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Why you might want to work in relief and development (and why you might not)

This chapter gives an overview of what I think are some of the pros and cons of working in international relief and development. Bear in mind that different agencies and different assignments vary greatly – these are the broad brush strokes.

If you find this site at least as useful as a beer, please consider buying my e-book on Amazon! Getting your first job in relief and development.

Some of the good things about careers in relief and development work:

A job with meaning that aligns with your values

I count myself very lucky to be able to make a living doing work that is in alignment with my values and the things that I believe in. It seems to me that a lot of people have made peace with the idea that work is something that is separate from your values, from your passions and from your interests – something that fills the work day and pays the bills, and what you really want to do happens on the weekend and evenings. I meet many people who express a level of frustration that the jobs they are in are not providing that level of fulfillment and purpose that they want in their lives. Mission driven organizations provide one way to reconcile the two elements of seeking professional fulfillment and paying the bills.
Being a humanitarian aid worker is a lifestyle (a calling, if you will) – not just a job. There is often no sharp distinction between work and the rest of your life, between your interests and passions and your job description. There is an upside to that work that you feel passionately about, and are not doing simply because you are getting paid to.

Opportunities to make a difference

On a good day, it can be the best job in the world. Really. I cannot imagine anything else being as interesting, challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding as some of the jobs I have had. Plus, every now and again, things go right, and you walk away feeling that, for some people, in some places, the world is a better place because of something you did. That’s tremendously powerful and motivating, and it’s what keeps many people doing this. This doesn’t happen every day, and the degree to which you feel a direct link between what you do and change in people’s lives depends on where you sit in the organization, but for most of us, there is a feeling that what we are doing is contributing to making the world a better place.

A community of motivated co-workers

The people I have met in this line of work are among the most wonderful friends and colleagues I can imagine. The bonds that are formed working together in intense situations are very powerful, and friendships formed over even a few days can be long lasting (although on occasion this intensity can produce equally high levels of acrimony!) I’ve known some people in the western world for years, and never got beyond small-talk, and have spent a few weeks working intensively with others who I feel I know as well as it is possible to know someone. Being a part of this community of people who share similar values and aspirations is hard to quantify, but it is definitely a positive aspect of the job.

Challenge and responsibility

You will likely have more responsibility and authority earlier in your career than you would have in the corporate world. While this can be a double edged sword, it is possible to be given responsibility for multi-million dollar programs and hundreds of staff with comparatively little experience. It can be a sink-or-swim situation, but if you swim, people will give you more and more responsibility. I remember vividly arriving in the office of a major NGO in Albania just as millions of refugees were fleeing war in Kosovo, and being put in charge of a major part of the logistics of supplying the food for hundreds of thousands of people. I tried to explain that I was new, and didn’t know how to do this, and was told that I would have to figure it out, because no one else was there on the ground to do it. I swam, just about, and you likely will too – it’s not that there is no support and training – there is certainly more than there used to be, it’s just that you need to be ready to step up to challenges and expect to be given tasks that are overwhelming. It’s part of the nature of the work – the problems we face are enormous and extremely challenging, and there is often no choice but to attempt to address a problem, even though the skills and resources available are not sufficient.

See the world, experience different cultures

Living and working in cultures other than your own can be fascinating and very rewarding. It is quite different from tourism, and lets you get to know a society and understand more about it than other types of travel. There are very few other careers that give you such an opportunity to experience a range of different countries than relief and development work. You will also see things that no one else will see (not all of them will be good, mind you, but they will be fascinating, challenging, and sometimes exciting!) You’ll be there along side the best and most inspiring examples of people working to overcome apparently impossible odds. You’ll find yourself constantly inspired by the determination, ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people with whom you are working.

Things that cut both ways:

Pay

While there is a huge range of salaries and benefits, ranging from agencies that only really ‘employ’ volunteers to organizations that pay extremely well, the pay even at the top end with the United Nations and some contractors is generally less than the equivalent in the corporate world. Furthermore, for most people working in the non-profit world, it is decidedly mediocre compared to careers in the private sector.
It’s very hard to generalize, but most of the larger international NGOS have pay-scales that allow their employees to live comfortably, and, if you are working overseas the equation changes again.

  • Many ex-pats are able to pay less income tax (or even avoid it entirely) in their home country while they are living overseas (you should consult a tax advisor on the specifics of this as tax law changes frequently and is different in each country). This can make a huge difference to your take-home pay, and you should get professional tax advice to make sure you take full advantage of it.
  • While it is possible to live extremely expensive lifestyles in capital cities like Jakarta and Nairobi, many postings are in relatively affordable locations where the currency you are earning in will go a long way. In more remote postings there may simply be nothing to spend money on!
  • Many international organizations have generous packages of housing, insurance, education for dependent children etc, reducing expenditures further.
  • There are sometimes ways to have some student debt deferred or forgiven if you work for a non-profit. You need to look into the specifics of your loans and your university to see what programs are available.

While you probably won’t make the kind of money you could in the private sector, it is perfectly possible to do very well and not be on the breadline if you are working for a relatively large agency, and possible to make a very good living with the UN or contracting.

Some of the less good things:

Conditions

Pec, Kosovo, 1999

Pec, Kosovo, 1999

I’ve been posted in some truly fantastic places, but the reality is that much relief and development work takes place in some of the more challenging locations in the world. In emergencies you may occasionally be called on to live in a tent or share a small room with co-workers, more frequently in insecure environments you may live in the same house or compound as colleagues. You may not have reliable access to the normal amenities of the western world like electricity, hot and cold running water, reliable heat and cooling, and the freedom of movement to explore at your leisure. While aid agencies very rapidly find solutions for providing many of these things to their staff (through generators, water purification systems etc) the conditions in some postings can be distinctly primitive.

Conditions are not always harsh

Conditions are not always harsh

How big a deal this is to you will determine how long you want to spend in some of the more remote and inaccessible locations. I don’t want to suggest that it was the main reason I left the Balkans, but the idea of facing yet another winter of snow in Kosovo with no reliable heat and power was something that certainly factored into my decision to look for work in South East Asia!
Think seriously about how you feel about access to reliable medical care, social life with people from your culture, speciality food and drink, and other creature comforts, and pick your postings accordingly. Bear in mind that, when you are starting out, you have far less choice. A very informal system of seniority tends to reward those who have ‘paid their dues’, and more senior positions are usually based in regional headquarters offices in more connected capital cities with better amenities.

Workload

The flip side of a values and passion-driven business that is focussed on changing the world is that the employees are often expected to work hard and make sacrifices. Long hours and unpaid overtime and often the norm, and many jobs in the field are meat-grinders – they are emotionally and physically exhausting and people tend to ‘burn-out’ in a few years. This is not to say that organizations themselves are always unreasonably demanding of their staff, but that they often have cultures and work-ethics that are very demanding.
This is particularly true in emergency postings, where the first couple of months can especially hectic and sleep-deprived. Some organizations try to mitigate this by providing additional vacation time or rest and recuperation (R&R) for their teams in particularly stressful locations. You need to make sure that you take personal responsibility for managing your workload and stress levels.

It’s not always a feel-good business

Some people want to work in this line of business because they want to help people and feel good about what they are doing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not always a feel-good job. In places with high levels of need and suffering where resources are insufficient, neither you nor the beneficiaries of your work will likely feel particularly uplifted by the amount you are able to do. You may spend a lot of your time refusing requests because of inadequate resourcing, deal with donors who are unsympathetic, officials who are uncooperative, or combatants who are unwilling to help. Don’t expect to get a high level of recognition or praise for your efforts, or to feel that you are able to solve all of the problems you will encounter.

Relationships and roots

While it creates intense bonds between colleagues, the business can place enormous strains on marriages and relationships. The pace of work, the upheaval of constant and unpredictable travel, separation from loved ones, and other stressors can make stable relationships difficult. Go into it with open eyes, and talk early and often about what is going on. As Jan Davis and Robert Lambert succinctly point out “emergency relief work is frequently carried out in situations where there has been massive breakdown in civil society and where great evil has been perpetrated. Against this background, the immediate benefits to be gained from a comforting, supportive sexual relationship may seem to outweigh the long-term costs of dealing with the consequences of such a relationship when returning to normality. How you deal with these issues is a personal matter, but it is important to be prepared1.
Think seriously about the strains that this kind of work will place on your family relationships and friendships – not only will you be away for long periods of time, but your experiences will change you, and may make it more difficult for you to fit back into old relationships. It’s not impossible by any means, but go into it with your (and your partner’s) eyes open.
1 Engineering in Emergencies – Davis and Lambert.

Further reading

You can buy Engineering in Emergencies from Amazon and Powells Books (buying from these links helps me support this site).

141 Comments leave one →
  1. Shauna permalink
    March 9, 2011 6:25 pm

    How would someone with a strong background in systems administration get a job in the humanitarian field?

    • March 11, 2011 11:38 am

      Hi Shauna,
      I’m not certain I can give you specific advice on this – it may depend on what types of ‘systems administration’ you are into, but in general, the advice is pretty much the same for everyone – you need to get at least some experience living and working in the developing world before any recruiter will look at your resume, no matter how technically impressive it is.

  2. Fran permalink
    May 3, 2011 11:14 am

    I am 15 years old and would love to be an international aid worker… Would there be anything specific I would need or that would help me when I am taking my A-Levels and further on a degree.

    • May 3, 2011 11:26 am

      Hi Fran – first of all, good luck with your GCSEs! At this point I would say there isn’t anything specific you need to be doing unless you want to specialize in something like medical or engineering work. Languages never hurt (French or Spanish would open up parts of Africa or Latin America respectively, but only if your languages are good enough to operate without an interpreter), but really I would focus on things that interest you and set you up for a degree you’re interested in. I’m guessing A levels like Geography might be interesting, but I wouldn’t want to suggest they would be specifically helpful from a career standpoint.

      My main piece of advice would be to study what interests you, but to look for courses that include travel to the developing world. Get your A levels, and then find a degree course that includes travel, or maybe even a year abroad working somewhere in the developing world, use your summer vacations to travel or intern in the field, and network, network, network! Let us know how you do, Nick

  3. Aditi permalink
    May 3, 2011 1:35 pm

    Hi Nick,
    My name is Aditi and I am looking for work in the UK (I do have a work visa). I have been working in rural India for the past two and a half years on improving governance through increasing citizen participation. I have worked on improving the implementation of some very crucial government schemes in India.
    Apart from this I have also written a few papers and presented them at national and international conferences. I almost always only get calls for internships and never for paid jobs. And I am very disheartened with this. Can you suggest something and would reading your book help me or you have some other suggestion for me? One more thing I also did my MSc from the LSE.
    I am not sure if this is the best way to seek advice on my career. I hope you would not mind!

