With the onset of COVID-19, much of the organisation’s work has been disrupted due to border closures and project suspensions. As a leader, Edem has had many sleepless nights which can sometimes make his role feel lonely. That said, he stays determined to live up to his team’s expectations of him as a leader:

Work transcends borders now so we rely a lot on digital skills too for data analysis and programming. This COVID-19  time really showed us that we can work remotely so it asks professionals to reach results with very little supervision.”

– Edem Agbe

A Career Focused on Youth

While Edem’s CV highlights impressive work in social research and monitoring and evaluation, what stands out is his interest in youth development. As a young professional himself, he feels very connected to his colleagues who are also trying to be changemakers in their various fields. The youth advocate admits that while there is a lot of dialogue and policymaking in Africa’s youth development sphere, more needs to be done in terms of implementation and including youth leaders in decision-making and development planning. He believes that “the youth are not the future, because the future is now.” With this in mind, Edem and his organisation work with partners to collect real-time data on youth, so that development planning and programming is done with this very essential demographic in mind. Edem also thinks it is important to showcase the work young people do and grant them opportunities to lead, especially since youth tend to be the driving force behind rapidly-changing technologies. The evidence is there, backed by empirical research and case studies; it is high time to acknowledge the driving force of the youth and let youth lead the process, he concluded.

“It’s often said that young people are not skilful enough, don’t have the experience and cannot lead. But an adult is a young person who survived so if they are able to lead, it clearly tells us that we are also ready to lead.”

– Edem Agbe

CV Tips for a Career in Research 

Edem shared CV tips for young professionals interested in exploring a research-focused career. Edem stressed the importance of creating a tailor-made CV by researching and finetuning one’s CV based on the skills, knowledge and issues the organisation prioritizes. He also cautioned job seekers against lying on their CVs as each organization verifies and cross-checks achievements. Job seekers should also review their social media platforms to see  how it may come across to recruiters and possible employers. Once you join an organization as a team member, you represent the organization, so recruiters look out for that too. Working in the development space also requires flexibility, being effective in a multicultural environment, and delivering results especially in the current COVID-19 landscape where many professionals are working remotely with little to no supervision. Being able to demonstrate one’s value to any team and capture that on a CV helps a job candidate stand out further.

 “Beyond the hard and soft skills you bring on board, you need to ask yourself, ‘How do I get things done even when my boss is not there?’”. 

– Edem Agbe

Want more research career insights? Watch a replay of the final CV Convos with Edem, connect with him on LinkedIn and find out more about his organisation’s work. Missed any of the five episodes? Watch them all on Circumspecte’s Instagram TV channel

This event summary was written by Ileen Wilke and Jemila Abdulai. CV Convos is an Instagram Live series on navigating careers, created by Circumspecte and the New Career Platform.

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