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March 13, 2012

This site is about getting your first job as a humanitarian aid worker. Whether you want to run refugee camps, micro-credit programs or health programs, this is my personal opinion (not my employer’s) about ways to make the transition to international relief and development work.

If you find this site at least as useful as a coffee and a bagel, and wonder how you can possibly thank me, please consider buying my e-book on Amazon! Getting your first job in relief and development. It also helps me to recover some of the costs of hosting this site when people review the e-book – thanks!

My take on getting a job as a humanitarian aid worker is organized by chapters (on the right-hand side under the heading Book chapters) – and is supposed to be read top-to-bottom more or less like a book. Book reviews and other pieces are posted below. Find out more about this blog here.

Please read the disclaimer, and understand that this line of work is not risk free. You need to do your own research, make your own decisions, and take responsibility for them.

If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my new Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

If you have questions please do send them either by email or in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them or find someone who can. I also offer individual coaching services for people who have in-depth questions about their particular situation, want feedback and support with resumes and cover letters, or want interview coaching and critique. To learn more about that see my career coaching page.We answer phones at a relief org, and we direct almost all of our requests for informational interviews to this resource. It's an honest, clear summary of what you need in order to work in international relief. Thanks for this great reference.

The problem with “I’ll go anywhere, do anything”.

November 25, 2016

Q. Hi Nick,

I don’t know if this is the right place but I would be very much interested in humanitarian aid in all aspects of it. I have a variety of skills I’ve picked up in my life and can pretty much be suited anywhere. My main goal is to help the less fortunate people. I am 25 Years old male and would do anything, even be sanctioned where no one wants to go. Put me in the worst of the worst situations, I can help. Not really into the whole salary/ wages thing.

A. Hi! Unfortunately you don’t leave a name, but thanks for writing. I get quite a lot of these kinds of questions, and don’t usually get a chance to respond, but this one is sort of the platonic ideal of this enquiry.

Firstly, a significant number of readers seem to think that I am a recruiter for aid agencies – to be clear, I’m not. I can’t put you anywhere I’m afraid.

Secondly, to the issue of skills. It’s a shame that you don’t mention what the variety of skills you have are, as that’s kind of critical. Skills like project management, engineering, nursing, financial management, staff development, negotiation, logistics etc are in demand in these lines of work, but recruiters will want to know what particular skills you bring to the table.

I know why you mention that you will ‘do anything’, but strangely that’s not an attitude most recruiters appreciate. I would encourage you to cultivate a pitch that show recruiters that you understand the environment and job that you are applying for, and know what kinds of roles you will be most suited to. That kind of self-awareness will encourage recruiters to believe that you know what you’re letting yourself in for. The same goes for the places ‘no one wants to go’.

On the face of it you would think that most organizations would appreciate you not being ‘into the whole salary/wages thing’, but I think putting it like that might be another red-flag to a recruiter. It indicates either that you are independently wealthy (which is fine, but perhaps not the assumption that they will make) or that you lack judgment.

I would really encourage you at this point to look for opportunities to spend some time living and working overseas in the kinds of environments that you’re interested in getting a job, perhaps volunteering or interning, and honing your ideas about what, specifically, you’re like to be doing.

Good luck!


Job posting from Oxfam, Humanitarian Programme Manager Malawi

November 23, 2016

Humanitarian Programme Manager (INT3011)

Shaping a stronger Oxfam for people living in poverty.


Oxfam is a leading, global development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty. Oxfam works directly with communities and we seek to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them and to work with others to overcome poverty and suffering.
Oxfam is currently working in the following district: Lilongwe, Mulanje, Balaka, Phalombe, Kasungu and Mzimba South. We are engaging in direct and indirect service provision through our local partners, consortium with International NGO’s in Development programming and humanitarian activities.

Job Purpose:

The Humanitarian Program Manager will be expected to lead Oxfam’s humanitarian response, monitoring, evaluation and contextual analysis of the EFSVL, WASH and Protection/Gender situation in Malawi and to design and manage the implementation humanitarian projects in response to emerging needs.

Contract Length: 6 Months fixed term, December 1st 2016 to June 30th 2017.

Location: Lilongwe, Malawi.

To Apply :–int3011/5043/description/

The Great Food Experiment

October 30, 2016

Bear with me – it’s rare indeed that I use this platform to plug something unrelated to relief and development jobs, but this is something I’ve been doing in my ‘other’ career! It would help me out if you were able to take a look at this video I shot for a local magazine and ‘like’ it on their YouTube channel!

Hey – you might even like it! Thanks!


Surviving violent environments?

