Looking to get a job in International Development? Read on…
Graduating from SOAS in 2013 with an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development, Vera also holds a BA in International Relations from Dresden University. She has worked and studied abroad for seven of the last ten years in ten countries spanning Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Focusing on post-conflict reconstruction, gender issues, and monitoring and evaluation, Vera worked most recently on a USAID project in Zambia as a Research and Evaluation Specialist, conducting impact evaluations on literacy and case studies on gender and education issues.
Vera shares some of her insights:
“What I really wish someone had told me when I was at SOAS is that job hunting is a skill! You need to learn it, and you need get good at it.”
Being good academically does not automatically mean you are good at job hunting. There are different skills you need to think about, such as how you market yourself and your experiences. “It’s up to you how you present your experiences. Volunteering, unpaid work, internships – they can all add up as relevant and valid experience. Focus on what skills you got out of it.”
“You are ideally placed here in London to network, it’s a great opportunity. Start now!”
Networking and LinkedIn are crucial for a career in International Development and Relief. These connections can help you find out about roles, organisations, and the people who work in them. At the right time they can also help ensure someone looks at your application.
“When you network, ask questions. DON’T ask for a job”. What you talk about depends on what they do, and on what you want to do. Make sure you prepare well, and do your research about them – you want to impress them with how well you research, and how relevant they are to your interests. Never show up and say: ‘I don’t really know what you, can you tell me more about that…’.
Should you want to apply to the same organisation in the future (after having kept in touch with your contact via a note thanking them for meeting you), only then get in touch to talk about your application.
Internships and Field experience:
“Field experience in other countries is a key currency for getting a job. This applies to jobs both in the field, and jobs in policy or research in the UK. It’s so important to get the experience. Yes, it’s expensive, yes, it might be unfair, but it’s the reality. Even if it means working in a paid position one summer to enable you to take an unpaid position the next summer, it is worth it”.
The longer the duration of your field experience, the better: one six month project is better than three two-month projects. In six months you become more immersed in the culture, and you will inevitably have had to overcome challenges, or negative experiences.
Soon after you graduate, your experience will become more important to people looking to employ you than your academic courses. It can be hard, but try to close the gap between the theoretical knowledge and your practical experience. For example, if you’re interested in gender issues in Africa, and volunteer in a women’s shelter in the UK – it is relevant experience.
“Languages are so important, I cannot stress this enough”. French is in higher demand than Spanish, as there are more jobs in Africa than Latin America. But it is also important that you do what works for you, and to follow your interests and passions. “If you’re fluent in French and Arabic [which are both in high demand], it’s likely you’ll get a job regardless of your course.”
Vera recommended some resources which she finds valuable:
- Getting your first job in Relief and Development (blog and ebook): https://humanitarianjobs.wordpress.com/
- Ask a Manager (blog): http://www.askamanager.org/
- What Colour is Your Parachute? (Richard N. Bolles, Ten Speed Press). See also jobhuntersbible.com
Many thanks to Vera, a valuable member of our alumni network, for joining us and sharing her thoughts and experiences. You can find her profile and contact data on LinkedIn.