Numbers, numbers, numbers !!! (or, how to talk about your management experience on your CV)

Numbers, numbers, numbers !!! (or, how to talk about your management experience on your CV)

The hardest thing about getting a job in international development often feels like the invisible competition of the thousands of applicants who apply for a single role.

“I was sent a pack of CVs for my recommended top 5 candidates for a relatively entry-level job (a P-3 posting in UN parlance). I was sent several hundred CVs out of a pool of several thousands. That’s a crazy number of a job posting that was only for 6 months,” says Thomas Park, who worked for the Gates Foundation in Seattle and studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “I was struck by the talent pool of individuals including one person who was from the country and was currently a senior leader within the health system holding multiple graduate degrees from leading US schools. There was also another person with almost 25 years of experience in senior leadership positions in the US government.”


But how exactly do you stand out from such a crowd, in an ever more competitive job market?


Back when I was building a social enterprise in Madagascar, I had the chance to present to a group of rather serious-looking private equity investors in Manhattan, with the hopes that they might choose my project for its investment potential, and provide much-needed funds to the project on the ground in the tropical eastern part of the country.

“This idea is going to change the lives of African farmers,” I began, convinced I had started off on the right foot.

Nervousness had established itself in my stomach, and anxiety in my throat, but somehow, I pushed on.

“Madagascar is a highly-indebted poor country, and this project is a sustainable solution to many of its woes!” Passion made my voice rise to a higher pitch.

The investors showed no expression; likely, they were bored.


As a young, non-white woman, I and my project would have been a prime candidate for them to invest in, simply because it would bring some diversity to the industry’s bias. And to be fair, the investors sat through my PowerPoint, and then asked the big question:

“What about the project’s revenues and growth?”

“Uh, yeah, they’ll be strong,” I said, thereby ruining my chances for any and all investment from them and their friends.

As you can imagine, the presentation went south, and I exited the room relieved that it was over and also embarrassed by the disaster it had been. I had not prepared well, because I didn’t understand the fundamental fact about evaluating someone – either an individual or an organisation – for their ability to manage a project well:


You have to understand, organise, and manage the NUMBERS, because they are the universal language of talking about RESULTS.


What do I mean by numbers?

Numbers can refer to:

  • how many people will be involved in the project (number of humans)
  • how many families will be impacted (number of beneficiaries)
  • the total budget for the project (how many thousands or millions of dollars you’ll have at hand to make the project a success)
  • where your project is being carried out (the number of villages/cities/regions/states/countries counted as your project’s target area)
  • the physics of what you’re working with (how many thousands of litres of rivers or hectares of land are relevant, how many gallons of water will be saved, how many kilowatt hours of electricity are needed or will be saved)
  • the size of your team (how many humans you directly or indirectly managed, guiding and supervising their day-to-day or month-to-month work and outputs)
  • the length of your project (measured in number of hours or months or years). Note that for the sake of your CV, projects are NOT measured in months because international development salaries are based on days worked (for consultants and contractors) or monthly wages pro-rated based on an annual salary of X dollars per year.

Do you see how these numbers are suddenly more convincing, when added to your CV?


Had I begun my presentation to those investors with a series of numbers (the 5 million Malagasy farmers who stood to benefit, the $10 million in revenue generated in the first ten years of business, the 13% returns with 70% chance of success guaranteed to any investor in the project, and the 100% knowledge of investing in a social enterprise started by someone from a third-world country), my project would have been a) a lot more convincing, and, more critically, I would have spoken their language – talking about the RESULTS the project would (and could) generate rather than singularly focusing on my own personal interpretation of how I was going to save the world.


Focusing on numbers (and including as many of them as you can in your CV and Cover Letter) will position you as a serious candidate oriented towards results, and dramatically increase your chances of being selected for an interview.


“Given the strong headwinds a career of service involves, you need a strong “why” to keep you going,” says Thomas. Back up that ‘why’ with numbers and statistics on how you can (and have, in your past experience) addressed these issues, and you will give HR managers a more favourable perspective on your application, because they will see you as someone who understands the true issues at stake, and, crucially, a candidate who’s able to focus on outputs and outcomes that address the goals and vision expressed in their mission statement.




11 thoughts on “Numbers, numbers, numbers !!! (or, how to talk about your management experience on your CV)”

  • Hello Malaika,

    thanks for the information. can you review my CV and give your inputs please?


    • Hi Jaideep! You can find detailed guidance on writing your CV in my free guide to writing your CV – download via the popup that should appear on your screen 🙂

  • I’m so delighted to go through the write up and felt broken when I noticed that we fail in many places due to lack of adequate preparation. On the issue of numbers, it’s very important especially in a world of ours that is fast moving with the wave of algorithms and artificial intelligence, a lot of terms are now in virtual tech and entrepreneurs value and sees it as the next thing.
    Malaika Neri, if I may ask how do we blend virtual intelligence and Management by Objectives.
    From Augustine Chinedu.
    Best wishes.

    • Augustine, the best way is to pay attention to the keywords in a job description, and include as many of them as possible in your CV and cover letter. does this make sense?

  • Hello Malaika, interesting article, thank you. It would be even more useful if you could add an example from a real CV, for example the one you mention in your email. Best, Alessandra

    • Point taken ! Will look for some standout examples and put them together in a follow-up article, if that works. Thank you for everything, Alessandra 🙂

    • HI Malaika, thank you so much for this enlightening piece, I have always wondered why my cv gets turned down every time I apply for a job, but I now understand I need to work on my cv to draw attention and stand out, thanks again. Esther Kanos

      • You will improve your chances of being selected by including more quantitative measures of how you had success in the past, Esther 🙂

  • Thanks Malaika for making things clear. Most of the time I look to my certificates and thought there might be nepotism or whatsoever in the recruitment process, but its now crystal clear that I didn’t look in to issues of numbers to proof my qualifications apart from the certificates. I really appreciate your help, and I believe I am some few meters from an NGO door.

  • Dear Cordinator,
    I am Kamlendra Singh Chouhan from Udaipur, Rajasthan. I am post graduate in arts with public administration as well as diploma in food production, and i have more 10 years work experience in hospitality, travel, marketing, event and catering field.
    I am looking for job in social service sector (NGO). I found your organization during my online search for the same on internet surfing.
    I am interested to join job in NGO, please let me know if there is any suitable vacant position in your organization according my profile and education. Please let me know soon if you have any opportunity for me.

    Thanks and Regards,

    Kamlendra Singh Chouhan
    Handphone: +91 9001781778,
    +91 8949492608

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