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This is a blog about getting your first job as a humanitarian aid worker. It is the distillation of hundreds of face-to-face, email and telephone conversations I have had with people about how to decide whether this is the right career for you and, if so, get your first job. It is the blog that I wish that I had access to when I was first looking for a job. If we’d had blogs back then, that is.

In the bad old days people printed things like this on dead trees, and you had to buy a copy before you could read it. Thankfully, this website is provided free of charge, but if you found it at least as useful as a book you might have bought, please consider buying something through one of the Amazon or Powell’s Books links, or by buying me an Amazon gift card.

You can reach me at nick (at) nickmacdonald (dot) net – I’d love your feedback and suggestions.

All content © Nick Macdonald, 2010. Use and/or duplication of this material is not permitted without express and written permission from the author. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Macdonald with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2010 2:18 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Fantastic site you have. Just wondering if were possible for you to do an interview or a chapter on refugees. In particular, I had some advice about anthropologists working with refugees and with this field being criticial to solving some of the issues they face. If you had any contacts or some research on the role of anthropologists in the are of refugee studies/assistance, I would be most greatful. Even some articles on refugee assistance in general would be fantastic.


  2. Suhayla permalink
    May 18, 2012 3:54 am

    Hi Nick ,
    A brilliantly great site . I am a law student , and I am thinking about studying something different , I was wondering if it’s possible for you to tell me , if Sociology, Politics would be useful or anyways helpful to get me into the humanitarian and relief services ? Thanks alot in advance , regards

    • May 18, 2012 8:21 am

      Glad you like it Suhayla, please buy the ebook etc etc!
      OK – well, what to study? I’m pretty outspoken about this, and maybe need to go revise the page on this because I get the question a lot, but I think basically, unless your degree is vocational in some way (finance, medical, engineering etc), it doesn’t really make any difference what you study, at least in terms of getting your first job. That isn’t to say that what you study might be more or less useful in your work, but that I’ve never seen a recruiter make a decision based on the degree someone had.
      What counts is that you get lots of field experience.
      I don’t think it’s going to hurt to have a degree that suggests an interest in international issues, but its not a big enough factor to worry about.
      Hope that helps,

      Hi Nick ,
      A brilliantly great site . I am a law student , and I am thinking about studying something different , I was wondering if it’s possible for you to tell me , if Sociology, Politics would be useful or anyways helpful to get me into the humanitarian and relief services ? Thanks alot in advance , regards

  3. batoul Kazwini permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:28 pm

    I was wondering if anyone can advise me about working in humanitarian field, I am a Syrian citizen and I have a master’s degree in practice of development from France, and I worked for a french association before.
    I am searching from quite a while for an association where I can use my studies and my language capacities for humanitarian purposes.
    Thank u for advance

    • May 20, 2012 3:27 pm

      Hi there Batoul,
      I’m not very familiar with what implications there might be with bring Syrian – you will know better that I do about what issues that brings with it in terms of visas, but if you have worked with a particular French agency before then my first port of call would be to work that angle – if not the agency itself then contacts you made at the time – the Francophone development community is pretty tight nit, and there is always a need for good French fluent folks in Francophone Africa.
      Sorry not to have anything more specific for you,
      Good luck!

  4. Chris permalink
    April 22, 2013 10:01 am


    You have a big heart for hosting a blog like this! I think your email is missing from the About page (or I’m super blind), I would like to get in contact with you and have a few questions if possible!


    • April 22, 2013 10:09 am

      Chris – thanks for the feedback – if the site is useful to you please do buy the ebook on Amazon or at least rate and review it!
      Re my email – it is missing indeed – although it’s not too hard to find if you want to dig around… I don’t post it because I prefer to answer questions on the site, that way everyone can see the answers, and I don’t get the same questions all the time! I’ve emailed you with my personal email though, in case you have something you don’t want to ask on the site!

  5. May 6, 2013 7:38 pm

    Wonderful blog, it really helped me decide what I want to do. I am still a student in university studying International Agricultural Development with an emphasis on environmental issues, but im graduating soon and I need to figure out my life! I dont have much experience working on Ag related projects, but I do have plenty of experience moving around and living in developed countries. I grew up as an expat in the UK, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, and im currently in California studying, but does any of this really matter? I havent had the opportunity to get much experience out on the field yet, especially since i’ve been in California where agricultural development really isn’t an issue. Will this be a major disadvantage for me? Ive been told that because I grew up overseas with a pretty unique lifestyle, I am at an advantage, but im worried that I may be putting to much value on this. Are there many people who grew up similarly in this line of work?
    Is this really a benefit or is experience really the ultimate decider for most job applicants? I also wanted to know how important ones GPA or grades are when applying? My grades are not atrocious but they are not that of an A student either. Sorry for all the questions, I just want to make sure I do everything I can to strengthen my CV. I hope to hear from you, Thank you Nick!

