Alumni Careers: Being an Interpreter @ ICRC


I never thought I would end up with a career in the humanitarian sector, yet here I am, working as an interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Niger. It’s a complex and challenging environment, but also deeply gratifying.

No two weeks are the same. I was never an office person, so getting out and speaking to people, hearing their stories, writing them up and then seeing the impact we have on people’s lives is a really important part of the job for me.

As a Hausa interpreter, the role predominately revolves around accompanying ICRC colleagues during detention visits. The ICRC visits people in places of detention across the world, ensuring that they’re being treated with dignity.

My role is to act as an interpreter between detainees and our staff. The visits are confidential and we share our findings with the authorities. As an interpreter, I have the opportunity to learn from everyone around me, which is a great way to build up my knowledge and experience.

Some of the places we visit don’t offer communication facilities to detainees, so we help to facilitate contact between those detained and their loved ones. It could be a simple phone call, a Red Cross message or sometimes we offer financial support so people can visit loved ones in the prison.

There have been occasions where we’ve called a family who haven’t heard from their relative in several years. That moment when they discover the whereabouts of a loved one is a really special part of the job.

It’s not all easy however. I arrived here in February this year. It’s not easy to uproot yourself from the life you’ve built at home; leaving your friends and family behind is especially hard. This is the burden of the job. Having said that, the work really brings you closer to your colleagues and they quickly become your second family and a home away from home.

While I got training before I took up the post, the only way to learn really is by doing, and getting stuck into the job. I would say the same when it comes to learning languages. I actually grew up in Niger, in a town called Zinder, so I had a pretty good grasp of Hausa from an early age. My parents are Scottish and Dutch, so growing up in a multilingual environment meant I quickly developed an ear for languages.

I studied Swahili and Development Studies at SOAS (2011-2015), which helped to develop my fluency in Swahili while also giving me a firm grounding in global economics and politics in the developing world. I spent time in Zanzibar and Kenya as part of my degree, which was hugely beneficial. To anyone learning a language, I’d say this is the best way to learn! Get out there, speak to people and really immerse yourself in the language – no book or classroom will help you in the same way.

While I was already able to speak several languages, my degree at SOAS gave me the qualifications and recognition I needed to really launch myself into this career. It was through my studies that I first encountered the ICRC, so undoubtedly the university has played a huge part in helping me get my first mission with this organisation.

Kai Vogt is an interpreter with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Niger. The ICRC recruits interpreters in more than 20 languages. To learn more about job opportunities please visit the ICRC Careers pages or contact Sophie Da Silva for more information on



So, when should you start using the Careers Service?

We live in the Careers Zone, in SL62 in the Lower Ground Floor of the Paul Webley Wing. Come and say hi! 

When should I start using the Careers Service?

As a Careers Consultant, I hear students say ‘Ah, I don’t need to worry about getting a job until I graduate’. Other students are trying to gain some work experience to help fund their course but not necessarily to develop their career.  If this is your view then it is particularly important you read on.  

Students should go to the Careers Service within their first weeks. They should start to think about their career after finishing their course. This is where the Careers Service can help through career guidance consultations. During these, the Careers Consultant will explore your history and help navigate you through your career options, your interests, and your aspirations.

Why should I do it now when I have 3 or 4 years until I finish?

The reason is that alongside your studies, you should be adding experience to your repertoire in order to improve your career prospects. Here too, the Career Service can help with the resources available on hand. Do not forget that you are competing against many other candidates, and so the more experience you have, the more you stand out from the crowd. It’s best to start looking for opportunities for development as you go through you’re degree so that it doesn’t feel like you’re catching up with other members of your cohort once it gets to crunch time. Furthermore, increasingly, employers are looking for other skills beyond academic qualifications and work experience. You should use this to add to your CV. Volunteering, blogs, and part-time work are all awesome ways to demonstrate how you’re able to put your skills into practice. 

Your CV should be assessed by a Careers Consultant early on. They can help you polish it up ready for when you make those first steps into the welcoming arms of work. It can also help you with thinking about what to add in terms of experience, and what to look for to get yourself where you want to be.

So, I’ve have found an opportunity I wanna apply for, and I want to make an application. How can the Careers Service help me?

We can look through your application, help you with writing a covering letter, practice psychometric tests, conduct practice interviews and prepare you for assessment centres. All of this support will help enhance your prospects of success in whatever it is you’d like to do during and after SOAS.

It is important to continually use the Careers Service. Not only is it free, but it can be invaluable to helping you get through the doors and along the corridor of success in your career journey.

Ali Wylie is a Freelance Careers Consultant at the SOAS Careers Service.

On Graduating

SOAS Graduation 2014 Tuesday July 29th

Graduation: a time for celebrations, not comparisons.

