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Preparation for an international aid and development career

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Essential things to have any hope of getting a job as a aid or development worker:

  1. Get an office job while you’re still in school. Most development work is office work (as explained in Relief and development aren't always fun). You need to prove you can handle an office every day. Really, the only way to do that is to have an office job. Do it in the summers if need be. Office work is not the most profitable way to spend your time, but it will be worth it later.
  2. Study something useful at university. For example, technical subjects like nursing and IT are useful. Epidemiology is useful. A master’s degree is more useful than an undergrad degree.
  3. Learn to write. With practice you can write a clear, useful report at decent speed. Have writing samples to prove you can do it.
  4. Study a second language. Even if you don’t get all that good at it, making the effort demonstrates you are willing to commit yourself to international and intercultural work. If you are already bilingual, you don’t have to learn a third language. People will assume you are good at intercultural navigation.
  5. Possibly the hardest one: have a goal for what you want to do, that’s specific but not too specific. “I am interested in food security and emergency relief” has a good level of specificity. “I want to work for UNDP” is too specific. “I am interested in women’s empowerment, reproductive health, and community development” is too vague. There is kind of an art to this; basically you want to give people a sense of who you are and what you want. Too broad and they don’t have any sense of you. To narrow and you’ve ruled out too many jobs. If you’re having trouble with this, it’s a good thing to talk over with a mentor.


Attribution: This page includes content from the Blood and Milk blog by Alanna Shaikh, posted under the CC-BY-SA license.[1]