    Best
    Aditi

    • June 6, 2011 10:43 am

      Hi Aditi, I’m afraid I don’t know much about getting jobs in the UK, and I’m not sure I really understand what kind of work you’re looking for – it sounds like you are an academic? Good luck with that, I’m sorry it’s not something I can really help with.
      Nick

  4. lizzie permalink
    August 9, 2011 6:19 pm

    Nick,
    I am 21 with a 4 year old son. I have always wanted to do humanitarian and relief work, but since I am a single mother, I’ve put it off. I try to do whatever comes around locally that is avaliable to me. I work with special needs people, I volunteer with Make-A-Wish, and will be spending a few weeks working at an orphanage in India next year. I want to do more, especially on the international level, but I’m not sure thats possible with a son, so I have been studying history in school. Is there any advice you can possibley offer on ways I can help or a career field that is kid friendly or anything else?
    Thanks ever so much!

    • August 12, 2011 12:01 pm

      Hi there Elizabeth – first of all, congrats on your son – that’s such a wonderful age!
      On the career questions, I would say a couple of things – first you mention studying history in school – I presume that means you are studying for a degree? If so I would encourage you to continue to do that, since having a degree these days is a basic requirement. Second, everything else on this site still applies. It’s a tough field to break into without experience, and experience is tough to get a the best of times, with or without a child.
      That said, I don’t want to put you off – there are plenty of people who do this work overseas who have kids, and some who are single parents. Child care and good schools are relatively cheap and it isn’t a bad lifestyle at all to have all the help you need on hand. I would actually break from my normal advice in your case, and encourage you to seek jobs in INGO headquarters, then try to leverage those into field positions. With a child in tow I think that may be the best bet, but let me ask around and see what the sense is from my friends and colleagues with kids in the field.
      Hope that helps,
      Nick

      • December 20, 2013 7:12 pm

        Hi I love biology and science. I would love to become a nurse and go to foreign countries and help out. Would they take nurses? I’m very new to this and want to learn everything thing about it. Also how long are you their for about?

        Thanks so much
        Cj

      • December 31, 2013 11:58 am

        Hi CJ – Lots of agencies recruit nurses – I would start with Doctors Without Borders, and then check out the other medical agencies (including the Red Cross agencies).
        Good luck!
        Nick

  5. laurie glanx permalink
    August 16, 2011 11:40 am

    would like to travel to africa and work with children am a professional women with a bright eager adoptive daughter who would want to travel with me. she wants to exchange her beautiful stuff animal hundreds of them ang give them to every child she meets. would like to be shown her real life counterparts in the wild. please advise web sites that have organization that can accomidate us. thank you laurie

    • August 16, 2011 12:28 pm

      You know, I really try hard to be respectful of wherever people are coming from, and not to come across as negative about ideas that people are exploring. I’m going to make an exception here though. Sorry about that, but better that you hear it from me at this stage than someone less sympathetic down the line.
      So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts:
      1. You want to travel to ‘Africa’. You should understand that ‘Africa’ is not a thing. It’s the second largest continent in the world, and the second largest population of any continent. I contains north of 50 countries, with diverse cultures, languages, economic situations and geography. I cannot think of a sentence with the word ‘Africa’ in it that would not be better if the word were replaced with some more specific geographic term. Angola is not Algeria, Egypt is not Ethiopia, Zambia is not Zimbabwe. OK. Now I’ve got that off my chest…
      2. You want to ‘work with children’, and are a professional. Well, that’s good. I wonder what kind of children you want to work with, in what context, and what professional skills you bring that would not be available locally? Perhaps if I knew more about your geographic intentions, professional skills and languages I could help you more, but in general, the big international children’s agencies would be good places to start. Unicef, Save the Children, etc etc. Of course, they tend to want people with extensive experience managing programs for children, and tend to employ local people in their front-line positions, which is the problem this blog is all about.
      3. As to your ‘adoptive daughter’ (and I don’t know why the fact that she is adopted is relevant here, although her age would be), the idea of her traveling with you through ‘Africa’ with hundreds of beautiful stuffed animals, giving them away to the first few hundred children she meets sounds like a nice plot for a Dora the Explorer episode, but in reality is more likely to result in a riot in most of the places where INGOs work.
      4. In closing. Please, please, please, I beg you, re-think your plans. What I would suggest, if you have a serious interest in ‘Africa’, is to think a little more about what it is that interests you. Subscribe to National Geographic, and research some places to take your daughter on vacation. Go there a few times, try to make some friends, build some personal relationships with people you meet, perhaps your daughter can become pen-pals with some children she meets. Try to think of this as a genuine exchange of cultural knowledge. Most people, in most parts of the world, are very interested and welcoming of foreigners who are genuinely interested in learning about their language and culture. They may or may not want hundreds of second hand stuffed toys, but who knows?
      Good luck,
      Nick

  6. September 27, 2011 10:28 pm

    Hi!! This site is wonderful! and I’m only on chapter 2! lol
    I’m wondering if u might be able to direct me to what’s out there in terms of upper-level non-profit work.
    ..The highest goal i have been able to set for myself is to become a hum. aid worker.
    ..but what can i work towards once I’ve begun working in the field? I guess some goals would be to feel fulfilled and live a comfortable lifestyle, & having the funds to visit other countries.

    A pre-question to that lol: I was hoping you could direct me to an agency that would hire someone in my position to work abroad as a humanitarian. I am 24yr old woman, have a BA in psychology, studied abroad for a year in Jordan & picked up a minimal understanding of Arabic, visited 5 other countries for vacation, & have a lot of experience working with homeless populations as well as some instructing experience with kids.
    My standards I think would be that I just want to make a difference and not freeze to death. lol i would prefer to have a semi-comfortable position to begin with, as to not shock myself too much when first starting out. but i can see how that might not be how it works. I would also prefer East/South-East Asia, South America, or the Middle East, as regions to be stationed. But I would be open to most all opportunities.

    Thank you so much for creating this website!
    ~Chevohn

    • September 29, 2011 10:08 am

      Hi there – thanks for the feedback – I appreciate it. Might I suggest that you read the rest of the site, which, I think, answers your question? Please feel free to post again if I’ve missed the point. I’m sorry that I can’t point you to a particular agency who would hire you. Good luck! Nick

  7. Nas permalink
    October 18, 2011 3:06 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I’m a recent graduate with a bachelors in Aviation Science (Pilot program). I’m sort of going through a soul searching phase of my life. I initially picked aviation because it’s not a ‘normal’ career, as that’s something I can’t see myself doing; i.e. the typical 9-5 job. Now, I’m not even sure if I want to do that. I feel like I should do something meaningful with my life.

    I don’t have a degree in geography, linguistics, IR, or the like. However, I do have a somewhat diverse background. I’m originally from Pakistan, but I was born in Kenya (my dad worked as a volunteer doctor). I’ve also lived in Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and the US. I am fluent in 3 languages (English, Swedish, Urdu). Also, I’ve studied Spanish long enough to get by in a Spanish speaking country.

    To pursue a career in this field, will I have to go to grad school and get a Masters degree in something specific/related to this field of work? Can you name any specific humanitarian organizations with whom I can gain experience with?

    • October 18, 2011 3:20 pm

      Hi – Thanks for your note. I think I may have misunderstood your question, because I feel like the answers to all of your questions are already on the site, insofar as I can throw and light on them. Please do feel free to re-phrase them if I’ve misunderstood, but the short answers to your questions, from my perspective are:
      1. Not initially – I don’t think it helps you get your first job, although it may be a good idea later in your career.
      2. Peace Corps is always a good start, CRS has probably the most built out program of fellowships, other organizations including Mercy Corps have good overseas internship programs. While it has risks, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, a lot of people get a start in this line of work by going to a place they would like to work (that is relatively safe and has good infrastructure) and volunteering and networking until they get hired.
      Good luck,
      Nick

  8. January 10, 2012 12:08 pm

    Thanks for answering all our questions! So many of us want to know how we can make a difference and contribute to the larger world and yet the responses to our inquiries seem distant and vauge. I’m learning from your responses to others and you bring the challenges a little closer without making me run away in tears. Please keep it up.

    • January 10, 2012 12:14 pm

      You’re very kind – if you want to really show your appreciation you can always go buy my e-book on Amazon, or if you feel like you need the $6 more than I do, at least rate it! Thanks! Nick

  9. zak permalink
    February 3, 2012 9:38 pm

    Nick,
    My name is Zak and I will be graduating with a degree in human biology this winter. I have already been on an abroad trip to the Dominican Republic for public health, and now realize this is what I want to do with my life.I am trying to figure out what kinds of jobs that this qualifies me for within agencies if any, or if there is another focus that would help me get my foot in the door.
    Thank you for your time,
    Zak

    • February 4, 2012 4:12 pm

      Hi Zak – I’m glad to hear you’ve found something you’re passionate about – that’s wonderful. The bad news from my side is that I don’t really think your degree in human biology in itself qualifies you for very much in this line of work. The problem is most positions require substantial field experience. You might want to look at it another way – figure out your ideal job, and then work back from there. I sorry that I don’t really have any specific advice beyond what is on this site, but if you have a more specific question I’d be happy to try to help!
      Good luck,
      Nick

  10. Sam permalink
    March 10, 2012 12:19 am

    Hi,
    I’m a 20 year old student in Sydney. I never really knew what to do with my life until I spent my first year of uni doing a degree I absolutely detested (it was a commerce degree); and then I realised that the only thing that I’ve ever wanted to do is development and aid work (as I was born in a developing country- I was able to see poverty first hand).
    Anyway, after a break of my degree ( I studied PR and development for a year), I started a business degree again due to the fact that it’s a solid degree to fall back on- but my question is what are the NGOs and development companies looking for? And if my business degree (with a HR and marketing major is suitable?)
    I really do want to work in development but I plan on using a business degree to get into the company and then move around. Is that ok?

    • March 11, 2012 8:57 am

      Hi Sam -
      First of all, congratulations on having found something that you really want to do with your life!
      Secondly, I would say that it’s a bad idea, in general, to study something that you ‘absolutely detest’. That’s just a personal opinion, but if you hate it now, chances are you’re not going to love it much more in 30 years time.
      Third – I’m a little confused about your career plan, but, broadly speaking, there are a lot of ‘development’ related activities that might be interested in someone with that background. The first thing I would do is take a look at http://www.microfinancegateway.org/p/site/m/ Microfinance Gateway. It’s a great place to start on all things development finance. A lot of organizations doing job creation also emily small business advisors and the like. The other angle that I would explore is the option of becoming a finance professional within the NGO world. Like any business, INGOs employ bookkeepers, accountants, finance managers etc. It’s generally a position NGOs struggle to recruit for, for all the reasons you’d expect.
      Fourth – as you know, the drum I always bang is that your degrees and qualifications will help you later in your career. NGOs will likely not recruit you out of college without a couple of years of field experience.
      Fifth – Good luck!
      Nick
      Oh, and please consider buying my book!

