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Pathways to my first job in development?

January 17, 2017

Q. Hi Nick, I recently purchased your book on Amazon and as someone who is looking to get into international development and humanitarian aid, I found it very helpful. Thank you, for sharing all of your advice and wisdom!

After reading your book, I’ve been thinking about the different pathways and steps towards getting my first job in the development field. I am currently a research and development coordinator for a wine import company (lots of supply chain logistics), but previously worked in an immigration law firm with political asylees, and have taught English in France. I have been in touch with an organization in Serbia that works with refugee populations living in and around Belgrade. I have a fair amount of teaching experience and have been volunteering my time locally in Seattle with the International Rescue Committee, mostly with ESL help and tutoring, and would mostly be helping this organization in Serbia with their English classes as well as setting up elementary math and reading programs for children living in camps.
I am thinking about applying to graduate programs in international development/peace and conflict studies and feel a bit stuck as to what to do next career-wise (find paying job vs volunteer). I’ve been applying for jobs in the international development field, but am wondering if it volunteering for an aid-focused NGO would be more successful in terms of getting a paying job in the aid field. I would love your advice, based on your experiences working in the field. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you!
A. Hi Katy!
Thanks for the kind words – glad you liked the book! On a personal level I’m excited to hear about the opportunity in Belgrade – my first real job in this line of work was with a small organization out of Belgrade that was working with refugees from Croatia. Belgrade is a fantastic city, and I think you’ll love it! Also, it’s great that you’ve been racking up some experience with IRC – while not directly applicable to overseas work, that never hurts.
If you’ve read my blog and my book then you know what I think about graduate school – you should put it off until you know what graduate degree you need and why. It’s really unlikely that a graduate degree will help you get your first job overseas.
The short story is I always think getting practical experience living and working overseas will be much more helpful than getting more education. Go to Belgrade, network, and network more – I think you should be able to find something that route much more easily.
My only caveat here is that I don’t know how many international agencies are still operating in Belgrade. That is to say I do know, and it’s not many. You may have to travel a little to meet people who have good potential to hire you. There are a lot of agencies responding to the European ‘refugee crisis’ right now that you should definitely be checking out.
Good luck,
Let us know how you do!
One Comment leave one →
  1. Justin Draper permalink
    February 7, 2017 1:06 pm

    Hello Nick,
    I love your blog it’s really useful! I’m thinking about a career in humanitarian / aid work. I’m still only 17 and going to university later this year to study sociology. I was wondering really what besides this (i.e. in the summer / winter) I could do help my chances of getting a job in humanitarian work. I know volunteering would be advantageous, but is there any specific places or things that would really benefit my chances besides my studies, and would you recommend any type of volunteering with any agency?
    Thank you,

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