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Transitioning to aid work from a military background

January 1, 2016

Q. Dear Nick,

I was wondering if you might have any advice for me, and if you’ve already answered this then I apologize, seeing as how I’ve just found your site. I recently got out of the Army, I’ve served a combat tour in Afghanistan and I was wondering if that would count in any significant way towards experience in the field? I wish that I could say that I have more to offer than security, though I am preparing to take an EMT class this coming fall, but I was a combat engineer while in the military, and not the kind that built things but the kind that dealt with explosives. I would definitely be interested in hearing any advice you have for me, I’d love to be able to actually hire on as a relief worker and continue to try and make a real difference in the world, if at all possible.

Sierra Mike

A. Hi there,

It’s always tough transitioning from one career to another, but perhaps particularly moving from the military into the humanitarian world. It’s not that they are not a good many ex-military in the INGO world, it’s just that the organizational cultures are very different.

The good news is, even though there’s not much call for blowing things up in the civilian world* the kinds of skills that you likely picked up (attention to detail, analytics, teamwork, problem solving under pressure etc) are in high demand.

The key, as ever, is to network, make sure you are communicating your skills in ways that hiring mangers understand, and make sure that you leverage your overseas experience effectively.

Good luck,


* the one big exception to this is de-mining. One of the most important civilian de-mining organizations in the world was founded by ex-military engineers of your sort.

If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my 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.

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