  11. Sam permalink
    April 3, 2012 2:19 pm

    Hi,
    I am liking what I am reading. Currently I am 21 years old and I am looking to pursue a life out of working for agency’s that help others. I have looked heavily into peace corps. I am currently an Architecture student but I am quickly realizing that Architecture is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. I am wondering if you have any idea on college programs that would give me the tools in helping people. I was looking into liberal studies to get a broad sense of humanities, ecology, health, and language. However; I am worried that even though this program covers many aspects, it does not get specific enough to actually help people in third world countries.

    Thanks,
    Sam

    • April 3, 2012 2:36 pm

      Hi Sam – glad you like the blog – please consider buying and / or reviewing my e-book on Amazon – it helps me keep this site running.

      Now – to your question – honestly, I’m not sure that I have any specific advice on college programs. I’m not convinced that there’s one major or other which will give you any particular advantage over any other in terms of getting your first job*. There’s certainly no degree that will qualify you for overseas jobs without additional work experience overseas. My advice is to study something that interests you, and spend your vacations, and any other chances you get, traveling in the kinds of places you think you’d like to work. Get a feel for what it’s really like, seek out internships overseas, and seriously consider the Peace Corps.
      That’s not to say that there’s nothing you can take in college that will give you any insight into development issues, some development theory, development economics, sociology, anthropology, conflict studies, international law, languages, you name it, they’ll all help you get a better understanding of what development is and how it works.
      Good luck, and let me know how you do!
      Nick

      * Having said that, there are exceptions – the combined Peace Corps masters programs seem like a good deal to me, there are a couple of fields like engineering, finance, primary and public health etc where specific college course are required, and there are schools that bring a well developed career service and alumni network with them that certainly doesn’t hurt (you know who they are).

  12. danielle permalink
    April 5, 2012 1:44 pm

    Agh!! Sam, Don’t do a general degree just because you want to make yourself a better candidate for international work, please. Nick always has wonderful advice, so follow his lead. I just want to add, think about what you can offer a company or individual in another county. If you were them would you want to hire a generalist or someone who could tell you how to grow the best crops, which seeds work well in your area, how to engineer a long lasting latrine, how to upgrade outdated wiring in a building, how to get government funding for a project. These skills will also expand the choices you have with organizations like the Peace Corps. Without that your only option may be to teach english as a gateway to that international experience. ps. they can hire generalists from their own country. what will you offer that will add value to their work?

  13. Dan permalink
    April 15, 2012 8:48 am

    Hey nick

    First thing – love the site, exactly what I have been looking for, some good, first hand advice. And yes, I will be buying your book – but I must be honest and say I have not got round to doing it just yet.

    Anyway, as you will probably guess, I am looking in to getting a position in humanitarian aid. I am currently 23 years old and i now feel as though I know what I want to do with my future. The reason for my post though is because in one of your comments, you mentioned a degree is now almost a basic requirement. My problem is this – I left school at 18 and was employed on a management course with a financial institution and whilst this has (supposidly) worked out for me as far as progression etc goes, I am not educated to degree level (and i deteste the industry I have found myself in).
    I know there are many other barriers that I will need to overcome, such as work experience etc, but are you saying without a degree I wont even be considered?

    Dan

    • April 15, 2012 12:24 pm

      Hey Dan, thanks for the feedback – I won’t pester you about the book!
      So – degrees. Look, it’s like anything else, when you give advice, you generalize. It’s not that you can’t get a job without a degree – one of the most successful and well thought of people I know in this business who is now quite senior doesn’t have a degree, but he does have a very impressive resume that demonstrates his effectiveness despite not having one. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that nearly every job I see posted has it as a requirement, and you’re at a disadvantage out of the gate if you don’t meet that requirement. Your resume probably won’t make the shortlist if you apply for jobs through a headquarters recruiting department.
      You’ll need to either:
      a) get one – where or what doesn’t matter too much, and you might find that you can use whatever qualifications or experience that you gained in banking to gain some credit.
      b) talk up your management training or whatever it was. It could be that a recognized course in practical management with some proven effectiveness can fill the gap in your resume that a degree would take, and you can present it as equivalent in some way that isn’t too dishonest.
      c) compensate in some other area.
      Assuming that you want to go the ‘c’ route, my advice is pretty much going to be the same as always. Get out there. Get experience living and working in the developing world, volunteering, interning, making a nuisance of yourself. Get yourself know – network like your life depends on it. Don’t mention not having a degree unless someone asks, and make yourself useful enough that someone hires you based on what they know about you, not based on your resume.
      Hope that helps,
      Nick

  14. Erica permalink
    April 26, 2012 8:39 am

    Hi Nick, I am a 21-yr old undergrad working on my degree in psychology and am learning French and Arabic. I want to eventually work for an NGO in the Middle East and I have a couple of questions.

    1. I want to be both a psychologist and a relief worker. Is that possible?

    2. Should I change my major from psych to international studies (my college doesnt offer international relations)?

    3. If I do change my major, would I also need a graduate/master’s degree? If so, in what, counseling or international relations? If I dont need a secondary degree I was planning on joining the peace corps right after undergrad school.

    4. I’m studying abroad next year in the Middle East and plan to do volunteer work while I’m there. Would that count as some type of experience?

    5. I plan to get married and have 1 or 2 kids in the future. Will I be able to take them to my work site with me?

    Thanks in advance for your response.

    • April 26, 2012 12:58 pm

      Hi Erica,
      First off – please do consider buying my e-book – it really helps me support this site.
      So -
      1. A psychologist and a relief worker. All things are possible – I guess it all depends what kind of psychology you plan on doing. There are certainly people who have that background and work in protection or psycho-social assistance, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, working with rehabilitation of victims of war etc, but there are few clinical roles for expatriates in those fields. Check out organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children, or some of the orgs doing work around child soldiers for some examples.
      2. Only you can say. If psych is what floats your boat, then do it – there’s certainly no huge advantage that I can see to and IR or IS degree in terms of getting your first job – it all comes down to field experience.
      3. I address this on the site – my advice to most people is not to get a masters until mid-career. You’ll have more experience, get more out of it, know what you want better, and it won’t price you out of the market in terms of entry level jobs. Peace Corps is a good idea, but make use of the experience to build your resume and make contacts.
      4. It depends where in the middle east, how long for, and what kind of volunteer work. In general, the answer to this is ‘do the experience demonstrate that you can do the kinds of things you will be called upon to do in a paid job’?
      5. Broadly, yes, but it depends on who you work for and where the work site is. Most major agencies pay for dependent spouses and children if the environment is suitable. That rules out the obvious places without good security, schooling and health care, but still leaves a lot of positions open. The problem is that competition for accompanied posts is higher, and they generally go to people with a lot of experience.
      Good luck!

  15. David permalink
    August 6, 2012 1:55 pm

    Hi Nick

    Really enjoyed browsing your site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’m a carpenter and joiner with good general building skills looking to get involved in hands on work within humanitarian aid. I’m an avid traveler and adventurer and not really fulfilled with the normal hum drum of going to work, paying bills, going on holiday etc. I want to do something that makes a real difference and hopefully get a sense of fulfillment (Excuse the clique) I’ve scowered the internet and struggled to find much in the line of work i’m in. I’m prepared to work in dangerous areas if it gives me a better chance of getting in to this line of work. Can you point me in the direction of any agencies who would recruit for construction roles in this arena? Ideals would be rebuilds in earthquake hit locations, war damaged etc etc. Particularly interested in the DRC, Haiti, Burma, NZ, Bosnia, Japan. Appreciate any guidence you can offer.

    Thanks in advance.

    David

    • August 6, 2012 2:07 pm

      Hi David,
      Thanks for the feedback – as always, please do consider buying the ebook or rating it on Amazon – that really helps me a lot!

      In terms of opportunities to use your carpentry skills, I think your best bet would be an organization like Habitat for Humanity, which definitely uses volunteers in this capacity. Within the mainstream humanitarian aid business there just isn’t much of a market for expatriate carpenters (or other skills that can generally be sourced locally). Rare indeed is the environment where you can’t hire a local carpenter for less that it would cost an international agency just to insure you as an expat. Having said that, a lot of agencies build a lot of things globally every year, and many of them are sorely in need of construction managers who can deal with overseeing design, procurement and contractor management. It’s the senior technical management roles that are generally expatriate, especially in the early stages of recovery, and if you have that kind of experience it’s just a question of getting over the field experience issues.

      As always, while not wanting to suggest you should just jump on a plane, it’s definitely easier to get hired in these places than it is through HQ offices, so if you’re vacationing in places where INGOs have offices do go network and make yourself available through that route.
      Let us know how you do!
      Nick

  16. Rose permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:47 pm

    Hello! I’ve only found this website today but so far it’s been very helpful for me! It is my last year of High School in Ohio in the USA. I’m applying to colleges and wondering what the best kinds of subjects to major in are because I’m interested in doing humanitarian work in college and after college. I’m extremely interested in Geography, History, and languages…and in general: cultures, traveling and current events. I’m in love with National Geographic and other organizations that teach common citizens about cultures around the world. What would be your advice for me in choosing majors and minors and classes for my college education? Thanks!

  17. September 4, 2012 3:47 pm

    Hello! My name is Elise. I am currently in my sophomore year of college and was majoring in Special Ed. I have always been very interested in having a humanitarian job though. I never knew how to go about getting started. What major should I look into majoring in? Or what steps should I take to begin the process of starting a career in this feild?

    • September 8, 2012 11:10 am

      Hi there Rose, and Elise – sorry not to have got to this sooner, I’m overdue in updating this article – I will get around to it in the next few weeks, but the short story is – study what interests you. If you want to get into this line of work it’s probably going to be something around geography, development, languages, etc, but don’t worry too much about it – it honest doesn’t matter that much unless you’re going into something like public health.
      Just make sure that you take every chance you get to get overseas, do internships, get work experience in development and in developing countries. What you do with your time (your work experience and location) is much, much more important than what classes you take!
      Good luck, and please consider buying the e-book if you found the site useful!
      Thanks!
      Nick

      • Jason McBride permalink
        October 14, 2012 12:25 pm

        Nick, I’m really liking this site, and happy that I just found it, though I’m not sure if it’s quite applicable to me yet. I am really curious about one part of this reply that you posted. You said “…it really doesn’t matter that much [what classes you take] unless you’re going into something like public health…” I’m finishing a MPH (Master’s in Public Health) in a few months, and my two specializations are global health & health behavior and health promotion.

        To briefly explain other parts of my background, besides almost having an MPH, I am fluent in Spanish, and did missionary work in Central America for two years, so I have some international experience. Humanitarian work overseas would be a great fit for me, except I don’t think it’s feasible for me to be away from my wife and two young kids for long periods of time.

        I am hoping to work domestically (in the U.S.A), and do international work with the possibility of periodically traveling overseas, especially to Latin America (where my Spanish fluency can come in handy). To do this, I am willing to relocate anywhere within the U.S. What are some organizations you can think of that I should look at for volunteering and/or applying for jobs? Any particular advice? Thank you so much!

