I wish I had kept a count of the number of times I have been asked how best to get my first job in international development. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer. It’s great that so many students want to pursue a career in this sector but it does mean that is becoming increasingly competitive and there is no one right way to succeed.
- Getting practical work experience is so valuable to demonstrate that you have the skills required for the role. Don’t think this experience has to be based overseas. You can work on inner city projects or in deprived rural communities in the UK covering many of the same issues you would be tackling on an international front, like health, poverty, regeneration and education. The amount and relevance of your work experience will demonstrate your commitment and passion and help to give you the competitive edge. The International Citizen Service is an excellent way to get experience overseas: http://www.volunteerics.org/ but if you can build your experience at home, you can evidence a longstanding commitment, visit: https://do-it.org/
- Understand the sector and who you can work for. International NGO’s are the largest subsector, but organisations like the Red Cross, Medicins sans Frontier, Oxfam, Amnesty International receive high numbers of applications and so are more fiercely competitive. Working for the Government such as DFID or international public institutions, such as the UN and the World Bank is another option, but often requires a masters qualification and several years’ work experience. Some large professional service companies take on development projects, and this maybe an area you wish to consider. There are opportunities to work in academia and think tanks, but this is the smallest of the sub sectors, however you will need a masters or a PhD to be successful in this area.
- A masters qualification is very helpful, as it gives you an understanding of some the broad issues and current debate, but it also helps you to develop critical thinking skills, research and project management abilities as well as higher level communication capabilities. It will help in the application process as many other applicants will hold masters qualifications and it will certainly help you to progress your career. It is also worth considering a postgraduate qualification in an area of expertise for many development roles based in the field, such as teaching, finance, engineering, planning, nursing etc.
- There are very few graduate schemes in this sector so consider entry level roles in small NGO’s or organisations that you are interested in working with. Once inside an organisation you will be able to access the internal job vacancies, many of which never get advertised externally, so don’t overlook administrative and reception roles as a starting point. Many roles within the international development field will be office based, so these skills will be useful longer term.
- Learn a world language, such a French, Arabic, Spanish or Chinese and try to get experience of using the language through teaching or voluntary positions. For some ideas visit: https://www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-create/opportunity
Emma Al-Hakim, Careers Consultant.