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.
OK – a quick break from our usual diet of relief and development questions to bring you the most fun I’ve had in a long time. On the occasions when you’re based in Geneva, New York, London or DC you’ll want an exciting and practical way to get around. Electric longboards have reached the sweet-spot of battery and motor technology, and mine has been my go-to commuter vehicle for a month now.
Q. Hello Nick!
I find this blog very helpful. I have a heart for relief effort. I am 24 years old. I spent 3 months in cambodia teaching english, teaching villagers the importance of clean water and served in an orphange. I spent a total of 2 years in the Philippines getting training and interning doing character development with college students. I have graduated from 2 mission training schools, both with a christian organization. I was a volunteer I did fundraising for those experiences.
I have a few questions for you. I am currently living state side and I feel like i dont have any options. I feel stuck. The reason being is one I dont have a college education every time I do research I find that I need a bachelors degree and two I had a negative experience in the Philippines. I realized its more than just showing up its about having a skill to offer to people and organizations.
My first question is is it possible to get a job in relief work with out college education? Two does my resume from what I told you count as field experience? Will that help at all with me getting a job?
Thanks for listening,
A. Hi Paul!
Thanks for the question – it sounds like you’ve had a fascinating first look at the relief and development sector. You don’t mention exactly what your ‘negative experience’ in the Philippines is, but my suspicion is that it has to do with realizing that development is a complex and time consuming activity. It is certainly more than ‘showing up’, and you need to bring something to the table that isn’t available in the local context. Most development expatriates are either experts in their field, or have substantial management experience over a number of years.
So – to get to your first question, while it is certainly possible to get a job without a bachelors degree, you’re at a huge disadvantage. With many positions these days requesting advanced degrees and several years experience you’re going to need to compensate for the lack of a degree with some pretty serious other credentials.
Secondly, from what you’ve written it looks like you have about three months of field experience. That’s a good start, but it’s not generally enough. I would seriously look into the Peace Corps if I were you, bearing in mind that 90% of those positions do require a degree.
The Wall Street Journal is running an interview with Kurt Tjossem, IRC’s Regional Director for the Horn and East Africa here. Learn about his story, and what to pack for the road.
I thought I’d update you and your readers on my situation so that they always remember that their dreams of getting an international development job CAN come true!
After 20 years of being a Canadian banker and 10 years of dreaming of working overseas, I’m finally living my dream and it took a lot of your advice to get me there.
1) Focus on a skill that is needed to grow organizations.
For me it was finance, but experience and education in logistics, procurement, program design and human resources are all in high demand.
2) Get some volunteer experience.
For me it was a month long posting in India with Grameen Bank USA’s “Bankers Without Borders” program, but organizations such as AfID (Accounting for International Development) and Peace Corps prove that you can survive and thrive overseas.
3) Work your network.
Although I hunted through job boards galore, my chance finally came from a referral by a colleague of mine. Make sure people know you are looking and make sure to take the time to listen to everyone that has a story to tell.
My dream job came with an organization called One Acre Fund (www.oneacrefund.org) and now I’d love to pay it forward and help some of your readers get a shot at their dreams. We have almost 50 job openings available right now for postings in East Africa and we need early stage professionals in a whole range of skill sets. Maybe we can be your first step to an amazing new career!
Thanks again for all the time, effort and wisdom you put into this blog, Nick…awesome work!
Q. Hey Nick,
I am a recent architect graduate, I would like to get into relief and development and it need not be related to architecture. Is there any way I can either volunteer or start as a fresher in any of the conflict countries (the current refugee crisis or Africa )? I would like to help them in any way possible.
I am 23, Indian and a freelancer after graduating.
A. Hi Vishnu,
Thanks for the question, and congratulations on your architecture degree! First off, I don’t know a lot about the job market in India, and what kind of opportunities there are for you to gain experience overseas. That said that is going to be one of the major issues. Even though you clearly have experience of the developing world, recruiters are going to want to see that you can function in environments and cultures other than your own. I believe that the VSO program is open to you, and I would encourage you to check that out, but to get hired you’re going to need to show some overseas experience.
As to your architecture training, I think the skillets of project, budget, and contractor management are really relevant, but there are very few people working as architects in the aid world.