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Sector overview

Working in development is a popular option with many graduates. There are a wide range of jobs available, from support staff based in the UK to overseas field work.

Who do organisations recruit?

Increasingly, organisations are looking to recruit staff to be based in the UK with specific skills and qualifications such as finance, logistics, management, fundraising, engineering and IT to help support their overseas work - for most people this is the most realistic way of entering development work.

For their overseas work, development organisations prefer to recruit from the local area or from countries with similar social, economic and cultural values to the people they are trying to help. Opportunities do exist overseas but they will require specific skills, experience and evidence of commitment.

Tough competition

Competition for vacancies is fierce, so it is important that you research the different roles available, e.g. fundraising, administration, media relations and field work, to help you develop the relevant skills and experience needed before making an application. See Roles and case studies to help with this research. This Guardian article highlights the need to understand the specific area you want to work in.

Get yourself known

An article in the Guardian emphasises how important networking and making contacts is in this sector. You can do much of this networking online using LinkedIn, Twitter and online forums. Graduate Connections can help you get in touch with Newcastle University alumni working in both the development and charity sectors.  Try to attend conferences and agency open evenings as these can give you the opportunity to find out more about the work of the different organisations and to chat to existing staff and volunteers.  Make sure you do your research before attending any event so you have some informed questions to ask.

Keeping yourself up to date

In addition to developing your skills and experience, you also need to keep up to date with current issues in international development. Use government and major international aid agency websites, sector magazines, newspapers and books to help with this research; BBC News in particular includes links to news across the world.

The following websites provide useful information on starting a career in international development:

Resources available in the Careers Service:

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Roles and case studies


The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies.

Charity fundraiser

Charity officer


International aid/development worker

Logistics and distribution manager


Town planner

Volunteer co-ordinator/organiser

These are just some of the roles available within development.  People working within this sector also work in a wide range of fields including:

  • Administration (e.g. events coordinator, human resources)
  • Communications (e.g. communications officer, marketing, information officer)
  • Education (e.g. teaching, education advisor)
  • Healthcare (e.g. family planning, HIV prevention)
  • Management (e.g. project management, account manager, procurement)
  • Technical (e.g. water sanitation, land surveyor)
Case studies

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Gaining experience

Gaining work experience with an international development organisation can greatly improve your chances of getting a job; not only does it show your commitment and motivation but it can also help you build up a valuable network of contacts. Voluntary work with development agencies is extremely popular and competition is fierce.

Many charities and development organisations do not offer work experience in developing countries, but have opportunities in their UK offices including fundraising, administration, finance and IT roles. All of these roles are vital to these organisations and will still demonstrate your commitment to development work and look good on your CV. See develop essential skills for some alternative ways to gain experience.

Some charities, development organisations and an increasing number of commercial companies offer work experience in developing countries. Articles on the Comhlamh and University of London websites provide advice on questions you might want to ask before committing to a placement (note: some information is over 2 years old, but still provides useful advice). See also PEPY Tours' Tips for the responsible traveller which includes advice to help you choose a responsible placement.

It is extremely important that you research the organisation and what the placement will involve before you commit yourself and pay any money.

The following websites contain information on work experience and voluntary opportunities in the UK and overseas:

  • International Citizen Service (ICS) - 12 week voluntary overseas experience for 18-25 year olds. ICS is funded by the UK government and delivered by several international volunteering organisations.
  • University of Sussex Careers website has links to international organisations and NGOs providing internships and volunteering opportunities and to directories which can be used for making speculative applications.
  • University of Kent Careers and Employability Service: I want to work in... international development
  • Comhlamh - useful information to help you choose the right work experience and points you need to consider before committing yourself to a particular programme or organisation.
  • - search for voluntary opportunities across the UK. Also has advice on volunteering overseas, including lists of organisations that provide international volunteering and advice on choosing the right overseas placement.
  • W4MP - paid and unpaid internships in a range of roles working for government agencies, charities, pressure groups and thinktanks.
  • Worldwide Volunteering - database of volunteering opportunities from over 1000 organisations.
  • VSO - run the International Citizen Service programme for people aged 18-25. The programme offers funded 3 months work experience in a developing country. VSO also offer voluntary opportunities in over 40 countries for people with between 2-5+ years work experience.
  • MBAs Without Borders - is a not-for-profit programme which matches experienced MBA graduates with skill-based volunteer assignments in emerging markets around the world.
  • UN Volunteers - online volunteering through the United Nations for organisations working for sustainable human development.
  • Oxfam - range of office, shop and events based opportunities in the UK. They do not offer overseas internships.
  • RedR - voluntary opportunities in their London office.
  • UNICEF - offers internships in its New York headquarters and country offices. Voluntary opportunities in the UK are also available through UNICEF UK.
  • United Nations Volunteers - volunteering opportunities for graduates with over 2 years relevant work experience.
  • ELRHA: Internships

Develop essential skills

If you are having difficulty finding experience that is directly relevant, consider:

Need more help?

See Vacancy sources and employers for links to voluntary opportunities and organisations you could apply to directly, on a speculative basis (i.e. not in response to an advertised vacancy).

Developing skills includes information on finding work experience and voluntary opportunities.

See Making applications for information and advice on preparing CVs and covering letters, completing application forms and contacting employers speculatively.

Or come and talk to us in the Careers Service.

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Vacancy sources and employers

General vacancy sites
Graduate programmes
Directories of companies, organisations and NGOs

Need more help?

See Finding vacancies for additional sources of graduate employment opportunities, including our Vacancies Online.

See Making applications for information and advice on preparing CVs and covering letters, completing application forms and contacting potential employers speculatively.

Visit External Events to find out about careers events and activities taking place across the UK, worldwide and online.

Or come and talk to us in the Careers Service.

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Further study

Before deciding whether or not to do a postgraduate qualification, you need to undertake some research.  Research job vacancies for the area of development you want to specialise in and see what qualifications and experience employers are looking for.  There are many development courses available but depending on the role, an employer may look for applicants with a more specialised postgraduate qualification, e.g. logistics, engineering, PGCE.  A masters in development will still, however, demonstrate your interest in this sector and provide you with further relevant knowledge and skills.  Some development courses also include practical experience and the opportunity to build up a network of contacts.  

If you do decide to undertake a postgraduate qualification, you could look into the possibility of doing your dissertation/research with a development organisation, as this could help you to establish a strong working relationship with them.

Most vacancies in this sector require relevant field experience so you might also want to consider whether it would be more beneficial for you to gain experience before or after further study.

For further information on postgraduate study and funding, see our Further study web pages.

The following websites can help you research development courses:

  • Development Studies Association - details of undergraduate, postgraduate and short courses in development studies.
  • The Careers Group (University of London) - see their Further study section.
  • RedR - an international NGO runs a number of development courses including some aimed at people new to relief work.

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