International Development

Jobs in this sector are diverse, encompassing a wide range of topics such as governance, healthcare, education, gender, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics and livelihoods, human rights, the environment and many more. Organisations within the sector strive to tailor their solutions to specific circumstances, whether these are short-term interventions eg: emergency disaster relief or long-term solutions eg: healthcare or economic development. The sector is continually evolving and making efforts to find new and effective ways of addressing challenges the world faces, such as Climate Change and The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Types of organisation

Organisations involved in international development can be grouped into:

Governmental organisations

E.g. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office  Many countries have their own national equivalents 

Intergovernmental/Multi-lateral/Regional Organisations

E.g. The United Nations and its agencies, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, etc.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

E.g. International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children, Islamic Relief, WaterAid etc.

Academic organisations/research institutes

These organisations often undertake research for IGOs/NGOs and governments eg: The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as "Chatham House". For links to further research bodies, see our information on ‘Think Tanks’.

Foundations

There are often philanthropic organisations created by an individual(s) to address specific topics eg: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, The Ford Foundation. The way they work and the topics they cover can be varied, sometimes developing and implementing their own programmes and/or partnering with other organisations to deliver programmes, raise funds etc.

Consultancies

Consultancies, are usually, for-profit organisations that offer their expertise to other organisations eg: governments, NGOs, IGOs etc. They vary greatly in size, structure, sector and regional focus. For example, there are consultancies that are focused solely on international development, eg: Oxford Policy Management, DalbergAdam Smith International and other firms, that in addition to business consulting may also offer services in this area eg: KPMG, McKinsey & Company. Therefore, it's important to research and check what type of work each firm does, their regional focus, client base etc., to make sure that it's the right fit for you.

Student based/focused organisations

The Oxford Hub is the focal point for students interested in charitable and development-related activity at Oxford. It connects students with causes to help tackle social and environmental challenges. The Oxford Hub also organises the Oxford Forum for International Development, with the aim of promoting and furthering development awareness in universities.

Because of the range of organisations working in development and the diverse issues with which international development is concerned, the opportunities are wide-ranging and potential career paths vary. Broadly speaking, roles fall into four categories:

  • Practitioner – project management and implementation in the field
  • Policy / Advisory – research, evaluation, lessons learned and developing policy recommendations to use within the organisation and to advocate with outside of the organisation
  • Advocacy / Outreach – campaigning, lobbying, fundraising, media and communications
  • Support – human resources, finance, logistics, IT, etc.

Online vacancy sites, (see example websites below) can help you to gain a feel not only for what is available, but also for the skills and qualifications required, both for entry-level and experienced hire positions. Talking to people who are already in roles you are interested in is invaluable - using LinkedIn to network is a great tool. Ask them how they entered the sector and got into their current posts, see what they say about postgraduate qualifications and see if they have any further contacts that may be useful when it comes to networking.

UN Careers

Relief Web

BEWARE - unfortunately "fake" vacancies websites for international development exist and will often ask you to pay a fee to view vacancies or apply for roles. DON'T make any payments or provide any bank details, as reputable organisations would never charge you for this.

Salaries

Salaries vary enormously, and people are often employed on fixed term contracts, which can vary greatly in length from a few months to c. 5years. Long term contracts also exist but are less widely available and most people in the sector work as "freelancers", therefore it's important to consider whether this type of employment will suit you.

Many people are attracted to the idea of working in international development because they want to make a positive contribution to the wider world, but it is essential to think carefully about the nature of the contribution you wish to make and the field in which you would prefer to work. Most organisations send people to work internationally in response to requests for specific skills/experience from their local international partners – recruitment is led by the demands of these local partners, and not by those who want to go.

Qualifications

Specialist skills and qualifications are important as employers in the sector will be hiring you for the expertise/experience that you can bring to their organisation. It's typical for people working in the sector to have a postgraduate degree eg: a Master's degree or PhD related to the sector they wish to focus on. Before choosing a course, ensure that it provides you with the relevant skills for the type of development work you are interested in, via its module options, teaching practices and dissertation topic choices.

It's beneficial to gain relevant international experience before undertaking postgraduate study. This will not only help you to identify/clarify which direction you wish to pursue, but will also help you to choose the most appropriate course and to get the most out of your studies. If you're not able to travel, think about similar opportunities available in your home country. For example, if you're interested in refugee and migration work, work/volunteer with organisations working with refugees. Think carefully about your planned career route before embarking on a PhD – this is a sector that values practical experience highly, make sure you have the right balance of theoretical and practical knowledge for your preferred role. 

Skills

In addition to the professional qualifications and experience required, you will need to consider what qualities you can offer. Organisations typically look for staff who:

  • are adaptable and flexible
  • demonstrate cultural sensitivity
  • have very good communication skills (written and verbal)
  • are willing and able to listen
  • can adapt their skills to very different and often very challenging work environments
  • ability to work to tight deadlines (and sometimes with limited budgets)
  • show sensitivity to the views of others
  • are self-sufficient and can cope with often limited resources
  • can work as part of a team often made up of diverse nationalities
  • have a second language or can learn a new language, if necessary

Experience

There aren't many roles available in international development for people who have no professional qualifications and/or work experience. The sector is highly competitive and although there are few defined career paths, you will need to acquire both relevant experience and qualifications to progress. It's often a good idea to try to build up some local or international short-term  volunteering experience either prior to or during your first degree. It is also important to note that a number of work experience opportunities in this sector can be unpaid including short and medium-term opportunities in larger international organisations.