Summer has arrived, and with it the abundance of graduation ceremonies that will be taking place all over the country. This is a time for all students to recognise and honour the achievements that you have been working hard towards.

And yet it is not a day without anxiety. Aside from worrying if you will trip when you name is called to the stage, a deeper concern often lays with students who have not done as well as they would have liked to or, worse still, are comparing themselves to fellow students who have done better. The risk is that this day of celebration will turn into a day of regrets. But you owe it to yourself not to let that happen; you’ve just completed an entire degree!

Remember now, everyone’s journey as a student is different. People arrive at university at different starting points and they face different challenges along the way. Degree classification does not tell the whole picture – it does not highlight the brilliance of your dissertation, or the strength and resilience you showed in overcoming the difficulties with a particular module, or the way you were able to bring the team together to deliver a great presentation. (And note that each one of these examples evidences skills that are in high demand in the workplace).

Remember also that graduation day is just the very start of the next phase of your life and, as we know, when it comes to career journey, success is found in how you finish, not where you start. There is no standard correlation between degree grade and career happiness (however you choose to define it) that is applicable to all examples. That person sitting next to you, receiving their First Class Honours, may not have even pondered their next steps yet or necessarily have the transferable skills needed to make a smooth transition into work.

So whatever degree you will graduate with, be sure to wear your cap and gown with pride and remember that this is the first day of the rest of your life.

Congratulations to all of you!

Hannah, July 2019

Hannah Morton-Hedges is a Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service.


Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

advertising business calculator commercial

Starter for 10:

  1. What do most employers want and few students think they have?
  2. Commercial awareness.

It may be essential, but for many it’s an apparently elusive attribute, desperately hard to acquire without reading the Financial Times daily, checking the Dow Jones Index at regular intervals or realising that hedge funds have nothing to do with gardening. Although the preceding is non-negotiable if you’re planning a career in the City, for the average student it’s just not necessary.  What is needed is an understanding of how the business world functions. A word to the wise: this includes those who intend to go into the third or public sectors – governments, charities and NGOs need to generate income and stay ahead of the game too.

At its most basic, commercial awareness is demonstrating that you know that businesses exist to make a profit, maintain / expand their client base and undercut the competition. Simple or what?

But how do you show this in applications, CVs, interviews if your experience is limited to the usual bog standard student job?

Don’t do this:

  • “My part- time role at Tescbury supermarket, involves shelf- filling, serving customers and operating the till.”

Not only is it blindingly obvious, it shows absolutely no appreciation of the most rudimentary business principles.

Try instead

  • “I work part – time at Tescbury’s, which has a turnover of £x000 and a weekly footfall of y customers, which has taught me to work under pressure.  Innovative staff training means I can deliver quality service and offer ideas for improving shop floor operations.  Targeted advertising and price match discounts have seen us outperform other local supermarkets.”

See what I did there? Quantification, a hint of pro-activity, tactical use of business jargon, a dash of business insight.

Now ramp up the volume:

  • promoting or running student societies / initiatives allows you to dazzle recruiters with your hands-on knowledge of finance, branding and contributing original ideas (all key to commercial success)
  • a nodding acquaintance with the news headlines is equally useful. You might be asked how a current political, social or business issue will impact on a specific job or organisation. Wrong answer/ no answer/ total bewilderment = lack of credibility.
  • would-be entrepreneurs should be able to provide evidence of investing time (not money at this stage) into exploring, researching, and, ideally, testing, the feasibility of their ideas
  • volunteering gives you a certain cachet, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Showing how you took the time to look below the surface and see how the organisation operates, obtains funding and keeps ahead of its rivals, will put you in pole position.

Commercial awareness? Easy when you know how.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service


Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

ancient architecture art asia

Interview nearly over, end in sight, battle almost won.  Don’t relax just yet.  There are more hurdles to come:

#1“What questions do you have for us?”

Make the difference between becoming the jubilant first past the post and a regretful also-ran.  Avoid the trite, the tired and the time-worn.

DON’T:  ask questions to which the answers are readily available on the organisation’s website. (Nul points).

DO: focus on what you can give them. Less “Tell me about the chance to work in your Paris office” than “What opportunity will I have to use my French?” Or “How can I contribute to your international brand?” – which trumps “What are the opportunities for travel?”  You get the picture.

It’s not about you, it’s about them

If inspiration is lacking?

– put a new spin on a clichéd question.  Not so much “What will my training involve?” more “What makes your training stand out?”

– if they’ve asked you for a topical comment earlier in the interview, throw it back: as in “I‘d be fascinated to hear what you think about developments in this sector in the next 10 years….”

