Getting into International Development

Are you interested in the International Development sector? In this blog post our Careers Consultant, Jessica Henderson, gives her advice on how to be successful in this field.


What is it?

International development is a diverse and wide-ranging sector which is concerned with improving human quality of life, particularly in developing countries.  It aims to find long term, sustainable solutions to issues, covering potentially anything relating to the human condition.   These could be environmental, infrastructure, equality, human rights, economic, political or migration related issues to name but a few.

What are the jobs?

The diversity of the sector means there are also a wide range of job roles available. Examples include; administration, fundraising & business development, research, communications, project management, finance, education, healthcare, technical (e.g. engineering), logistics…the list goes on.

The Careers Group has an excellent resource on International Development, including a specific section which outlines typical entry level roles, and further resources.

What to consider

Know why you want to work in the sector and be clear about what you can offer. The idea of working to help individuals and communities, particularly in different countries, is appealing to many. However, the desire to help on its own is not enough to get you a job. What will make you stand out?

The sector is highly competitive and you are likely to be competing with people from all sorts of backgrounds, many of whom will already have a proven track record in their profession. 

Getting in

There are potentially hundreds of different ways into this sector, but these can be roughly split into:

  • ‘Direct’ entry – more on this below
  • Developing experience in your role of interest (e.g. Marketing, Finance, Engineering etc.) in a different sector and then moving into development once you have professional experience

If you are absolutely set on beginning your career in this sector, the key things you need to have are;

  • A good understanding of the sector (and your specific interest/s within it)
  • Previous relevant experience
  • Postgraduate qualification? Not essential, but it is increasingly the norm even for entry-level jobs. However, I would advise gaining some experience before committing to a postgraduate qualification. Not only will this help you ‘test-out’ the sector and increase your understanding of it, but experience is often more highly valued than a qualification (at entry level at least). This is always something you can come back to later on.

Skills & qualities required

The diversity of the sector and roles available means many skills and experiences will be valued, with some jobs requiring specific technical or specialist skills and knowledge. The skills below are some which will be valuable across the sector.

  • Problem solving: Working in development throws up all sorts of challenges and problems on a daily basis, ranging from small to much larger scale.
  • Resourcefulness: An ability to be flexible and adaptable, finding creative solutions with limited resources is vital in an under-funded field
  • Resilience & patience: Working in development is hard work. It can be dangerous or involve living in basic conditions. Things can move extremely slowly so being able to stay focussed and motivated about the aims of the project even when frustrated is vital
  • Languages: Ability to communicate in different languages will really help you in this sector, where you might be working with people from all over the world
  • Cultural sensitivity and awareness: Again, you will be working with people from all over the world, and sometimes in very different cultures to your own. A willingness to learn and embrace these differences is key
  • Willingness to learn: Leading on from the previous point, the desire and openness to learn is equally as important as the desire to help. Development work is about working with other people and communities to help improve things for them; not dictating what you think is best for them.


Careers information room – section ‘N’ in the occupational information section of our careers information room has lots of useful resources including books and information folders about this sector.


Information on Careerweb is a great starting point

There is heaps of information and advice on getting into this sector available online, much in the form of blogs from people working in the sector.

We’ve highlighted some particularly useful resources below, but treat these as a starting point for much more in-depth research


Development Worker – It looks like this site is no longer being added to, but it has some really useful information and advice nonetheless

Department for International Development – Find out about UK Government work and projects as well as job opportunities with DfID.

Advice from DfID on working for international organisations (archive)

Guardian Careers – Summary of live Q&A hosted by Guardian Careers about working in International Development

Guardian Careers have also produced a basic flow-chart to help you narrow down your ideas about what type of role you’re interested in.

Careers Group – Section on international development, which provides lots of resources and information for those interested in this sector

Bond – Is a UK membership organisation for NGOs working in international development. It has useful advice and information, as well as listing jobs.

Job Profile – Prospects job profile for international aid/ development worker contains lots of useful information, as well as links to sources of vacancies

Twitter can be a great way of staying up to date with news, finding out about different organisations and potential job or internship opportunities.  The hashtags #IntDev and #GlobalDev are useful starting points. You can see most tweets even without creating an account. 

Finding jobs & experience

Database of International Organisations – from the Union of International Associations. The search function is a bit clunky, but searching by a keyword like “internship” will get a lot of results

Getting into International Development – Facebook page from the Careers Group posting job and internship opportunities

Employers and Vacancy Sources – Section of the Prospects job profile for international aid/ development worker

Useful blogs on getting in

Careers posts – of Alana Shaikh’s excellent blog, Blood and Milk

How to get a job in development – from Oxfam

Getting a job in international development – From Chris Blattman’s blog.

Career Advice from people smarter than me – Post written by Dave Algoso which links to lots of other useful articles and blogs.

International Development Career – Category of useful posts from MissPernickety’s blog

1 Comment

Filed under Advice, Getting into..., International

One response to “Getting into International Development

  1. Pingback: Careers in International Development: Summary of panel event | University of Leeds Careers Centre Blog

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