October 10, 2016

So, I was questioning some life-choices this month as I pulled out my books relating to security in violent environments. I thought I’d give you a run-down (in no particular order) on my favorite guides to not getting murdered, kidnapped, or have your day ruined in some other way.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-10-40-amOperational Security Management in Violent Environments – Humanitarian Practice Network

The revised (2010) edition of the classic ‘GPR 8’ is the standard manual for INGO security in the field. It’s heavily policy focussed, but should give you a good idea of how organizations manage safety and security strategies, and what to expect from an organization that you might be working for. It does contain some useful tips on personal security as well. You can download the PDF free from the HPN website – I couldn’t find any print copies at reasonable prices, although there are always tons of them kicking around INGO offices.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-08-08-amStay safe – The International Federation’s guide to a safer mission – IFRC

Another classic work, this time from the IFRC, who have a slightly different take to most agencies. This is a pretty good mix of theory and personal safety tips, again a free download.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-57-57-amHow to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide for Dangerous Places – Rosie Garthwaite

While it focusses on some of the most extreme cases, this is a very practical book, with a lot of advice for independent travelers and people wanting more information on personal security. It’s an interesting read that I would recommend to anyone regardless of their travel plans.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-58-39-amCome Back Alive – Robert Young Pelton

While some of the content in this one is hyperbolic, some of it inaccurate, and some of it not relevant to prospective aid workers, it has enough useful tips to make it onto my recommendation list.


I’ll leave you with a nice BBC article that is focussed more on journalists here, and please let me know if there are other books or resources that should be on the list, and stay safe out there!

Ask your medical questions!

September 20, 2016

No – not about your health – I’ve lined up an interview with a recruiter from Doctors Without Borders next week, and this is your chance to ask them anything you want about volunteering, working, and anything else about medical organizations in humanitarian aid!

Put your questions as comments to this post, and I’ll post the interview next week!

Pay and conditions in relief and development

September 14, 2016

Q. Hi Nick

I have a few questions.

My first one is how much is the average salary? Could I support a family off that money?

My second question is whether it is a full time job?

Lastly, do you get to choose where you want to work, or is it assigned?

A. Hi there – and thanks for the questions!

First. I have no idea how to calculate what an ‘average’ salary in this line of work is. It varies hugely depending on whether you are a volunteer or paid staff, UN, NGO or contractor, local or international, etc, etc. That said. I’m going to give a ballpark of what a US or UK expatriate is going to make working for a medium to large UK or US organization. Project managers might be making anywhere from $25-$35k, while senior managers might be making anywhere from $50k-north of $100k. This is exclusive of any other health / housing benefits.

Second – most field based jobs and most HQ jobs are full time.

Lastly, in most organizations you can, to some extent, choose to apply for where you want to work. That said, there is an informal hierarchy, and more competition for more desirable posts. As an entry level job-seeker you really have to go where the jobs are.

Hope that helps!


Job posting: Field Director

September 6, 2016

From time to time I get organizations wanting to post positions here, and I’m happy to pass them on. Please note that I have no personal experience with this organization and have not vetted this ad in any way!

Field Director, Team Leader, Greece

Project Hope 4 Kids is a non – governmental, humanitarian organization working to help refugees by creating sustainable projects in the field as well as gathering and distributing aid to the displaced populations in Greece.

Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than at any time since World War II. When the EU borders closed in March 2016, this caused 55,000+ refugees to be stranded in Greece for an indefinite period of time. Thousands and thousands are now living and waiting in government run military camps throughout Greece. Project Hope 4 Kids is providing much needed relief in one of these camps in Greece. We have been working in this particular camp full time since mid – June 2016 where we provide an art therapy program and daily activities for the 200+ children in the camp as well as help run the school program for the children by partnering with the teachers in the camp and teaching the English lessons on a day to day basis.

We are now looking for a full time Field Director and Team Leader for this camp in Greece. Positions of this kind are competitive and hard to come by. This is a tremendous way to obtain hands on field experience in a dynamic and ever changing environment and can lead to amazing opportunities for career growth. You will be working directly in the field and will obtain the experience of a lifetime. We offer a small monthly stipend for this position. If you meet the criteria below and you are passionate, strong, a self starter, determined and most importantly have an immense compassion for the refugee crisis, then please apply by emailing your experience + resume to Erin @

We are also very interested in applicants who would like to do their practicum or internship with us. Project Hope 4 Kids will work closely with your University program to make sure your objectives and goals are met and at the same time give you direct, hands on field experience that is crucial for advancement in this type of field.

Job Description:

  • Capacity to understand and carry out our projects by discovering, researching and continuing to improve our focuses in our camp by working cohesively within the camp along with other key organizations and the military.
  • Teach and instruct our school program in partnership with the teachers
  • Coordinate the day to day art activities with the children
  • Continue the art program for the children by showing strong leadership skills and the ability to take on numerous tasks simultaneously
  • Work alongside and support and empower the residential teachers by providing them resources and teaching the english classes on a daily basis
  • Involve and inform local authorities about the activities and insure all projects are in line with national regulations.
  • Be able to show through weekly reports and photographs the success or improvements that are needed in our projects

Field Director, Team Leader, Greece

• Supervise, train and develop incoming volunteers Qualifications:

  • Undergraduate degree required from a University
  • 2+ month commitment
  • Prefer a Masters or entering the Masters field in humanitarian, public health or crisis work or related field.
  • Be able to show documented results related to the positions responsibilities
  • Knowledge about own leadership and skills
  • Fluency in English, both written and verbal. Knowledge or fluency in additional languages is an advantage.
  • Demonstrated behavior that is professional, ethical, and responsible
  • Ability to perform a variety of tasks, often changing assignments on short notice with little to no direction and be able to manage a very stressful environment.
  • Start Date October 10th approximately

    For additional information about Project Hope 4 Kids, you can find us on Facebook @ “ProjectHope4Kids”.

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