Want to work in International Development?

If so, then book your place on our annual “Getting into International Development” event:

Wednesday 6th March, University Place, 1.30pm – 4.30pm, Lecture Theatre A (3rd floor)
(To register, login to CareersLink, and search in events for Getting into International Development)

UPDATE 6/3/13 – full timetable (you can attend all or just some of the sessions)

Haven’t registered yet? Just turn up and register on the door.

1pm         Registration open

1.30pm   Event start and welcome

1.45pm   Opportunities with DfID

2.30pm   Q and A panel session (MAG, CaFOD, Retrak, Medecins Sans Frontieres, British Red Cross, IDPM, Iraq Mines and UXO organization)

3.30pm   First steps to getting into International Development/Extended Q and A for experienced attendees

4.15pm   Informal discussions and networking

5pm        Close

 End of update

It’s aimed at any students interested in finding out about opportunities within the fields of International Development, Humanitarian Aid and other related areas.

Keynote address: Department for International Development (DfID – UK Government department) with a talk about their graduate programmes

Other speakers and participants include Retrak, Mines Advisory Group, British Red Cross and CAFOD.

Getting into International Development – previous events

This is always an inspiring event, with the chance to hear from people who have the determination and skills to forge careers in this extremely competitive field. We ran our first event in 2010, and I’ve dug out my report from that event to give you an idea of some of the things you may pick up from our 2013 event.

One interesting thing to note – our very own chicken wrangler, Emma (read on to find out more) who works in the Careers Service, has since done yet another year of volunteering, this time in Ghana with VSO. Even having a full-time job doesn’t stop a seasoned development worker – you just need determination and good negotiation skills.

Event report from 2010:
“Chicken wrangling and other skills”

Two core skills kept recurring:

Right from the start, Prof Maia Green drove home the message that cultivating “know who” is as important as know-how, particularly when establishing yourself doing consultancy work (which she does alongside her research).

Whether you feel it’s unfair or not, there were several examples of gaining internships or work experience with major NGOs through chance conversations at conferences or volunteering in the right place at the right time.

Don’t know anyone in International Development? You could do worse than hang around the coffee bar in Harold Hankins building and get to know some of our IDPM postgrads, several of whom have already worked in this field for the UN and other major NGOs. Or get on LinkedIn – there are specialist groups dedicated to those working in international development.

Find out where the opportunities are and adapt your interests and experience to take advantage of them. None of the careers of participants had progressed in a straight line. Each had woven a path through different areas, picking up skills and contacts which would be useful later.

Maia also demonstrated the importance of not being limited by “your field”, pointing out that although her PhD was in religious studies, she used her links with rural development communities in Tanzania to write on development topics. She also did a lot of dull policy report work which no-one else wanted to do, but it honed her policy experience and got her known as someone who delivers – essential in consultancy.

What other skills do you need?

Professional skills
Development work needs professional skills, but applied in a development context. Time and again, the panel mentioned financial management or accounting skills as being really important – if you want to do policy work, or find funding for projects, understanding finance is fundamental.

Project management, particularly PRINCE2 certification, is valuable in many areas, particularly with large organisations.

Fund-raising is critical to development work, especially in this financial climate. Even if that’s not the sort of development role you had in mind, it may give you the right contacts to help your move into the strategic or operational roles you’re really aiming for (yup, networking again).

Practical skills
Interested in the logistics of getting relief supplies to disaster areas – or just getting yourself and others to remote rural locations? Get a driving licence – preferably an HGV or a minibus licence, or at least experience driving a 4×4. And while you’re about it, learn some vehicle maintenance as well.

Desktop publishing and CAD could really enhance your IT credentials.

Advanced first aid could come in handy.

Creative experience (writing, photography, arts & crafts) is increasingly useful, for example in helping young people come to terms with traumatic experiences such as civil conflicts.

Don’t expect to work in Chile, for example, if you can only speak English, with a bit of French. It’s a global market you’re competing in, and most applicants to the UN and other worldwide NGOs will offer 3 or 4 languages.

And my favourite – agriculture or farming experience can come in handy if you’ll be expected to grow your own food or contribute to community life in rural areas. We now know that Emma Richardson, who works for the volunteering team in the Careers Service, “learnt how to handle a chicken” as well as becoming a dab hand at locating a candle in the dark, from her time volunteering in youth and community work in Malawi.

You never know which one of these may make you the ideal candidate, but as a minimum, they’ll make your application stand out and mark you out as a practical achiever, rather than someone who just dreams of “doing good”.

How do you get experience?

Getting your first chance to work overseas is one of the biggest challenges for many people. However, if you start to get volunteer experience in the UK, you may get the right contacts or hear of the right opportunities to start to add short term overseas experience. Dave Spooner, from Weigo, pointed out that aiming for a month’s overseas voluntary experience at first is far more achievable than expecting to land a longer funded placement.

You’ll probably have to generate the opportunity yourself, for example by learning more about the overseas work of an organisation which you help in the UK, and having the nerve to ask the right person if you could help out. Having experience of how things operate in the UK part of the organisation, and other skills you’ve acquired, may be of use.

And although we were warned against just turning up in a country and asking if there’s anything you can do, Emma got her chicken wrangling experience by, well … just turning up in Malawi, finding a contact with VSO, who just happened to have lost a volunteer worker – which meant there was an unanticipated place available for a willing pair of hands (of course it helped that Emma already had lots of UK experience in youth and community work).

A real difficulty with many plum internships is that they are unpaid. If you’re determined though, you may be able to find your way through this. Tsvetelina Bakalova talked about several internships she’d completed, including with UNDP and the EU – but at least one of these involved her doing a full-time unpaid job, whilst also studying full-time for her degree. Nothing was going to stand in her way.

Further information
There’s a pretty comprehensive information resource, including dozens of web links, on our Starting Points sheet (downloadable from our website). There’s also a great glossary of the many terms and acronyms which litter this field on the DfID website.

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