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Too late to become and aid worker?

January 12, 2016

Q. Hi Nick,
I’ve been applying for jobs all morning and just seen your blog when I was at breaking point, so thank you 🙂 It’s great to read your advice as this is an area I’m pretty new to. I studied zoology at uni, but found that I had an interest in development through my housemate who studied politics; however it was too late to change degrees. I decided it was too late to go into development.
I traveled to India for three months with a charity a few years later and released that this area is 100% where I want to work. I’m trying to get experience now, I volunteered here in the Uk with the fundraising team of an African charity and have just come back from four months in a Team leader role in Bangladesh, But my question is where do I go from here? Every job specification I look at wants 7 years experience, a masters and lots of languages. I also really, really want a hands on kind of job working in the field as opposed to an office job in the sector, maybe as an aid worker, do you have any advice what I could look for next?
Thank you

A. Dear Ally,

First of all, congratulations on your career decision – getting clarity on what you want to do with your life is a wonderful thing. First things first – your zoology degree. I wouldn’t worry about that, as I’ve said many times I don’t think what degree you have is very relevant (except for medics, engineers, accountants and the like). What is important (and it sounds like you’ve made progress here) is getting field experience.

So the problem, if I’m reading it right, is that there is a mis-match between the experience requirements of the jobs you’re interested in and the experience on your resume. There are a couple of things I would say – first off, sometimes those experience and education requirements are aspirational, and sometimes they are designed simply to reduce the number of applicants recruiters have to screen. You do most likely need to build your resume with some more experience living and working in the developing world, unless you have more than the 7 or so months you mention, but you likely don’t need 7 years to get your first job.

I think you need to do a couple of things – the first is to get serious about networking in this sector. You need to get to know the people who are hiring for these jobs, and you also need to think about either taking internships, volunteer positions, or looking for jobs from the field rather than from the UK. Many many people get their first break by bypassing HQ recruiting altogether and just showing up. Note that its very important to do this only in places that have established tourist infrastructure and are not in a state of collapse, but it can be a great way to get hired.

Good luck!


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One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul V. Hebert permalink
    January 12, 2016 9:32 am

    Just a quick comment on what Nick has advised. I worked for over 30 years in Development and humanitarian work for UN and NGOs. Nick’s advice is perfect. Chose a few areas where you might like to work and where there is a lot going on. Check out if you need help on that. Then network as suggested by Nick and go to the field. I brought on most interns who came to my office looking for internships and to help out. It sometimes took time, but persistence pays off. I do feel that once you have gotten some experience in the field you will know where to direct your career, then will be the time to go on to graduate school to get additional qualifications and where you will make tons of new contacts for the future.

    All the best,


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