International organisations are often one of many destinations that spring to mind when thinking a career in international development. Below, we cover some key tips and considerations to think about if this is an area you’d like to enter.
Refine your interest
International development is a big sector and so one of the first things to ask yourself to help you plan your entry route is what area of international development you’re most interested in/have expertise in. International Development spans many areas of specialism and focus as well as numerous job roles and functions. Begin by asking yourself what areas you want to focus on. Are you mostly motivated to focus on a certain thematic area (eg, sexual health, education, sanitation) or region? This will help you to target and identify and target iNGOs whose work and aims connect with your own.
Demonstrate your interest
The key to any job application (and iNGOs are no different) is to show your genuine interest in their work. Consider volunteering for a related cause, taking an internship or part time work in a relevant role, function or even trusteeship for a charity. It’s important to go beyond wanting to help and to demonstrate or explain clearly why you’d add value within that particular organisation. Your experience doesn’t need to be international, with many development professionals respecting the skills gained from working for local NGOs and also within the private sector.
Flexible entry points
The international NGO graduate employment landscape is relatively unstructured compared to other areas targeted by graduates, many of which have year-long lead in times between job applications and start dates. While you may not find a large offering of graduate programmes and internship programmes detailed on organisation websites, this also means the sector offers more flexibility in terms of where, how and when to enter.
Take a proactive approach
Because iNGOs typically don’t recruit in the same way as other large organisations, you won’t tend to see them running large recruitment drives or campaigns. This means it’s time to get creative and proactive! Spend time researching your organisations of interest, learn about their internal team structures and keep an eye out for entry level roles to see what types of candidates they usually seek. Speak to current employees, read their blogs and follow their social media platforms to keep up to date with their work. You can do this in the months leading up to applying to give you plenty of time to learn and pick up information.
Advice from alumni working in International Development is not to overlook the benefits of gaining work experience in local NGO settings. You will still gain relevant skills and show your interest in working within the not for profit sector.
Be open minded as to size and scale
Think about the pros and cons of working within a big/well known iNGO compared to a smaller organisation. Consider the organisation’s funding (is it private, public or a mixture of both?). Does the organisation have a focus on one thematic area (eg, WaterAid) or span multiple (eg, Plan International)? Each setting will offer different opportunities and where you will thrive best might also come down to personal preference of working environment.
Get in, move across?
A common question asked by students is whether they should take a first job in a different area of the organisation. For example, whether a student interested in working in policy should start in an administrative role within their target organisation. Alumni working in the sector advise that this can be a good way to get into the organisation and learn the inner functions and hear about internal recruitment. However, it’s important you use the time to network across the organisation and not to stay in the initial role too long before making a transition.
Be critically engaged
When writing your applications, try to really scrutinize your interest in the sector and the organisation. It’s vital to move beyond wanting to help, or contribute and important to be critically engaged with issues facing the sector or work of the organisation. Follow relevant blogs and websites to help you develop your understanding of the sector, for example LSE’s Professor in Practice, Duncan Green’s blog and Bond.