      • October 15, 2012 12:55 pm

        Hi Jason,
        Glad you like the site, please do consider buying (or rating) the ebook on Amazon – that really helps me!
        To be honest your question is a little outside of my field of expertise – I’d like to refer you to Alanna Shaikh, who runs a (very reasonably priced!) subscription based careers advice column. She specializes much more in public health questions, and I think would be a better person to advise you on this – her website is here.
        Let me know if that works out,
        Nick

  18. Tas permalink
    September 8, 2012 11:09 am

    Helloo ! My name is Tasnim, and im currently in my Junior year of uni. I’m double majoring in journalism and media, and English literature. I’ve always been interested in perusing a humanitarian job, I’m a member of the Red Cross, and im going to start an internship at a human relief organization soon.. my interview is on monday so *fingers crossed*
    however i’ve been wondering if my major would help in any way in perusing a humanitarian job ? I already am fluent in both writing and speaking english arabic and french a little chinese… and im looking froward to learning spanish this year…

    • September 8, 2012 11:48 am

      Hi Tamsin – good luck in your interview – for my money it doesn’t matter much what you take in college. No one has ever asked me what courses I took, what I majored in, or even to see the certs for the degrees I claim to have. Study what interests you, and pursue those internships and overseas opportunities- they are the things that make the difference!
      Good luck, and please buy the e-book!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  19. Zenny permalink
    October 25, 2012 10:08 am

    Hello Nick,
    I just read the article above about relief work and most of the points listed is what I’d already been expecting. I’m in my last year of high school, and I’m going to college next year and I was wondering if a degree in psychology, sociology or anthropology would be of any use when it comes to relief work. I really want to work in a developing country, and for a while I wanted to study psychology to help people through traumatic experiences. But having lived in a third world country, I realized that people don’t usually go for psychological treatment even though they might need it because it costs a lot of money, money that they don’t have. Is there anything in the job market that involves psychology? My fallback options are Sociology and Anthropology which I’m also very interested in but I still have to figure out what work I could find if I major in those. I would love to work in Africa (East Africa to be exact), but i’m also open to working in Asia, South America, etc.

    • October 25, 2012 2:42 pm

      Hi there Zenny,
      I promise, as I keep saying, to update this article to reflect my views on this – but my take is pretty much the same as it has been every time this question comes up. It doesn’t really matter what you take in college, unless you’re heading for a technical speciality. Take what you enjoy, and most importantly use the time in college to get experience living and working in the kinds of places where you want to end up living and working.
      You’re right that western medical models of mental health are not applicable everywhere, and rely on relatively built out networks of services and professionals. There’s quite a lot of work on culturally appropriate models of psychological wellbeing, and certainly a burgeoning sub-field of ‘psycho-social work’, although typically expatriates are not involved in front line delivery of services.
      Good luck!
      Nick

  20. Yvette permalink
    October 31, 2012 2:53 am

    Hello Nick

    I have stumbled across your site and it’s brilliant. You are a reinforcer of faith in humanity with your very articulate wise words and knowledge. Perhaps a link at the side with the itinerary would enable easier access to buy your book, which I shall be doing.

    On a personal note, there was a young lady called Lizzie with a four year old son who contacted you on August 9, 2011 6:19 pm inquiring as to the possibility of single parents working for INGOs. You mentioned that you were going to look into it. I was wondering if you had any more advice on this.

    I am in a similar situation with a very bright 6 year old daughter and would like to assist wherever I can in the world but ensure that my daughter is not only safe and comfortable but gets an education and has balanced time with me. Naturally, as with the U.K, I understand that I may need the services of a childminder. Ultimately whatever I do needs to have as little impact on her as possible…working in Kosovo is not an option and neither is living in a tent, put it that way.

    Do you have any updated information on this to share?

    Many thanks.

    Yvette

    • November 1, 2012 10:26 am

      Dear Yvette,
      Thank you for your kind words – I’m not quite certain, but it sounds like you think I should promote my <a href="Getting your first job in relief and development “>ebook more aggressively?

      Anyway, apologies to you and Lizzie – that is still on my agenda, and I am trying to track down some folks I know who have experience with young kids and single parenting overseas, but life and work has got in the way recently… It’s still on the agenda though. In the meantime – here’s my short take on it.

      It’s tough to gain experience when you have young dependents. The kinds of positions that you would need to take to build your resume might well not be suitable. You might have more luck going the route of looking for HQ positions in the UK (or elsewhere) and working on transitioning to the field (or into a job with travel) from there. I don’t usually recommend that, because, all things being equal, I think it’s sometimes the tougher route, but for you all things are not equal – your family is (rightly) your first priority.

      Having said that – don’t rule out Kosovo. While I wouldn’t have taken a kid there in 1999, today it is a stable place with many of the amenities that you need for normal life. I don’t know about the quality of the international schools, but it’s an hour from Vienna, and in many ways a great family posting right now. You’re going to be weighing the impact on your family of moving around, putting up with conditions that might be a challenge from time to time with the huge benefits of exposure to the wider world, and the incredible learning opportunity that some time overseas gives.

      Hope that helps a little, more to come, I promise! ;)
      Nick

  21. November 29, 2012 5:21 am

    Hi there Nick. At 45 years old I have realized that it is not too late to live a life dream even if it means starting from scratch. Lack of formal education is possibly the largest setback I have, only completing junior high school. I have however, worked as associate editor of a national magazine, Ed in Chief of a regional newspaper and am a published author (all without formal qualifications). I was raised in Papua New Guinea, live in Australia and spent a few years living in Indonesia. I have traveled to 25 or so countries, some many times over, and a number of them third world. I do know what it is like to live in bamboo and thatch huts, bathe in freezing cold or salt water and cook over open fire for extended periods. Culture shock is something I dealt with on my first trip to a third world country many years ago, and very little shocks me any more, be it poverty, disease or corruption.
    I wish to work with orphans in Zimbabwe, and if possible children with AIDS. I am planning to volunteer with an agency for a month later next year, but in the meantime have decided to further my education and get started on gaining some tangible qualifications. What would you suggest I should study in order to work specifically with orphans in Zimbabwe? And one final question, if I continued to volunteer in Zimbabwe for a month or so per year until my education is completed, would it enhance my chances of securing a full time position with an agency? Your time is much appreciated.

    Kindest regards Kelly

    • December 3, 2012 11:05 am

      Hi Kelly -
      First of all, congratulations on your realization that it’s never too late to make a change!
      It sounds like your first career has been pretty interesting. I do have a couple of comments on your plans, but please do bear in mind that, particularly for those of us re-inventing ourselves later in life, everyone’s path will be different.

      1. While the goal of working with AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe is a laudable one, and not unachievable, I would advise you not to be too picky when looking for your first job, but rather take anything that will give you overseas NGO experience, and then specialize once you have a little direct experience under your belt.
      2. What qualifications you will need will depend on what, precisely, it is you want to do. If you want to work in some therapeutic capacity then you will clearly need some kind of medical qualification, but if you want to work in project management, fundraising, etc, then you may not necessarily need anything formal. I would encourage you to spend some time on the ground, even if it’s as a work / holiday volunteer to understand how the specific sector you want to work in functions. Find someone who has the job you want and sit them down over coffee and get their story and their advice.
      3. Volunteering in Zimbabwe will certainly help your chances – make sure you network like crazy while you’re there, and make sure everyone you meet knows your skills and intentions!
      4. Consider seriously whether your resume is good enough with your experience, and whether you even need a formal qualification. At your stage in your career it may be possible to pivot without a degree – talk to agencies on the ground and get their advice.
      Good luck – let us know how it goes!
      Nick

      • February 22, 2013 5:48 am

        Hey there Nick, thought I would pop in again and let you know how all is going. I decided that the best thing to do would be to at least get a few credentials, so started college this month getting my community services certification (1 year full time, and diploma 1 year part time next year). I managed to convince my coordinator to allow me to volunteer overseas to gain the necessary work placement credits I need this year. Soooo I am off to Zimbabwe in September/October to volunteer on a medical & Community outreach program *big grin* Thank you for your assistance and guidance. Will let you know how it all goes with my first voluntary placement later in the year. xx Kel

      • February 22, 2013 7:47 am

        Hi Kelly – great to hear from you – congratulations – it sounds like things are going really well!
        Please do consider writing a short article for the site about your experiences when you get back – I’d love to have more first hand accounts of how these kinds of things are!
        Thanks,
        Nick

  22. Raju permalink
    December 8, 2012 7:48 am

    Dear Nick,
    I am a Nepalese Army officer and I am 27 years old now. I am serving in nepalese army since 2004 and currently my rank is captain. Within my service period i got a chance to take park as a peacekeepers in the UN( DRC) in 2008.I have completed my bachelor’s degree.Now I think to change my job and work in the UN nations . Working in the United Nations is my dream job. But i don’t know how and where to start to apply for the job in UN and i want to know what kind of job is suitable for the military background.Would be thankful if you give me some ideas.

  23. Grace permalink
    December 15, 2012 2:15 am

    Hello! My name is Grace. I am currently working as a sales consultant in a mutinationl company in lebannon called FAST MONDIAL & MARINE and was majoring in Ecnonomics. I have always been very interested in having a humanitarian job though. I never knew how to go about getting started. What major should I look into majoring in? Or what steps should I take to begin the process of starting a career in this feild?

    • December 17, 2012 11:01 am

      Hi Grace,
      Thanks for writing. I’m a little baffled by your question, it’s one that I feel is fairly well covered in the articles and comments on the site – perhaps you can rephrase it in a way that helps me understand what specific issue you’re asking about?
      Thanks,
      Nick

  24. Mariel permalink
    December 17, 2012 12:58 pm

    Hi,
    I’m a 15 year old and I would love to someday work for an organization bringing medical aid to countries in need. I was wondering what degrees are required to do this, as well as some organizations that have jobs like this. Thanks!

    • December 17, 2012 1:07 pm

      Hi there Mariel,
      Thanks for commenting – if you find this blog useful, please do consider buying the ebook on Amazon, or at least reviewing and rating it – that really helps me to cover the costs of this site.
      As to your question, there are a huge variety of roles in bringing medical aid to countries in need, and a wide range of organizations working in those sectors. I suggest the InterAction member directory as a good place to begin your research (http://www.interaction.org/member-directory-all) take a look at the organizations working in health, and then look at the jobs pages on their website to see the kinds of positions that they recruit for, and the qualifications that they ask for.
      Hope that helps!
      Nick

  25. Natalie permalink
    January 11, 2013 2:24 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Firstly, thanks for this great article! loads of useful information in here.

    i wonder if you could give me some advice….i am a 30 year old nurse working in a hospital in the UK on a ward specialising in infections. i am interested in becoming a humanitarian aid worker, however i am not yet sure if i am cut out for such a challenging career.
    I am planning to do a 3-4 week volunteer experience in Africa, ideally working as a nurse. This would be an experience i would be paying for and there are lots of companies out there who organise such experiences. i was wondering if you think, firstly, that this is a good way in which to find out if this is the career for me. Secondly, do you have any recommendations or advice when choosing which company to organise such an experience with?
    Thanks in advance for your time,

    Natalie

    • January 12, 2013 8:14 am

      Hi Natalie,
      Thanks for the feedback – I’m glad you liked the article! If you’re able, it really helps me when people buy the ebook, or at least review and rate it on Amazon!

