International Development

Jobs in this sector are diverse, encompassing topics such as governance, healthcare, education, gender, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics and livelihoods, human rights, forced migration, security, conflict, the environment and other associated issues. Whilst many international development organisations also respond to emergencies by providing or funding disaster relief and humanitarian aid, international development seeks to implement long-term solutions to problems by working with countries to help them create the capacity needed to provide sustainable solutions.

Types of organisation

Organisations involved in international development can be grouped into:

Governmental organisations

E.g. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), responsible for the UK’s official aid programme. (Each country will have its own national equivalent).

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. Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Islamic Relief, World Vision, WaterAid and Tearfund.

Academic organisations/research institutes

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University, for example, often undertakes research for NGOs and overseas governments. ‘Think Tank’ organisations, such as the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, widely known as Chatham House, study development/international issues and act as forums for discussion. For links to further research bodies, see our information on ‘Think Tanks’.


If you are looking to use your research and language skills, regional or/and thematic knowledge to produce contextual assessments that will enable a range of clients to decide how they implement a project or invest in a country, international development consultancy is a thriving field.

The following websites and directories are useful to gain an overview of the types of consultancy in demand:

  • Oxford HR – an executive search, selection and leadership development consultancy which serves the international aid and social enterprise sectors worldwide.
  • Oxford Policy Management – provides analysis, advice and support in the design and implementation of economic and social development policies
  • DAI  – with offices in Central and North America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. It has worked in 160 developing and transition countries
  • The Association of International Consultants.
  • The recruitment pages of The Economist.
  • The large financial and management consultancies (e.g. KPMG, PwC, McKinsey& Company) are also increasing their work in areas related to development – around governance, education, transparency and sustainability.

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.

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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.

The online vacancy sites listed below will 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. 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.

Some graduates may choose to make a (relatively) short-term commitment to the sector before, perhaps, moving their careers in a different direction. Some employers outside the sector value international project work highly, and the transferable skills you can evidence from such an experience could enhance your applications elsewhere. You may also choose to volunteer your services at a later point in your life. For example, VSO takes volunteers, often on sabbatical from an established career, up to 68 years of age.


Salaries vary enormously, and people are often employed on fixed term contracts (even in larger organisations such as the UN). DevNetJob and Devex provides a useful overview of the range of jobs available across all types of employers and areas of this sector.

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!


Specialist skills and qualifications are important, and include areas such as agricultural economics, logistics, governance, nutrition, demography, water engineering, public health and environmental technology. You could also consider a multi/interdisciplinary postgraduate course, setting that discipline in a development context – titles range from Forced Migration to Rural Development or Gender Analysis in Development. Assess the skills and knowledge that you require and check out the content – many are heavily theory-based and some are far more ‘hands-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 can be 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. Think carefully about your planned career route before embarking on a PhD – this is a sector that values practical experience highly, though advanced research skills and knowledge are very valuable for more research-driven development policy roles.


In addition to the professional qualifications and experience required, you will need to consider what qualities you can offer. Development agencies employing people to work internationally typically look for those who:

  • are adaptable and flexible
  • demonstrate cultural sensitivity
  • have good communication skills
  • are willing and able to listen
  • wish to learn as well as to give
  • can adapt their skills to very different and often very challenging work environments
  • 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


There are not many openings in international development for people who have no professional qualifications or/and 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 in this very international field. It is often a good idea to try to build up some local or short-term international 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 longer-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 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: Focus, Jacari, K.E.E.N., Learning Together, Oxford Homeless Action, Oxford Conservation Volunteers, Oxtalk. Take a look at 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.

Oxfam GB offers internships that are fixed, voluntary placements, ranging in duration from a few months to a year, normally based around a single project. You can do an internship with most of the divisions within Oxfam, from fundraising to campaigning, or policy to human resources; see Oxfam’s website. Community Service Volunteers (Volunteering Matters) offers a range of voluntary opportunities nationwide. Volunteering England and the National Volunteering Database provide details of your local volunteer opportunities as well as information about volunteering internationally.

