International development is one of the most competitive career paths to enter but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Here we share our thoughts on how to break into the sector, so you too can join the #searchforabetterworld.
The international development sector was worth approximately £5.75bn in 2016-17, with nearly 7000 organisations working out of London alone. There is a huge range of organisations, working for causes ranging from emergency aid and disaster response, human rights, animal welfare, sustainability and climate action, infrastructure, economic development and many more, so you need to be clear on what kind of development work you want to do, and where your skills will be most effective. These organisations include, but are not limited to:
- Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
- United Nations Organisations
- Academic Research/Think Tanks
In order to really stand out in a sea of applications, have a clearly identified value or mission that you’re aligned to and be clear about what you offer over anyone else. Lots of people want to ‘make a difference’, but how, and why? Tailoring your passion and experience to a certain niche will highlight that you are committed to that specific cause. This commitment should clearly shine through on any covering statement or cover letter you might submit.
Whilst the most common pathway would be a degree in International Development, alternative degrees alongside voluntary experience will likely be considered, and most senior positions will ask for a master’s degree in addition to relevant work experience. Volunteering or undertaking a placement or internship in your chosen field will be invaluable and really illustrate that you’re keen to make an impact in the for-purpose world. Experience working within a charity or NGO will also give you a better understanding of how these organisations operate internally, which will only benefit you further.
Volunteering or placements in relevant organisations will also provide excellent networking opportunities. Further to this, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and follow hashtags and companies you have an interest in, to keep abreast of current issues and trends, and conversations happening in the sector.
In terms of skills required, other than academic qualifications, you can expect to see the following on role vacancies within the sector:
- Relevant work experience
- Excellent communications skills
- Passion and commitment to the cause
- Flexibility, adaptability and able to operate under pressure
- Operational decision making
- Cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding different points of view
- Able to build and nurture relationships with different stakeholders for partnership building and networking
- Problem solving in demanding environments
- Willingness to work in and travel to volatile or difficult regions
- Management of both people and projects
- Able to prioritise and delegate when necessary
- Drive and determination to make change happen
Finally, think beyond the big names. Applying for lesser known international development organisations will be just as rewarding, where you may have more responsibility and get that all important experience you need.
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