      Getting your first job in relief and development

      Since you’re in the UK, there are some resources that I’m sure you’re already aware of, but should really check out. REDR (http://www.redr.org.uk) is a great organization that has resources and training for people wanting to work in humanitarian aid, including a ‘Do I really want to do this?” course! It’s also a great way to build contacts.

      Since you have a very practical skill, you should also check out the humanitarian agencies operating out of the UK – while you should look at the big ones (MSF, Save, the Red Cross etc), you shouldn’t ignore the smaller ones like IMC (http://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/).

      I definitely think that spending time in the places you want to work is a great way to get a sense of whether this is what you really want to do (although ‘Africa’ is a pretty big and diverse place!). I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with particular companies offering work experience. While this might well be positive for you, and potentially a good way to check the area and field out, I would advise you use a lot of caution and due-dilligence when researching a group to go with. Talk to people who have been with them – while some of these firms are legit, some are pretty shady!

      Also remember that these kinds of paid experiences rarely ‘count’ on your resume – I would make sure you’ve exhausted other avenues before you do that. If you want to send me the names of the companies you’ve shortlisted I’ll post them and see if anyone has any feedback on them.

      One of the nice things about the primary medical field is that there is a norm of people taking short assignments overseas and then returning to their work in their home country, so if it turns out this is not for you, you haven’t burned your bridges – good luck, and do let us know how you do!
      Nick

  26. lida permalink
    January 24, 2013 10:03 am

    Hi Nick,
    By writing this reply, I have obviously read your page, which by the way is very resourcefull and spurred me on to buy your e-book. As I, like others replying on your page, also wants to persue a career in humanitarian aid. However, I am dead scared to ask you a question now, as you are pretty ‘hush’ on some of your answers. Anyway , I am trying for 3 years now to find a way in how to get a relief job. Will give your book a go , if not , I will pop a question or two … what ever the consiquences.

    lida

    • January 24, 2013 5:32 pm

      Dear Lida,
      Glad you found the page useful, and saddened that you are scared to ask a question. Let me apologize absolutely to anyone who found my responses ‘hush’, that’s certainly never been my intent. Sometimes the internet is a funny thing, and text responses can be open to interpretation with very little context. I do confess to having a somewhat overdeveloped sense of sarcasm, which can occasionally get the better of me, but I do hope that you and others understand that my primary goal here is to give people frank and honest information that I wish had been available to me when I was trying to break into this line of work.
      I do hope that you feel able to ask anything that you want to,
      Yours,
      Nick

  27. lida permalink
    January 25, 2013 5:30 am

    Well done…

  28. John permalink
    February 17, 2013 8:37 pm

    Hello Nick,

    I am looking into what paths I may take to get into humanitarian aid and development work. I am 25 and hold a three year diploma in business administration with a focus in international trade. I was interested in this field but could never really picture myself pursuing a career in it.

    I have been employed with a reforestation company in Canada for the past 5 years where I act as a crew foreman. This has given me experience working in very remote areas living in work camps with only basic daily necessities. I am responsible for the recruitment and management of seasonal employees who replant deforested areas. The job requires frequent problem solving in a fast pace and stressful environment in which I thrive. I am constantly away from home in sometimes horrible environmental conditions. I enjoy the challenges of the job, however need a sense of purpose in what I do and think I may find something in this field that will coincide with my values.

    I have traveled through numerous developing countries in South America and South East Asia without any volunteer experience that would hold any real weight on a resume.

    I have always been interested in international affairs and cultures but have never really been able to find a specific way in which I could turn these passions into a career. I keep focusing on the fact that you generally need some type of specific profession to offer in order to obtain a job. Do you have any suggestions on how I may determine what specific roles in humanitarian aid/development to pursue?

    Thanks for any input you can offer,
    John

    • February 17, 2013 9:40 pm

      John,
      Thanks for your question – first off, please do think about buying the ebook and rating / reviewing it on Amazon – it really helps me keep this site going!
      Commercial issues dealt with, my first impression from what you say is that you have the perfect skill set for a a project management position in relief / development. While there are certainly a lot of jobs out there that require specific skills, a lot of relief work in particular has to do with getting things done in tough environments.
      That said, you lack the crucial experience living and working overseas, and as you suggest, travel doesn’t cut it. There are a couple of potential approaches here – the first is to try to convince a hiring manger in the west to hire you – I think this is a long shot – you’ll be up against a lot of people with more experience than you. The second is to try to get some experience volunteering overseas, while searching for work at the same time. I honestly think that this is going to be easier, although you need to be very careful that you do your homework. You need a place that you’re interested in, that has a good tourist infrastructure, and supports a range of INGOs. When you’re there, you need to do the rounds of all the local and international organizations, get informational interviews, hand out your resume, make yourself useful and volunteer. Make sure you network like crazy and let it be known you’re looking for work. It’s not a sure thing, but it’s the most reliable way I know to get hired.
      Good luck, let us know how it goes,
      Nick

  29. Mariama permalink
    March 1, 2013 12:31 am

    Hi Nick,

    I’ve just read the entire blog and all the responses you’ve posted…. this is just excellent. Also, I’m trying to buy your book on amazon but it seems like it’s only available as kindle edition (I don’t have kindle). It’s a shame as I really wanted to read it. Could you do anything about that?

    Thank you so much for your help and hard work…honestly you’ve just changed my life.

    Mariama.

    • March 1, 2013 8:23 am

      Mariama,
      First of – thanks so much for you kind words.
      OK – the ebook situation – first off – unfortunately it is only available in kindle format, but luckily there are free kindle reader apps for the ipad and most other tablets. I know that’s kind of weak, but the truth is that there isn’t anything in the ebook that isn’t on the website. It’s a more convenient format for off-line reading, but basically the same content.
      Buying the ebook is a way for people who like the site to help me offset some of the costs of maintaining it, which I appreciate a lot!
      Hope you might be inclined to rate or review it on Amazon, sorry not to have better news,
      Nick

  30. Erika Bishoff permalink
    March 1, 2013 11:19 am

    Hi Nick,

    I am currently a junior at my college studying Global Studies with a track on Developmental, Environmental, and Public Health work. I can speak both French and German, not fluently, but I can speak well enough to hold a conversation. I am currently also interning at the Department of Human Resources, Emergency Operations in Baltimore City. So far I have traveled to several places including Germany, Canada, Austria, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, the Carribeans, and Thailand (the only third-world country). I am not sure exactly what I want to when I am done with school but so far I feel like I have a calling to do humanitarian work, or something with the environment. I also have a passion for traveling (preferably to sites of indigenous populations, or third-world countries), and that is something I am set on doing. Having that in mind, it seems like International aid/relief work would be a good fit for me.

    Having that said, what do you think some of my next steps are besides finishing school? What would you advise me to do or look into?

    I would love to join the Peace Corps, but the only thing I am worried about is the fact that I have Chron’s Disease and I am on medication that lowers my immune system. This is a concern, because I would like to volunteer in a third-worrld country, and that may be difficult having a digestive disorder and a supressed immune system.

    • March 1, 2013 11:48 am

      Erika – thanks for writing – please do consider buying or rating the eBook on Amazon – it really helps me offset the cost of running this site!

      Re your two questions – sounds like your first one gets my standard answer of ‘get experience living and working in the kinds of places you think you might like to work’. You need to get out there, do internships, volunteer, and figure out whether this is the kind of work you want to do.

      Secondly – you have a medical question, which, I am afraid I am not qualified to answer. Having said that, I have known many people with different (sometimes serious) medical conditions who work in the relief and development field, sometimes in surprisingly remote conditions. Only you, with advice from your doctor and some common sense, can make the decision about whether your medical condition disqualifies you from any given job. Don’t assume it will until you’ve really shaken that tree, and good luck!
      Nick

  31. abeautifulsimplicity permalink
    March 7, 2013 5:09 am

    Hello Nick,

    My name is Abby from the Philippines. I have a Bachelors Degree in Nursing and a Masters Degree in Global Development and Social Justice. Currently I am working as a University instructor but I want to change career and work in the field of development. I volunteer for Catholic missionaries’ education program for poor children in the Philippines which mainly involves teaching kids in arts, reading and values formation. I tried researching about NGOs in the Philippines but most of them require several years of experience . Is my 4-year volunteer experience enough? Can you give me advice about the next step that I should take? Thank you so much.

    -Abby

    • March 7, 2013 12:46 pm

      Hi Abby -
      Thanks for writing – please do consider buying the ebook if this site is useful to you, or at least rating it on Amazon! That really helps me offset the costs of maintaining the site.
      So – I’m not entirely sure that I understand what kind of NGOs you want to work for – I take it that you mean Philippino based organizations working in the Philippines? If so then that’s not an area that I have a lot of expertise with, but I would have thought that your best bet would be to seek out people who are doing the kinds of jobs that you want to be doing and get informational interviews with them. Network, get yourself known, and build relationships in those organizations.
      Perhaps you can jot me a note with a little more information,
      Good luck!
      Nick

  32. Tatiana permalink
    March 13, 2013 7:09 pm

    okay can you hep me I don’t think a relief organiation is what I am looking for I want to work internationally educating in some capacity whether it be teaching english or teahing healthcare in undeveloped areas. please tell me where I could locate a list of education organizations that pay. I apreciate your help bc i am completely green about this topic. I hve alot to offer ad i want to give but I know my needs and I would not be able to tolerat the conditions you describe above-location matters to me as healthwise tugh i am extremely fit I do not tolerate extreme heat well nor rusti accomoations, I am more of a lotus than a tough shrub:) Thank you for answering and thak you for educating me on the conditions I would have to endure in a true “relief organization”.
    Sincerely,
    Tatiana

    • March 14, 2013 11:37 am

      Hi Tatiana, thanks for your comment. Please do consider rating or buying the ebook on Amazon if this blog has saved you from an inappropriate career choice!
      I do just want to point out that not all development work is carried out in harsh or remote conditions, but totally approve of people making the decision that it’s not a good choice for them.
      To your question about lists of education organizations, I’m afraid that’s outside of my area of expertise. Sorry!
      Nick

  33. Grace permalink
    April 15, 2013 4:08 pm

    Hi Nick!

    My name is Grace and I am a senior in high school trying to figure out what to major in so I can have a stable career in some sort of humanitarian work; whether it be international or within the states. I’ve done some research and have heard conflicting views on if a career in this field requires a bachelors or masters degree. What is your take? Do you think a bachelors degree (in something like sociology or cross-cultural studies) is a solid foundation for a humanitarian aid career?

