Guest blog by Elizabeth Wells (MSc Conflict Studies, 2014) from Coffey International:

My background

As an undergraduate student studying International Relations, I was eager to find summer internships that were closely related to my degree and would provide me with relevant experience that could lead to a job immediately after university. However, to my disappointment, nearly all the internships that I wanted to apply for required applicants to have a master’s degree, which is what spurred me into studying for a master’s in Conflict Studies directly after completing my undergraduate degree.

Although I knew I wanted to work in development after finishing my master’s, there are multiple routes that you can take within this sector such as fundraising, research, or charity work. I initially struggled to identify the types of jobs I was truly interested in until I discovered international development consultancy.

What is international development consultancy?

In short, international development consultancy firms implement development projects on behalf of clients, such as aid donors and multilateral organisations. When clients have projects they would like to implement, they identify suppliers through a competitive bidding process. When clients release an invitation to tender, Coffey and other similar companies submit proposals that outline how they will effectively deliver the project. The clients then select suppliers to deliver the projects based on the strength of both the technical and commercial proposals.

Coffey implements a wide variety of projects on behalf of its different clients, which include the UK Department for International Development (DfID), the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the US Agency for International Development.

Coffey has projects across different regions that focus on diverse development areas, including economic growth, gender, governance, security and justice. For example, the Sub-National Governance programme in Pakistan improves the ability of provincial and district level governments to deliver basic services such as healthcare and education for communities. Another programme, called Improving Community Security, seeks to address three types of violence in Kenya: criminal violence, inter-communal violence, and violence against women and girls.

The role

As a Project Coordinator in Coffey’s Governance, Security and Justice practice, my specific role within any given project varies depending on its size, scope and duration. My responsibilities can involve tasks such as providing administrative support, maintaining oversight of the project’s budget and preparing financial forecasts, mobilising consultants, quality assuring reports, and travelling to the projects to provide assistance. Currently, I am working on projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Nigeria.

In addition to providing support on projects, I also assist on bids. My responsibilities on a bid team include writing parts of the technical proposal and identifying external experts with the skills and expertise to deliver the project. Additionally, I negotiate fee rates with the experts if they agree to join our bid.

The work environment

As the projects that Coffey implements are complex and often in challenging environments, sometimes you have to work under pressure to deliver results for the client. While this means that sometimes I work outside standard working hours, on most days I work about nine to six.

While the work can be challenging, Coffey provides its employees with great opportunities for professional development both in the office and through external training courses. For example, my managers regularly encourage me to attend calls that they have with our clients so that I can learn the best ways to respond to their comments. In some cases, my manager has requested that I lead on calls with clients, which enables me to build my own relationships with them. Additionally, Coffey recently sent me on a training course where I received my PRINCE2 certification.

One of my favourite aspects of working at Coffey is having the opportunity to regularly collaborate with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. As Coffey employs people across the globe, I often have Skype meetings where everyone on the call is dialling in from a different country.

Where to look for jobs

I found that one of the most challenging aspects of applying to roles in the international development consultancy sector was not knowing where to find the job postings. Although there are a number of websites that are designed to present job opportunities in international development, the majority of these focus on development charities or think tanks. I found that Devex has a great variety of job opportunities in the development sector, including positions in international development consultancy. Even if you cannot find a job that is right for you on Devex immediately, it is still worth looking at the postings to identify the names of the companies that you would like to work for so that you can search for them on Linkedin or follow them on Twitter.