Interested in working in international development? It’s a very broad sector encompassing a huge range of organisations and job roles and successful applicants need to be proactive, determined and flexible.
These tips and ideas will help you navigate a pathway:
1. Know what you want to do
It’s important to be as clear as you can be about the kind of development work you want to do, so that you can target your efforts effectively. For example, are you interested in working overseas or in the UK? In advocacy or programmes? Are you interested in human rights, governance, education, gender, forced migration, the environment, or working with disaster relief or health provision in extreme situations?
2. Do your research and be clear about the skills you have to offer
Explore the variety of roles and find out where your expertise fits. Narrowing down your interests, skills and geographical focus will mean that you can communicate your knowledge, commitment and passion to employers, in your CV and in interviews.
3. Look at all the alternatives
Most people focus on working with an NGO, but there are many other alternative employers, from international consultancies and overseas government department to commercial operations; all of which contribute to the economic growth and strengthening of the country’s development or infrastructure. Keep an eye out for advertised opportunities on CareerHub and sites such as Devex, Devnet, Bond, Idealist, Charityjob, CharityPeople, Eldis and Guardian jobs, but look beyond these too.
4. Build your practical experience
Most employers will look for at least six months and up to two years overseas experience. This is so you can demonstrate practical knowledge of the sector, an awareness of different working practices, as well as important personal skills, such as being able to adapt to challenging situations and overcoming cultural barriers. Unless you already have relevant work experience, you should aim to do internships or volunteer whilst at LSE or, failing that, straight after you leave.
5. Be realistic about how to get into the sector
An admin job in marketing may not be the same as working in programmes, but it will allow you to be in the organisation to hear about roles, develop relationships and be building relevant experience for your CV. Be aware that getting opportunities “in the field” can be difficult for new graduates, especially those without prior experience and many internships are unpaid. Increasingly posts in the field are filled by local staff and it’s mainly higher level jobs or jobs with specialist/technical skills in short supply (such as engineering, for example) that go to non-local staff.
6. Invest in the core skills the sector needs and consider developing a technical/specialist skill
The core skill set includes problem-solving in tough environments, cultural skills and negotiation, management, and sound project and financial implementation. As locals increasingly take on these roles, it is specialist skills that are needed most, either technical expertise in areas such as education, health and engineering, or functional skills such as fundraising, marketing, communications and digital. Strong administrative office based skills are also vital for many entry-level roles.
Many jobs in this sector are gained through making contacts, and people who work in the sector are generally happy to share their thoughts and experience with those wanting to follow in their footsteps so make use of that opportunity.
8. Stay flexible
The sector is highly competitive with far fewer jobs than applicants, so it’s really key to bear in mind that you may have to make a few ‘sideways’ career moves to get your ideal job. Sometimes this may mean taking a role abroad in a location that wouldn’t be your first choice) or in a smaller organisation. This can provide you with great experience that will make your application look more attractive when you apply for future roles. Some people focus on developing their skills and experience outside of the sector and then move across at a later stage.
9. Think beyond the big players
Everyone knows Oxfam, Amnesty, CARE, Action Aid, Red Cross — these are all fantastic organisations working in international development — but the competition for paid jobs is high, as they get a lot of press and advertise widely for support. It’s not uncommon for one job with these agencies to get more than 800 applications. So, it may be worthwhile finding some lesser-known charities to apply to as well as, or instead of the big agencies, which will give you that first experience in the sector where you may also have more responsibility in your role.
10. Remember LSE Careers is here to help
If you’d like to discuss your options or any careers-related topic, you can book a one-to-one appointment with one of our careers consultants on CareerHub. We also run Discover International Development (DiscoverID) during Michaelmas and Lent, helping you to explore a career in international development.