    Also, I want to say thank you for taking the time to get the information out. Reading over some of your pages have helped me out a lot with questions I was having a hard time finding answers to. I feel even more compelled to pursue this type of work. Keep it up!
    -Grace

    • April 15, 2013 6:16 pm

      Grace,
      Thanks for your kind words – perhaps I’m missing some nuance in your question, but I feel like this question is pretty well trodden ground – is there some aspect of this that isn’t covered clearly here: http://humanitarianjobs.wordpress.com/about/will-graduate-school-help-me-get-my-first-job/ ?
      I do think a bachelor’s degree is pretty much essential, but it’s not enough – you need a solid amount of overseas experience. As to the topic, I think the specific matter much less than getting out to the kinds of places you want to live and work.
      Please do jot me a note and let me know if I missed something in your question,
      Let us know how you do!
      Nick

      • Grace permalink
        April 15, 2013 6:55 pm

        Sorry I hadn’t seen that post! I am definitely planning to get experience in college and after I graduate, maybe something like the Peace Corps. I guess I’ll think more about graduate school down the line if it seems worth it. Thanks again.

  34. Erin permalink
    May 1, 2013 7:13 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I am a case worker at a non profit in Austin, Texas. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a background in both fine arts and education. I am looking to shift into a career where I can both travel and make enough to pay off my absurd amount of student loan debt. I studied abroad in Spain and would love to go back. Do you have any advice?

    Thanks!
    Erin

  35. May 2, 2013 8:56 am

    Hi Erin –
    Without a little more specifics I’m not sure I can help you much – I don’t really have much experience with getting work in places like western Europe, and without having some kind of idea of what you mean by ‘absurd’ it’s hard to give an indication of whether aid work is going to give you the kind of income you need.
    My first thought is that it may not.
    If you want to drop me a line and chat in more detail I’m very happy to.
    Nick

  36. May 6, 2013 11:31 am

    Hi Nick,
    you seem really dedicated with replying to all these posts! I have a masters in architecture, I did an internship with an international cooperation in Asia, and now at an EU institution. However, I don’t enjoy the small scale of work of an architect and always felt I need another masters or a PHD to be a real HR material. I am trying to find out what would be more useful to specialize in, but the answers are not very obvious. I would prefer to work in a governmental sector or some kind of consultancy where I think the conditions are less tough than in the NGOs. Urban planning, water engineering, emergency management, climate change, environmental or energy field…. do you happen to have any insight in what would be a nice addition to an architectural background? Would it be wiser to go into technical field or management/general development studies? I’d appreciate your opinion.

    • May 7, 2013 8:53 am

      Nina,
      Thanks for your comment. Just a little statistic for you – this site got about 10,000 page views last month, and the associated ebook on Amazon has 6 reviews… Just saying – you might like to make that 7 for me…
      Anyway – your question.
      You know, my advice is pretty much always the same… Get out there, spend some time volunteering or interning with the kinds of organizations you want to get a job with, and hang out with the kinds of people who are doing the jobs you want to have in the future. There’s no replacement for spending some time on the ground really getting to know what the business is like. You list a vast range of possibilities, and from that I deduce that you need to spend some time ‘finding your passion’. Most of us in the line of work who are not technical specialists (and even some who are) spend most of their time in the field trying to get things done in tough environments. The skill set that is most in demand is to be able to solve tough problems under pressure in resource scarce environments. I think architecture sets you up well for that, but would encourage you to go out and get your boots dirty before you consider another degree.
      Let us know how you do!
      Nick

  37. Veera permalink
    May 6, 2013 4:34 pm

    Hi Nick,
    I’m a first year undergraduate at university doing a Bachelor’s in Politics with International Relations. So far I have taken all the possible development modules… do you think this is enough to get a placement in some kind of development related organization in my third year? Any other tips on what I should do at university to improve my chances at this? Thanks a bunch :)

    • May 7, 2013 8:48 am

      Veera,
      Thanks for your comment. If you find this blog helpful please do buy the ebook on Amazon, or at least leave a review and rating!
      Without a little more information it’s hard to say, but if you’re looking to get a posting overseas rather than in a developed nation you will usually need some solid overseas work experience or volunteer time.
      Good luck!
      Nick

  38. Erika permalink
    June 23, 2013 2:25 am

    I’m very interested in doing humanitarian work around the world but am only 18 and, of course, do not have a degree. When I research possible organizations it seems you can only apply if you have a degree. My Spanish is good and I know that I could help with the skills I have but I’m wondering what organizations would accept my help without a degree.

    • July 2, 2013 9:58 am

      Hi there Erika – first off – please do buy my ebook on Amazon – or at least review it! That really helps me to offset the costs of running this site!
      OK – working without a degree is not impossible – I know people who have worked their way up by demonstrating their use and ability. It is tough these days though – an undergraduate degree for most people is the bare minimum, a lot of people have graduate degrees, and relief and development is becoming a more technical and structured field.
      Being only 18 is not an absolute impediment, but to be honest, I think the question is what skills do you bring to the table? If you don’t have a degree or a lot of field experience you really need to be able to articulate very clearly what value you add to the situation. You might look at the Peace Corps if you’re in the US – particularly at the programs that integrate with university degrees.
      Good luck – let us know how you do!
      Nick

  39. charlotte permalink
    July 9, 2013 3:08 pm

    Heyyy nick
    That was amazing post , it has really helped get good idea of aid worker i am very grateful.My education for becoming an aid worker is doing business course for two years then going to university to do international development. I know education is important for aid worker but i want to get experience abroad but i haven’t got the money to be able to. i am seeking advice on how to get experience in disaster/relief field if you have suggestions please lets me know.

    Am a 17 years old, living in the uk thank you ^^

  40. Diana permalink
    July 10, 2013 8:44 am

    Hi Nick!

    After reading loads of great information on both your blog as well as the comments and reponses left on your page I am certainly purchasing your ebook! I was wondering if you could help me futher my chances of working for and NGO like Unicef or similar to it. I am a rising Junior in Maryland, double majoring in either political science or public policy (still deciding between the two, any suggestions?) and chinese (I am planning on studying abroad in china during my spring semester). I learned that experience and knowing various languages are very useful in this field of work so ive studied French and chinese and am fluent in Spanish (thanks to my Argentinan and Bolivian parents!). In terms of experience, my freshhman year of college I spent 5 months interning with Save the Children in Ethiopia and realized that developmental work was most definetly my life dream job. Since then, ive volunteered in Costa rica (1 month) and am currently interning once again with Save the children in Bolivia for 2 months. Do you have any advice to further my chances of working in this field? I would love to work as a regional or country director for Save or Unicef. Also, what are my chances of finding a job or at least a paying internship right out of college? (I´ll need a source of income to pay for grad school). Thank you so much for your dedication.

    -Diana

    • July 10, 2013 8:56 am

      Thanks Diana, I appreciate the feedback – it really helps me help defray the costs of this site when people buy the ebook, and review it on Amazon – so thanks for that!

      OK – your questions:
      1. I don’t think it matters whether you major in PolSci or Public Policy. I don’t think that aid agencies care very much about what you study in college (unless you are in a technical field).
      2. Languages. Languages are good. French is awesome for West Africa. The only thing I would say about Chinese and Spanish is that there are not that many expat jobs in the aid world in China, or, increasingly, in the Latin American world. That’s a good thing, largely, but I’d think about whether Chinese is a good language for a career in aid – it certainly could be, but it’s going to put you on a pretty specific track.
      3. Your internships sound great – I hope you’re staying in touch with the people you got to know and really leveraging those relationships.
      4. CD or Regional Director jobs are typically 5-15 years out for most people (depending on the agency and the size of the country), but it’s totally realistic. Finding a paying job is not impossible straight out of college, and you probably know my thoughts about the best places to be when you’re looking!
      Good luck, tell us how you do!
      Nick

  41. Erika Bishoff permalink
    July 11, 2013 5:44 pm

    Hello Nick,

    I know you continuously say that degrees do not really matter as much. However, right now I’m making like a life decision of choosing either Social work or International Studies (concentration on development, health, environment). Does one really suit my dream of traveling abroad better? And in terms of language, right now I know German and French. And, would love to pick up Spanish. Out of the 3 is there a specific language that would be of more use?

    • July 11, 2013 10:09 pm

      Erika –
      So – you know that I continuously say that your degree does not really matter that much, but your question is still ‘what degree should you get?’ Seriously? ;)
      I don’t know what to tell you – I don’t think it matters much – what matters is the overseas experience that you gain, and the contacts you make. But, whatever – you asked me to pick, so I pick International Studies. There. That’s the degree you should get.
      OK – so – you speak German and French – well- French is by far the most useful of the two if you want to work in West Africa, Spanish if you want to work in Latin America (although there are not many jobs for Gringos there these days). Arabic certainly puts you in the running for a lot of challenging jobs – that would be my pick!
      Good luck – let us know how you do!
      Nick

  42. Ellen Maunder permalink
    July 22, 2013 1:50 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Firstly, many thanks for the blog and the book (which I will definitely be purchasing). I am 25 years old female from UK with a first degree (English, Oxford) in humanities and a master’s in International Relations (LSE). Whilst I was studying and living abroad (Chin and Japan) I volunteered for a number of organisations in Tokyo and London, mainly working on refugees advocacy, advice and guidance as well as some fundraising and outreach projects. Due to lack of funds (mainly after many, many, many unpaid internships and voluntary internships), I never managed to actually volunteer in a developing country so I have no first-hand experience of working on development projects. I have actually been working in access to higher education and outreach with young people from deprived areas of inner-city London for the past 2 years which, although really meaningful work,I’ve decided just isn’t what I ultimately wanted to be doing. So I applied , and have been offered a Team Leader Role on a DFID -funded project in Zimbabwe this September which I’m really excited about.

    My question (I promise I have one) is whether or not a 3 month project (working in a rural Zimbabwean community with local volunteers on HIV/AIDS awareness raising) is actually going to be meaningful to employers when it comes to working in this sector? My concern is that it won’t be seen as sufficient experience ‘in-field’ to qualify for a Programme Officer role (which is ultimately what I’d like to do) and that my experience in youth work in the education sector in the UK isn’t really transferable to humanitarian work. I’d be giving up a well-paying job in order to volunteer so I’m a little nervous about my prospects long-term. Any advice you could give would be much appreciated.