– seize the hour: what do they need to know about you – in order to give you the job, natch – that they haven’t already uncovered?   You can supplement your original answer with some cracking new material or go a step further: “No more questions, but I just wanted to tell you about x, y, z….”

Really want to leave the opposition standing? Zap them with this ace of an enquiry, along the lines of “What are the three key things you want me to achieve in my first few months in this role?”

Never fails.

DON’T dice with danger: never query the perks or the social life unless you want to come across as a crazed party animal.

DO: wait until you are offered the job to negotiate pay.  Right now you are dangling on their hook. Hold hard until they are skewered on yours.

BUT…what if they ask you what salary you expect?  If in doubt, stall for time.  Explain that you want time to assess what you have learned at the interview. If you do have an inkling of what constitutes reasonable remuneration, give them a ball-park figure at the higher end of the scale – because it’s entirely possible to negotiate down, less easy to raise the stakes.

# 2 Leave on a high.  Don’t scuttle away like a frightened crab.  Shake hands.  Smile. SMILE! Restate your interest and ramp it up higher. Try “I have really enjoyed meeting you and am more interested than ever in this job.”  A positive affirmation.  A winning move.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service

Guest Blog: Succeeding in Careers in Art History

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

ancient architecture art asia

Last Tuesday (22 Jan 2019) SOAS Careers Service and the department of History of Art and Archaeology hosted a joint careers event for History of Art and Archaeology students.

Our panelists shared their individual career stories, as well as tips and advice for success. We heard from speakers with experience working in a range of arts related roles such as auctioneering, curating, and museums, including organisations such as Christie’s, the V&A, and the Natural History Museum.

SOAS’ Professor Shane McCausland summarised the helpful advice into 10 (+1) Tips on Succeeding in Careers in Art History, as follows:

  1. Don’t do what I did- learn from others about their false starts and changed minds!
  2. Get lucky- make sure you have a ready response to the question ‘Why are you interested in Art History?’ in case you meet the right person at the right time!
  3. Be resilient. Failure is an opportunity to succeed next time. Own your mistakes and learn from them. Build a range of strong networks to support you.
  4. Really focus on your degree and get the best result you can.
  5. Get composed and confident in object handling. Learn how to handle objects and discuss them confidently.
  6. Careers don’t go in a straight line!
  7. Academic achievements are not the only things which determine whether you will do well in commercial careers and remember other skills are important.
  8. After your degree be as flexible and mobile as possible- take opportunities!
  9. This is the digital age. New jobs are being invented and appearing all the time. There’s no reason for you not to invent a job!
  10. Make a plan and build towards it. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. If you are ready you can pounce on the next opportunity!
  11. Once you’re in a job recognise who is a good boss and build your relationship with them.

If you want help or guidance with your career path (how, what, why?), just pop down to the Careers Zone (SL62).


Guest Blog: 5 New Year’s Career Resolutions to consider in 2019

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

notebook writing pencil start

New Year, new start. If you are one of those students who is guilty of procrastinating on career progress (and even if you’re not) January can be a great time to start forging ahead with all the energy that the New Year brings.  And it is really important to remember that while the idea of career can feel huge and overwhelming, there are plenty of ways that we can break this down into short, manageable chunks that will allow us to feel that we are moving in the right direction. Consider whichever of the following may feel right for you:

  • Update your CV. Are you making the most of everything you can offer? (and remember that most recruiters will only spend 5 seconds reading it). Does your CV look professional and presentable? Have you refreshed it to include any new skills developed last term? Have you had it reviewed by a Careers Consultant?
  • Get started with LinkedIn. While this may feel like a platform for seasoned professionals, the smart kids are the ones who already have profiles created and are starting to make real life connections. Remember that LinkedIn can also be a great way to research interesting employers and the people working for them.
  • Research the possibilities. It’s a big wide world out there, with new careers being created all the time. The career landscape is never static which is why it is important to keep on top of the options through active research. MySOAS offers excellent information on a range of industry areas to get your started.
  • Attend events and start face-to-face networking. Getting talk-time with employers can be one of the best ways of finding out whether careers really feel exciting and intriguing to you. Visit some of the careers events put on at SOAS not only to hear about different employers and industries but to network with some of their key recruitment decision makers.
  • Upskill, upskill, upskill. From a graduate recruitment perspective it really is about being able to evidence a range of skills and competencies. Don’t forget that we can develop skills in all kinds of ways – through our studies, roles in societies, internships and extra-curricular activities. Volunteering can be another great way of gaining skills – the careers service offers a volunteering drop-in service every Friday between 2-4pm.

Ticking off a number of these career resolutions will ensure that you are not only making the best start possible to the New Year, but that you create the momentum to help you continue through the forthcoming months.


Hannah is a Career Consultant