International opportunities

The following are examples of international opportunities to build experience offered by development-focused organisations:

  • The OECD offers an unpaid traineeship to full-time students who can obtain a Memorandum of Agreement between their releasing institution and the OECD. Areas of study must be directly related to the Organisation’s programme of work. Interested students should contact directly the Directorates of their choice or those whose Programme of Work corresponds to their studies via their “Contact us” email address, available on each Directorate’s website.
  • The United Nations Volunteers Programme offers a variety of ways to volunteer, either at home or internationally including on-line volunteering opportunities, but does not offer short-term overseas practical assignments for students.
  • Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
  • Peace Corps
  • Development in Action has volunteer placements in the UK and India.
  • People and Planet organises a student campaign network taking action on world poverty, human rights and the environment.
  • AIESEC, the international student organisation, offers international internships in the development sector.

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.

For information about the various internships offered by international and regional organisations, please refer to the ‘International Organisations’ Briefing, and have a look at the Idealist website.


You are likely to have to raise some or all of your own expenses before you go on a short-term unpaid placement, and may have to contribute financially to the project concerned. Many organisations provide advice to help you raise funds for their programmes – for example, Raleigh International. Alternative sources of funding include applying to your college – or any local charitable organisations or clubs – for a contribution.

When you are organising an international placement be careful to check out your financial 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.

Every year there are a number of international and UK-based internships offered through the Internship Programme at The Careers Service.  In addition, search the Careers Service vacancy database (the password-protected area of the website), to find advertisements for opportunities throughout the year and use the archive facility too, for speculative applications.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Just as there are a wide range of opportunities within the sector, there are also a wide range of routes 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 is 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 can help you to beat the Catch 22 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.

There is no single job search strategy in this area 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 get there. 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.

Be aware that there are some websites claiming to advertise jobs in the international development sector and charge an “administration fee” for you to apply. We would advise against applying this way as reputable organisations will not charge you to make a job application.

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 skills outlined above that you have already gained in your degree – 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 convey your flexibility and adaptability, and your research, communication, team-work, problem-solving, regional, thematic or other interests you know that organisations value?


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Careers in Nonprofits and Government Agencies
  • Careers Without Borders: Critical Perspectives
  • The Companion to Development Studies
  • The United Nations: An Introduction
  • Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction
  • The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers
  • The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers


We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Economist (weekly)

Learning about international development

Eldis, the gateway to development information produced by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, is an excellent international development resource. The Department for International Development (DFID) has a useful glossary of development terms. For information about current development issues and opinions you may also like to subscribe to New Internationalist. For information on humanitarian crises and relief efforts, the Reliefweb website or the Thompson Reuters Foundation provide comprehensive, up-to-date overviews.

Other useful sites

  • Adam Smith International – International development consultancy with expertise in government and enterprise/utility reform
  • Africa Practice – A strategy and communications Consultancy focused on Africa
  • Bond – UK’s broadest network of voluntary organisations working in international development; excellent information, links and vacancies
  • DAI – Consultancy with projects in economic development, agriculture and natural resources, democracy, HIV/AIDS and trade
  • Devex – Extensive website for both professionals and would-be entrants
  • Development Studies Association with a guide to courses
  • Department for International Development (DFID)
  • Eldis – The gateway to development information, vacancies, vacancy links and volunteer opportunities
  • ERM – Environmental consultants working in energy, environmental management, climate change and corporate responsibility practice
  • Engineers without Borders UK
  • ITAD – Consultancy covering aid effectiveness, poverty and governance, institutional development and communication
  • Idealist – an interactive site where people and organisations can exchange resources and ideas, as well as locating opportunities in the development sector
  • The Palladium Group (now incorporating the IDL Group) – Provides advisory, applied research, training and project management services to international development agencies
  • MetaMetrics – Program planning, evaluation, and implementation services to US and other governments, NGOs and private companies focusing on developing countries and transition states
  • MASDAR – Consulting firm focusing on rural development in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean
  • New Internationalist
  • One World Group – Excellent source of information, links and opportunities – paid and voluntary
  • AECOM – International Infrastructure firm with a an international development division covering areas such as public policy, democracy and governance, humanitarian response and stabilisation and water, environment & energy
  • Prospects – Occupational/course/funding information, including International Aid/ Development Worker occupational profile
  • University of Sussex: International Development – Extensive information on Working in International Development
  • Directory Of Consulting Firms active in International Development Co-operation

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or ‘Stonewall Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 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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