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.
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 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 require specific skills, experience and evidence of commitment.
The Guardian Careers: Ask the experts and 12 tips for getting a job in international development provide a guide to careers in international development. The World Service Enquiry provides information and advice for volunteering or working in international development.
The University of Sussex links to a range of information on working in development as well as volunteering and job opportunities.
Humanitarian careers information can be found at Enhancing Learning & Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA).
Further information can be found at The Careers Group London: Getting into International Development Facebook page.
In addition to developing skills and experience, you 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.
The following sites contain sector news:
- BBC News - includes links to news across the world
- Eldis – news stories, country profiles and access to policy and research documents
- Guardian: Global Development
- IDS: Yellow Monday - weekly newsletter, includes news, events and job vacancies
- OneWorld - news, articles and jobs
Further information can be found on an American international development worker's blog: Getting a start in humanitarian aid work.
These represent and promote the interests of people working in the sector, providing services such as training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates and development for people already working in the sector.
Follow professional associations on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for useful sources of news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.
The main professional associations for this sector include:
- Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
- The World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO) - unites NGOs in the cause of advancing peace and global wellbeing
- ELRHA - supports partnerships between researchers and practitioners to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian action
The Department for International Development (DFID) is a government department responsible for promoting development and the reduction of poverty. To receive their latest news register for their e-bulletin.
Making contacts is essential for success in this sector. The Guardian emphasises this in the article: An insiders guide to getting a job in international development.
Many jobs in this field are gained through networking and speculative applications.
We've compiled a few places you could start:
Our online database, Graduate Connections, contains information about graduates who are happy to give you information and advice about the kind of work they do.
Social media resources, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, can be useful for making contacts, following employers and finding opportunities. Find out more about how to use social media for your career and subscribe to our Development twitter list.
You can also find out what alumni did after graduation and contact them for advice and inspiration through Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn.
Conferences and agency events
Attending conferences and agency open evenings can give you the opportunity to find out more about the work of the different organisations and speak to existing staff and volunteers. Do your research before attending any event so you have some informed questions to ask.
The International Development Network from The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) organises networking events.
Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other sector events give valuable insights and the opportunity to make useful contacts.
You may also be interested in:
For more options see our other Sector-specific Information pages.
Roles & Skills
Competition for vacancies in this sector is fierce, so it's important that you research the different roles available to help you develop the relevant skills and experience needed before making an application.
The Guardian highlights the need to understand the specific area you want to work in the article How to break into international development.
We've included links to external websites that provide descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies for the range of careers in this sector:
International aid/development worker
Logistics and distribution manager
Above are just some of the roles available within development. People working within this sector also work in a wide range of fields including:
- Administration (eg events coordinator, human resources)
- Communications (eg communications officer, marketing, information officer)
- Education (eg teaching, education advisor)
- Healthcare (eg family planning, HIV prevention)
- Management (eg project management, account manager, procurement)
- Technical (eg water sanitation, land surveyor)
See our other Sector-specific Information pages for role information for these career areas.
Skills employers look for
Skills required vary according to the specific role but skills most employers in this sector look for include:
- communication, relationship building and interpersonal skills and cross-cultural sensitivity
- problem-solving and the ability to operate effectively under pressure
- project and people management abilities with the drive and determination to achieve results, initiate action and motivate others
- the ability to manage workload, prioritise tasks and delegate when necessary
- self-awareness and organisational awareness
Gaining work experience with an international development organisation can greatly improve your chances of getting a job. It show your commitment and motivation and 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 don’t offer 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.
Some charities, development organisations and an increasing number of commercial companies offer work experience in developing countries. It is extremely important that you research the organisation and what the placement will involve.
The Comhlamh website lists questions you might want to ask before you commit yourself and pay any money.
PEPY Tours' tips for the responsible traveller also includes advice to help you choose a responsible placement.
We've provided some information about work experience and voluntary opportunities in the UK and overseas:
Work experience websites
VSO run the International Citizen Service programme for people aged 18-25, offering three months’ funded work experience in a developing country.
W4MP offers opportunities in a range of roles working for government agencies, charities, pressure groups and think tanks.
Voluntary opportunities websites
There are a range of voluntary opportunities for you to consider, such as:
- RedR - voluntary opportunities in their London office
- United Nations Volunteers - volunteering opportunities for graduates with over two years relevant work experience
- UNICEF - offers internships in its New York headquarters and country offices
- UNICEF UK - offers voluntary opportunities in the UK
In addition, there is the International Citizen Service (ICS), which has a volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development.
MBAs Without Borders is a not-for-profit programme which matches experienced MBA graduates with volunteer assignments in emerging markets around the world.
The University of Sussex Careers Service lists organisations and NGOs providing internships and volunteering opportunities and directories for speculative applications.
Office, shop and events-based opportunities are available in the UK via Oxfam.
There are also online opportunities such as UN Volunteers. This is for online sustainable human development volunteering through the United Nations.
Alternative work experience
If you're struggling to to find directly relevant experience you could consider part-time jobs, eg fundraising, admin, IT or finance. A background in these fields can offer an alternative entry point into development. See our Part-time Jobs section for vacancies.
Joining student societies is another way you can gain relevant work experience. Newcastle University Students' Union has several societies that campaign and fundraise for humanitarian causes, see their website for a list of societies you could join.
Studying a second language can also help. Languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese are often requested and knowledge of Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Swahili or other African and Asian languages may be advantageous, depending on the region.
There may also be competitions that can help you gain relevant experience. The Guardian runs an annual International Development Journalism Competition.
You could also apply to organisations speculatively. See Targetjobs' article Discover hidden internships: the art of speculative applications.
Find out more about finding organisations in this sector in the Finding Jobs section.
Competition is strong, especially for entry-level positions. Use the following resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.
UNjobfinder.org lists vacancies with the United Nations, World Bank and other international development organisations.
Graduate schemes and entry level jobs
Opportunities can be found at the Department for International Development.
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Fellowship Scheme is for graduates with a Master's degree or PhD in economics, econometrics, statistics or a related field.
Another organisation that provides graduate level positions in range of fields is Crown Agents.
The World Bank: Programs and internships includes the Young Professionals Programme. Applicants must be 32 or younger, have a Master's and at least three years policy level experience or a PhD.
Another scheme available is the UN's Junior Professional Officer Programme. To apply for this scheme applicants must be: under 32; have a Masters in a development related field; and a minimum of two years paid, relevant experience of working in a developing country. UNICEF also have a Junior Professional Officer Programme.
Finding companies, organisations and NGOs
Not all jobs are advertised. You could also approach organisations directly or find work through networking and making contacts in the sector.
Find organisations that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for, showing your enthusiasm for the sector and highlighting any relevant skills.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.
The following external websites can help with finding opportunities:
- BOND – details of around 400 development organisations, which make up the Bond network
- World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (WANGO) – worldwide directory
- Directory of consulting firms (active in international development co-operation)
- Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS) - member directory
Study & Training
When deciding whether to do a postgraduate qualification, you need to do your research. View 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, eg logistics, engineering, PGCE.
A Master's 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 decide to take a postgraduate qualification, you could investigate doing your dissertation/research with a development organisation, as this could help you to establish a strong working relationship.
Most vacancies in this sector require relevant field experience so you might 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 section.
Additionally, the Development Studies Association offers study groups where you can link up with members who care about the same development topics as you.
Researching development courses
RedR is an international NGO that runs a range of courses.