    Ellen, London UK

    • July 22, 2013 2:07 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Ellen, and thanks for buying the e-book – it really helps me cover the costs of running this site. If you don’t mind rating it on Amazon that also helps me hugely.
      OK – to your question:
      Three months in Zimbabwe, while it won’t hurt, won’t necessarily make you competitive for international positions on its own. What this will do however is give you the opportunity to make connections and meet people. You can build a network of relationships of people who have seen your work and will vouch for you as reliable and able to get things done. Make sure you tack some days on to your Zim experience to hang out in the capital and network with ngo and donor representatives, hand out your resume. Better yet, plan to stay an extra 3-6 months and volunteer there, make yourself useful and look for work. With a resume that is impressive in many ways, but lacking field experience, I don’t think there’s a better plan out there.
      Good luck – do let us know how it goes!
      Nick

  43. nobutu permalink
    July 24, 2013 7:55 pm

    Hey nick! Thank you for the advice its been very helpful.
    My name is nobu, a student studying development studies and minoring in psychology in zambia. Although I haven’t majored in specific fields for both yet. Firstly, I’m hoping you could give me some advice on which field of development studies to do? I would love to travel and be exposed to new cultures in which ever field I am going to do and I highly doubt that an office job would give me such an oppourtunity. I was considering studying food and relief aid but after reading your blog, I am not quite sure if I can withstand the intense conditions of the job. Secondly, for my psychology minor, I thought health or child psychology. Which one of the two, do you think would be a useful minor with my development studies degree?
    Thirdly would I be able to work abroad or my course only limits me to Africa? would there be need for me to study international development studies too? One other thing does not having a second international language work against you when looking for a job? Is it cardinal that I learn another language? Of the main languages, how do I know which language would be of best help?
    Thanx nobu

    • July 24, 2013 9:51 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Nobu.
      If you’ve read my site, then you know what I think about which degree you should take.
      As to whether you can deal with the demands of the job, that’s a big reason why internships and overseas experience are important – there’s really only one way to tell.
      You ask whether you can work abroad, or only in Africa – well, there are plenty of places that are both abroad and in Africa, but I think your question is whether it’s easy to break out of the expatriate African circuit? It’s certainly possible – I think a lot of Africans stay within the continent because it’s big, and provides a lot of opportunities without going half-way around the world, but there’s no reason why you would have to do that.
      Language matters for certain places – again I address this – French in west Africa, Spanish in Latin America, Russian in the former Soviet world, Chinese for China, and to some extent Arabic are really helpful, otherwise it doesn’t much matter from a recruiting perspective, but never hurts professionally.
      Which one you learn is going to depend on where you want to work.
      Good luck, let us know how you do!
      Nick

  44. Cat KEnnedy permalink
    July 26, 2013 3:41 am

    Hi,
    I’m going into year 13 this year and therefore I need to begin looking a university degree’s however I am unsure what degree to do as the only thing I want to do is to help people any way I can – hopefully by becoming a relief worker. What degree would you suggest would enable me to get into this?
    Thank you,
    Cat

    • July 27, 2013 5:40 am

      Hi Cat – I want to be supportive of your goal, but I’ve actually answered this question several times on the site – feel free to drop me other questions that I have not already answered!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  45. Séamus permalink
    July 30, 2013 11:34 am

    Hi Nick, I have to say fair play to you for giving the attention and reply to the comments left on your site.

    Your book would be something I would be interested in purchasing after recently purchasing a book looking into the UN organisation

    Im 22 now and have completed BSc Education & Training and MA Society & Space. Ideally I would like to be Working as a Field Officer abroad in a development context,possibly with the UN who have UNV internships funded by the Irish Aid opening soon. My downfall is the lack of experience I have abroad. Money obviously being a big factor in that, and I dont really like the concept of fundraising money, other than if solely for the organisation and not for your own expense. I have nearly 3 years experience volunteering in local homeless shelter, which I would consider the humanitarian sector, would this be beneficial to me?
    Also in doing out Cover Letters in regard to development jobs/internships what details should I be putting in, and should I be displaying in depth knowledge of particular areas or keep it simple? Sorry for it ending up being a long winded comment, currently in process of applying for internships and any help would be brilliant if you could

    Kind Regards,

    Séamus

  46. Ruth permalink
    August 5, 2013 4:27 pm

    Hi, I’m 15 years old, and I also would like to be an international aid worker. I already speak French and Spanish, but what i don’t know is what subject should I study in university? What type of diploma will I need?

    • August 6, 2013 1:07 am

      Hi Ruth,
      Thanks for writing. It would be great if you read the site and then please feel free to post if you have a question that hasn’t been dealt with.
      Good luck!
      Nick

  47. Anna Berry permalink
    September 3, 2013 10:11 pm

    Hi Nick!
    I’m a 20 year old student in NZ. I know you’re constantly answering the same questions from so many different people so I have ordered your book! But I have a question for you too. I know I want to work in aid, it’s a life long dream. I’ve always been drawn to travel and have spent time in places like Vietnam, Malaysia and Bali and I plan on volunteering through the organisation Lattitude in Malawi. I know I want to be hands-on and work for an organisation as a nurse, but I wonder how that fits into a series of organisations where paid work seems so focused on administration and project management and co-ordination.

    So I guess my question would be are there jobs for nurses rather than doctors? Where are they and how do I get my hands on them! haha

    Thanks so much for your time and running this page, from what I have read you’re helping aspiring aid workers like myself immensely.

    Anna

    • September 4, 2013 8:03 am

      Hi Anna – thanks for your kind words and question –
      I’m in the rather messy process of changing domains, so if you don’t mind I’m going to move your question over to http://www.humanitarianjobs.info and answer it there!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  48. yaya permalink
    September 29, 2013 5:17 am

    I am still in high school and plan on dedicating my life to helping the world whether it be environmental or humanitarian, I love marine biology but I also love bio-medical engineering and psychology… I have been on humanitarian missions to Ghana, marine conservation expeditions, I am a volunteer with green peace and a local anti-bullying campaign. My problem is I LOVE THEM ALL, I thought that by participating in all of these id find the one that calls my name, but I love all of them. Any advice on what to study or how to figure out which one to dedicate myself to?

    • October 1, 2013 11:10 am

      Hi there Yaya,
      You have a great problem! You need to get out there and meet people who are doing the jobs you’re interested in, do internships, volunteer, and find out more about the realities of these careers! Good luck – let us know how you do!
      Nick

  49. Shiloh permalink
    November 11, 2013 5:12 am

    Love this blog! I’m wondering if you could give me some guidance? I’m a 24 year old student (Junior) in College double majoring in Linguistics and Russian. I’ve been on humanitarian missions before-mostly teaching English in Russia and different parts of Asia. I love LOVE children-seeing them learn, I love it when you can see them transform into healthy happier kids, it’s all great- rough but great. My question is where do I go from here? Would a graduate degree be the best thing for me as far as applying with different relief programs or are they mostly looking for experience? Any help would be great!

    • November 11, 2013 11:45 am

      Hi Shiloh,
      I think I’d probably point you to the article on this site about grad school for my advice on that!
      Good luck!
      Nick

  50. James Buchanan permalink
    November 11, 2013 11:40 am

    Hi James -
    Thanks – you know – you don’t need a Kindle to read the book – there is a free app for PCs, Mac, iDevices etc that will let you read it!
    If you’ve read the site then you pretty much know my response on this question – I think it’s all about relevant experience. While you may not have money for travel right now, I think getting experience living and working overseas is vital to a career in this line of work. There are various ways you might get that, not all of which require you fund travel.
    Good luck!
    Nick

    Hi Nick

    Great article, thank you for the information. I have looked at your book on Amazon, however unfortunately I do not have a Kindle.

    I just wondered if you could give me a little advice. I live in Scotland and I was a medical student for 3 years but I left the course after deciding I didn’t want to be a doctor. I got a basic degree for the first 3 years of the course – BSc Medical Science – and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life.

    I’m extremely passionate about wanting to make the world a better place and help people in whatever way I can but I don’t know what steps I should be taking or if a career in international aid is even feasible for me. I do not have any spare money to travel places and all I have is my BSc in Medical Science. In your opinion, would there be any opportunities for me to pursue in this field?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Kind regards

    James

  51. Kat permalink
    November 16, 2013 5:16 pm

    Hi Nick…I have so many questions about how I could help people around the world going through all sorts of difficulties but that will be for another day…today,let me just say…you are doing an amazing job!Thank you, for being human in character.

  52. deidra lopez permalink
    November 18, 2013 9:38 am

    I’m very interested in trying out a career in the field. I would like to start almost immediately. I only have limited experience in the US. But, I believe my drive will make up for that. I have been doing research but I just want to get started I think the best way to do something like this is just to do it, after a fair amount of research of course. I feel the need to do it I can’t say it any other way. Hope this comment reaches somebody.

  53. Hannah permalink
    November 21, 2013 7:51 am

    Hello Nick, Im Nigerian, live in nigeria and I studied communication in uni so right afterwards, I got a job at a tv station. As interesting as that is, it’s just not fulfilling if you know what I mean. Anyway, I check online for ngo jobs all the time, i think im even obsessing sometimes but they all require some ngo experience and basically no entry level position. Its not Your country where there are programs you can volunteer for, they always seem to need qualified candidates all the time. Now for someone like me, it becomes a problem mainly because the nigerian system is not well structured. Please I need your advise. I really want to work for an Ngo but all the openings never seem to match my qualification and sometimes I apply anyway but they never reply. Im thinking of getting a masters degree as soon as i can afford it so please, How else can I get in?

  54. Walters permalink
    December 9, 2013 7:48 pm

    I am a Cameroonian presently in Korea on studies.I own a master’s degree in N G O studies and presently pursuing a P H D in Community education.Before living my country for further studies,I have been working with local N G Os.I just won the US lottery so I plan to stop my P H D program and relocate to US.Would it be easy for me to find a relief job there with my MA in N G O studies?
    Accept my best regards,
    Walters.

  55. laker gloria permalink
    December 19, 2013 12:35 pm

    am totally in shock at the misconceptions most people have of Africa. As an african it kind of amuses me to see the

  56. December 30, 2013 10:03 pm

    This might sound rude, but I’m very irritated. I want to go to the worst of the worst places and do humanitarian work. I don’t care about hours, conditions, type of work or the danger. I can’t find one organization that brings volunteers on board without thousands of dollars in their pocket for “safe home bases”or whatever they spend it on. I care less about a home base, I’ll sleep in a damn tent! I’m sorry, I just need help. I truly just want to go and help people, but I can’t save up that amount of money. Can you direct me to anybody looking for volunteer humanitarian workers where you don’t have to spend 4,000$ to help people. Thanks

    My email: SethKrattiger@yahoo.com

    • December 31, 2013 11:35 am

      Seth, thanks for the comment – I feel your pain, but am actually going to take your question and reply in a post, as it’s kind of involved!
      Nick

      • Seth Krattiger permalink
        February 4, 2014 11:51 am

        Thanks Nick,
        Where can I find this post at? Also, sorry for being so upfront. It’s just, I’ve wanted to do humanitarian work for awhile. I volunteer here in my home town, but whenever I try to go abroad I get turned down. It’s almost as if humanitarian work is like golfing. Got to be rich. That sounds rude, but it’s true. I’m not looking for a free ride. I’m just simply looking for work.