Once you have completed your first degree you can either decide to take some time out to gain some significant international experience prior to undertaking a specialised Masters course or you may decide to go straight into a Masters programme before gaining your international experience. Another option is to apply for internship positions, or take a further, short, specialised course, enabling you to apply for entry-level development jobs or specialist development jobs respectively.

Volunteering

Volunteering is quite likely to be an integral part of your career in its early stages. You could try to get involved whilst at Oxford at a local level – many organisations have networks of volunteers who are active in campaigning and raising funds and public awareness about the work of the organisation; in Oxfam, paid staff represent only 2.5% of the workforce. Join one of the local student-run community groups, for example Jacari. Check out Oxford Hub for more information about opportunities whilst you are in Oxford. The Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA) is the Volunteer Bureau for Oxford; it holds many volunteer opportunities on its website.

Outside of Oxford, research organisations in your local area that you can volunteer/work with. Community Service Volunteers (Volunteering Matters) offers a range of voluntary opportunities nationwide and the National Volunteering Database provide details of your local volunteer opportunities as well as information about volunteering internationally.

Internships

A number of organisations advertise structured internship programmes, however many people in the sector find work experience / internships by making speculative applications i.e. contacting organisations they are interested in to find if they have the need/capacity for an intern. The length of these can vary from a few weeks to c. 1 year. Some are paid, others are unpaid, but may offer a financial stipend contributing to living/travel/visa costs - check carefully before you apply. 

Here are some examples of some internships/work experience programmes at larger organisations:

The databases on Charity Choice are very useful resources for identifying agencies operating in your field(s) of interest to which you can apply directly.

Funding

You may have to raise some or all of your own expenses before you go on a short-term unpaid placement, so it's important to think about how you will raise these funds and how much you will need. 

When you are organising an international placement be careful to check out your financial visa and insurance responsibilities to ensure that your welfare will be taken care of and that there are arrangements for repatriation, should this be necessary. Check the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for advice before you go.

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

If you are working internationally, check the relevant employment law provisions for the country you are working in.

Just as there are a wide range of opportunities within the sector, there are many ways into it. Whatever you choose to do, you will need to carve out your own career, be prepared to review and change it as development priorities shift and make careful assessments of your own skills and the contribution you feel you can make. Few long-term or highly paid positions exist and there is no guaranteed career structure.

Your entry into the sector may start with your first volunteering experience – your first step is unlikely to be a graduate training scheme and you will have to be pro-active from the outset. It's rare for development organisations to run official graduate or training programmes; the training that does exist tends to come from the large bi-lateral or multi-lateral organisations, and not from the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). There are a number of well-established internships with some bi/multi-lateral organisations targeted at recent graduates (but mostly for those with postgraduate degrees), and these may help with the dilemma of ‘no training without experience, no experience without training’. However, entry into organisations such as the UN is highly competitive and often open only to postgraduate students in relevant fields – and sometimes only to those with relevant international experience. See our information on International Organisations for further information about entry points into international and regional organisations such as the UN and EU and also the internships that are available through  our Internship Programme.

Taking a "multi-pronged" approach to your job search strategy is important and you should think carefully about what you can offer, what you want to do, where you want to do it – and what steps you’ll have to take to be employed by an organisation. Networking is crucial. Once you have a clear idea of the kind of role and employer you are looking for, you will be able to engage with those opportunities and organisations directly. In the meantime, it can be useful to get to know the range of opportunities which exist in this diverse sector. Many of the websites referred to in the sections above will also have links to job opportunities, but below are some further ideas and resources:

  • The International Development Jobs Newsletter published by the Development Executive Group, is a twice-weekly publication that connects international development, jobseekers and recruiters.
  • Net Impact is a networking website for graduates interested in working in CSR and development.
  • Charity People work with NGOs, charities and arts, health, education, public sector and social care organisations, and advertise jobs in all of these areas.
  • UN jobs is the UN careers portal
  • DevNetJOBS is a very good resource for international development and consultancy opportunities.
  • The Guardian job website regularly posts vacancies in this sector.
  • The Economist advertises many opportunities from bi-lateral and multi-lateral development organisations which tend to be mid- to senior-level posts.
  • Some organisations recruit experienced people to work internationally, ranging from voluntary posts (where your airfare is paid and you receive free accommodation, a small allowance, perhaps equivalent to the local living wage, and your NI contributions) to jobs where you receive an indemnity salary. Two examples of well-known organisations recruiting ‘volunteers’ with skills and qualifications include VSO and Medicins sans Frontieres.

Don't only rely on job sites, also make pro-active/speculative approaches to organisations you are interested in.

Whether you are looking to start building experience in this sector or already have some directly relevant experience, marketing yourself effectively in your CV is crucial. Potential employers need to see that you have an understanding of, passion for and ability to thrive in their organisation and the role advertised or that you are applying for speculatively.

Highlight the relevant skills in the job description that  you have already gained in your degree/work experience/extra-curricular activities – what are the most relevant modules you have taken or transferable skills you have built? How have these skills been further developed outside of your degree, through roles in societies, volunteering, freelance consultancy, travel, previous work experience and internships, etc.? Are you doing all you can in the way you phrase the bullet points in your CV to match the job description criteria as closely as possible, convey your flexibility, adaptability, your research skills, communication, team-work, problem-solving, regional, thematic or other interests you know that organisations value?

Useful sites

To learn more about your rights, when you are working outside of the UK, check the relevant Equality legislation of the country and you are working in and the Human Resources policies of the organisation you wish to work for.

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and Insight events and many are being recognized for their approach to being inclusive employers. To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability,  gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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