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Is age a barrier to getting a job in relief and development?

September 22, 2015

Q. Hi. I am a 40 year old worker in software development working in the financial industry in the UK. I have been considering this type of work for a number of years now mainly due to the reason that I’m looking for work that aligns more to my beliefs and motivations. I have worked in IT in a variety of different roles, but I have never felt satisfied with my work nor have I felt that I’m actually making a difference to peoples lives. I volunteer as a Scout Leader on a weekly basis and the satisfaction that something you have organised has made a difference to peoples lives. I want to move into this role as a career. My question would be would my age be a barrier to moving into a career of this sort? My ideal role would be to work out in the field as this sort of work is more suited to me.


A. Hi David, thanks for your question. There’s good news and bad news unfortunately David – first off the good news is that 40 is not too old to be an aid worker. In general the age of people in front-line jobs in the most unstable places tends to skew younger. I think there are a few reasons for this – people in their 20s and 30s have fewer responsibilities, are less likely to have stable relationships and families, and tend to have a higher tolerance for risk. That said, agencies crave people with a little more experience and gravitas in these areas, and welcome people with a few grey hairs. In a lot of the cultures where we work having a few wrinkles is an advantage – community leaders and elders often find it hard to relate to 20 year olds as representatives of agencies.

The down-side is that when you have those entanglements it can be more difficult to get the essential field experience you need to get hired. I think you will want to focus on building your professional network and perhaps leveraging your IT skills to do some work or training in that area and build a reputation.

Good luck,



One Comment leave one →
  1. September 22, 2015 12:04 pm

    Hi Nick

    I have recently received my masters degree in development management at University of Agder, Norway. I have extensive experience in management in private and civil society organizations in developing countries. I have not work experience in Norwegian context and Since last month i sent more than 20 emails with adverted position or open applications. I even tried to land an internship position in research institute and INGOs and yet i have not yet received an offer. or progressed into interview. How would you define this problem and what is your suggestions?

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