        Thanks

      • February 5, 2014 9:44 am

        Seth,
        The field is very competitive, perhaps especially at the entry level. Without seeing your resume its hard to see why you’re getting turned down, but my suspicion is that you don’t have much field experience, and that you’re getting beaten out by people you do.
        Your comments on class privilege are not unusual – unpaid internships and volunteer positions are very common ways of getting a break, and people with more financial security are definitely better able to do that.
        Good luck!
        Nick

  57. Sabennaba permalink
    January 9, 2014 9:07 am

    Hi Nick,
    Do you have any ideas about how a musician might get into humanitarian aid work in Southern Africa? Or how a musician living in the US might prepare himself to become a good candidate for this kind of work? There is a good chance that I will be moving to South Africa in a couple of years to pursue an advanced degree and my partner, a successful musician with no college degree, will be coming with me. He is interested in getting into aid work, but a degree is a prerequisite for most organizations we have researched thus far. He has other skills in addition to music, including building and remodeling work, and he would like to work with children–he has been especially inspired by UNICEF’s projects. Should he think about finishing school (as he has a couple of years worth of community college credits under his belt), at the very least, or can he bulk up his experience with extensive volunteer work prior to our departure?
    Thank you!

    • January 15, 2014 9:34 am

      I haven’t forgotten about this question – I’m working on tracking down a friend of mine who is a musician who has been working in Afghanistan to write a guest post since this is really outside my area of expertise!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  58. Sarah permalink
    January 9, 2014 2:06 pm

    Hi Nick
    i’ve 24 years, i’m from Algeria, i finished my study “master in financial sciences”, i can use the IT very good, i speak 3 language,…..i want To work in this feild cuz i loved sooooooooooooo much but dn’t know HOW?!!! because there’s not relief agencies in my country !!!!!
    can u help me???

    • January 15, 2014 9:33 am

      Hi Sarah,
      I have to say that this isn’t really my area of expertise – I would suggest that you look at Voluntary Service Overseas, and look at neighboring countries that might have more established relief and development infrastructure.
      Good luck,
      Nick

  59. Jennifer permalink
    January 30, 2014 7:42 pm

    Hello Nick!

    I loved reading your article! My name is Jennifer and I have a dual degree in Psychology and Religious Studies. I have lived in South Korea teaching ESL for three years and was able to volunteer in an orphanage there and I am currently volunteering with the Red Cross in Arizona. I have always wanted to do humanitarian work and make it a career, not just something I volunteer for from time to time. I am currently looking for employment; what advice to you have for me? Anything would help!

    • January 31, 2014 8:13 am

      Hi Jennifer,
      Glad you liked the article – I would suggest you read the rest of the site, which is pretty much my advice on this issue – if you have a more specific question, I’d be happy to take a swing!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  60. Bianca permalink
    February 3, 2014 6:55 pm

    Hi Nick,
    for a long time I wanted to be a pilot but after a year of studying in business and environmental management at university I have changed my mind. I would like to work in international development so to focus on the area of development more I am changing to a bachelor of Social Science (majoring in development) this year. I know I want to work as an ‘aid worker’ but I’m not sure what to specialise … like I know I have an interest in the environment and economics but I can envisage a job that combines all of these things. Just wondering if you have any ideas or links I could have a look at?
    Thanks,
    Bianca

    • February 7, 2014 10:19 am

      Hi there Bianca, did you read the post on this on the site? Take a look, and let me know if you have a follow-up question – thanks!
      Nick

  61. February 3, 2014 9:22 pm

    Hey!! Very soon i will be an enrolled nurse, is this a good attribute to have to be hired in international aid work?? Also, do i have to start in volunteer work before i can move to a paid position?

    Thankyou!!! Much respect to you and your co-workers :-)

    Samantha.

    • February 7, 2014 10:20 am

      Hi there Samantha, I need to get something up about medical specific opportunities, but essentially yes, nurses are in demand for international postings – you might want to check out MSF, ICRC, and IMC as starting points.
      You may have to volunteer, but there are certainly paid positions available. Check out REDR as well.
      Nick

  62. Rich Wild permalink
    February 9, 2014 2:56 am

    Hi Nick,

    I am just about to finish a 3 year International Relations BSc degree. I am very interested in working in NGOs in the field. I have volunteered in Zambia and Tanzania, each for a month at a time over previous summers, and would love to become a humanitarian worker. Before applying for these jobs I want to boost my criteria in order to have a greater chance in being accepted, perhaps with a year out to work on this. What would you suggest I do now in order to give myself the best chance?

    Thanks,

    Rich

    • February 10, 2014 9:07 am

      Hi there Rich – this site is sort of my accumulated advice on this topic – the most important thing is to get field experience under your belt ! Good luck,
      Nick

  63. February 10, 2014 11:03 pm

    I’m looking for any humaniterian aid organization based in Nairobi Kenya. Can you kindly find me one to work with during my part time.

    • February 11, 2014 9:06 am

      Hi Michael,
      I regret that I really can’t.
      Nick

  64. February 12, 2014 4:48 pm

    Hi, my name is Emma and I am a sophomore in high school. And i’m trying to figure out what i would like to do in the future because it seems everyone knows what they want to do except me. I love traveling, meeting new people, doing community service, working with kids, and well i came across international aid workers and seems very intriguing. I was curious about what kind of jobs do aid workers do/ what type of jobs do agencies look for. I’m not exactly sure how it works, and I just wanted to see if this is something possible for my future, thank you(:

    • February 12, 2014 4:53 pm

      Hi Emma – thanks for your question – did you read the site? Perhaps you have a more specific question for me!
      Thanks,
      Nick

  65. February 12, 2014 5:38 pm

    i clicked on a link that only led to this article and hadn’t looked at the rest of the website, oops, but i will let you now if i have more specific questions, thank you

  66. March 5, 2014 1:15 am

    Sorry Nick, I don’t have questions since the informations that you provide are clear, excellent job, I admire people like you assisting others. That’s good. Ok, ok, I will buy your book and i will rate it;)
    Safe

  67. Brendan Mill permalink
    March 5, 2014 1:52 am

    I was on a diatribe and was rudely cut by my phone and a wrong button. (took a bit of searching to get back) he he. I was trying to say that as my son gets older I can go where I have actually wanted to for a long time. .. as long as I can still put in for my boy at home. Help me out in the right way to apply and add myself to the skill set I know I can bring. logistics, trade experience, people skills and I don’t care where I sleep…or how.
    he he.

  68. Jose Coco permalink
    March 11, 2014 6:05 am

    Hi there,

    I am bilingual English Spanish 26yo male from Spain currently living in Colombia. Have experience in community projects run by my-self and locals from Uganda, Africa (carried out in situ) and a master’s degree on sustainable development. I really want to find a job on humanitarian aid, Any suggestions? Don’t mind having to move to the end of the world.
    Many thanks, great website.
    Jose Coco

    • March 11, 2014 2:02 pm

      Hi there Jose –
      Thanks for your post – I’m afraid I don’t have any specific questions – I’m really not able to respond to questions like this that are very specific to your situation. If you have something more general that might be of broader interest I’d love to take a swing at it!
      Good luck,
      Nick

  69. Jonathan permalink
    March 16, 2014 2:02 pm

    Nick,

    Thanks for the work you put in for this site, the information is great! I have become increasingly interested in humanitarian aid work since I left the army back in 2008. During that time I deployed for 15 months and learned well what it means to live in austere environments, while I also saw first hand how hard people in third world nations can have it and how much they often suffer. Since then I’ve had a growing desire to eventually work in humanitarian aid. Recently, I completed a Masters in Economics and I have begun to look around for opportunities in the aid world. However, my wife has epilepsy and I am afraid that will be a no-go for us. Can you shed any light on working in the aid sector when you have family members with disabilities? Furthermore, we do not have children and would be interested to find work together. Certainly some environments would be ruled out for her, but in general is their aid work and organizations that will work with her epilepsy so ensure she had access to her medication? Finally, if I alone find work, is it common for these organizations to provide decent medical coverage for the family?

    • March 16, 2014 2:11 pm

      Hi Jonathan,
      Thanks for the feedback!
      So – first off, epilepsy is not necessarily a problem for finding work. Not all jobs are in hazardous environments, and I’ve seen people with serious disabilities perform admirably in environments that are. From what you say I’m going to assume that her illness is controlled by medication – that’s usually not an issue in anything but the most extreme environments. People are often on medication, be it anti-malarials, heart medication etc, most organizations are set up to be able to deal with this kind of thing.
      Secondly – dependent spouses – this depends very much on the job (is it relatively senior and in a place where dependents are acceptable from a security perspective), and the agency. Most of the larger US and European agencies provide for dependents in many cases, but you need to check on an agency-by-agency and job-posting by job-posting basis.
      As an example, the benefits offered by Mercy Corps here give an example of what a mid-to-large size US organization offers expatriates.

      http://www.mercycorps.org/careers/compensation-and-benefits

      Hope that helps,
      Nick

  70. KINGA permalink
    March 23, 2014 5:33 pm

    Nick,
    I completed Master degree: in field of Environmental Engineering with major in Alternative Energy Sources in Civil Engineering. Currently I work in regasification plant at construction site as a civil engineer. I would like to connect my future to humanitarian engineering. My dream is to take a part in projects which main purpose is to improve life quality of people who have been struck by disaster or misfortune. Currently I search on line articles, website where I can learn more about humanitarian engineering. At the beginning I am planning start as a volunteer and step by step get to know new environment. Due to fact that I do not have any experience in humanitarian engineering I can face difficulties in finding a job. I hope my involvement and determination will help me to fulfill my dreams. I would be grateful for any advice in following subject. How to start? Where I should search advertisement?
    Thank you in advance for help,

    • March 24, 2014 10:42 am

      Hi Kinga,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m unable to give personal advice in the comments – I simply don’t know enough about your situation to be of much help. That said, I do hope you find this site (which is my distilled advice for people wanting to get into the field) helpful, and if you have specific questions please do post them! Good luck with your search,
      Thanks,
      Nick

  71. Jorick permalink
    March 25, 2014 7:37 pm

    Hi! I am a public highschool teacher for 11 years and a community organizer since college…I find it limiting my true passion to just work in the classroom…will you help me find a meaningful career that could satisfy both my teaching and social inclination? Thanks!!!

  72. Kate permalink
    March 26, 2014 11:52 am

    I am in my senior year of high school, about 3 months away from graduation, and I am interested in doing some relief and development work for a few years while I decide what degree to peruse. I am not too concerned about money, though a small pay would be helpful for saving for school, etc. Do you have any advice where I should start?

    • March 26, 2014 12:04 pm

      Hi there Kate – as a matter of fact, I do! It’s all collated conveniently on this site – if you have a more specific question please do feel free to post!
      Nick

  73. james toop permalink
    April 12, 2014 12:29 am

    I have been thinking of this kind of job but I have a dog I’m very fond of and would hate to get rid of are there ways to take a pet with you?

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