  6. Shane Revis permalink
    May 29, 2013 9:07 pm

    Hey Nick,

    I’d like to begin this comment with an introduction of myself. My name is Shane Revis and I am 19-years-old; I am a high school graduate with an Associate in Science degree from a local community college. I hope to go back to college soon in order to prepare myself for a career in humanitarian aid/relief. I have chosen to pursue a humanitarian aid career because of how my mind is wired; I am extremely empathetic. I tend to place myself in other people’s shoes and try to feel their emotions, pains, problems, physical discomfort, feelings, and general outlook on life. Because I do this, my mind constantly causes me to desire a part in putting an end to the negative aspects of our human condition. I may not be able to change the whole world, but I can surely change the world for the individuals that I do succeed in helping–this is my outlook on humanitarian aid. To put it bluntly, I won’t be satisfied with my existence if I don’t devote it to the assistance of others through a permanent career. Places like Africa, Nicaragua, and other third world countries are where my heart lies. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ’s teachings.

    I’d like to ask you a few questions.

    1.) Is it better to volunteer for a few years to get experience first, or is a college major better for me to get at this point in my life?

    2.) Let’s say that I want to work out in the field–as opposed to working behind the scenes; what would a good major be for humanitarian aid?

    3.) Which of the following will stop the most suffering: medical care, food areas, or water areas?

    4.) How could I pay back my college debt when there are low wages for aid workers?

    Thank you for reading my comment. I’d love a reply to

    The grace of Christ be with you,

  7. Lauren permalink
    June 10, 2013 3:58 am

    Hi Nick,
    I’m so glad I came across your blog. I would love to support you and purchase your book however I do not have a kindle. Am I am to purchase in another format i.e just as a normal word document?

    • June 10, 2013 9:00 am

      Hi Lauren,
      Thanks – I appreciate the support. Unfortunately, the world of e-books being as bizarre and twisted as it is, the Kindle format is the only one available. Fortunately you can get kindle readers for free for windows, Mac, iPad etc.

  8. Aznida permalink
    July 15, 2013 11:20 pm

    Great site Nick! It gives me some direction on where to start. I am an experienced worker in the private sector and I find it hard to get into development field as I dont have direct relevant experience. Will keep on trying. Your articles give me some hope..:-)

    • July 16, 2013 8:04 am

      Thanks for the positive feedback Aznida! Please do rate my ebook on Amazon!

  9. M.Thawabeyeh permalink
    February 17, 2014 8:51 am

    Hello Nick, first of all, thank you for the great blog and your contributions here, and I am really sorry, but the only thing I can do is to rate your book ( already done ).
    2nd: I would like to ask you for an advice, I graduated 6 months ago with Bachelor’s degree in M.I.S, worked before that professionally for 3 years in poultry industry, and I really want to work with NGO’s, but they all ask for related humanitarian experience which I dont have, what should I do ?
    btw, I am jordanian and many NGO’s are working here ( due to the unstable countries around us ). Please, any advice would be much appreciated.
    Thank you again for your time answering everyone’s questions.

  10. famministries permalink
    April 25, 2014 7:42 am

    Hi Nick
    I have a BSC in civil engineering and but have a heart to serve and help people, I have excellent interpersonal skills, I even won an international reward. I have done mission works for years and would love to get a job in humanitarian aid, how do I go about getting my first job, please advice.

  11. elian eid permalink
    May 14, 2014 4:27 am

    Hi Nick! Awesome blog. Im a law student finishing my master degree this summer, but the last couple of years I have become more and more interested in humanitarian work, I really want to work with people who need my help and I want to do it out in the field, that is my big passion in life, not sitting behind a desk in a building. I would love to do mission work! I have volunteered with work that is law related, however its with interacting with people who have needed it and couldn’t afford paying mountains of money, and this sparked my interest regarding missionary work. I live in Denmark, but in order to work in humanitarian field you have to be able to pay yourself to work there, but I really want to get out on the field, do you have any advice for a 24-year old woman living in Denmark in how to get a job in humanitarian aid?

    I really hope to hear from you! thank you in advance.

    • May 14, 2014 4:48 am

      Hi Eliano,
      Great to hear from you – as a matter of fact I do have some advice – did you read the book chapters on the blog on the ebook? If you have any more specific questions I’d be happy to take a swing!

      • elian eid permalink
        May 14, 2014 6:42 am

        Thank u so much for ur quick reply! I just purchased the ebook, and will read that and get back to u if I have any further questions! Ur awesome, thanks 🙂

  12. Lisa permalink
    May 23, 2015 5:45 am

    Hello Nick,
    I just discovered your Blog and was quite intrigued!
    I was wondering if you could suggest an alternative organisation to the Peace Corp? Unfortunately I am no US Citizen and was wondering now, if you would know an international Organisation as respected/sincere as the Peace Corp to gain some field experience?

    Thanks a lot in advance!
    Kind regards,

  13. Zoya permalink
    May 19, 2017 2:20 am

    I’m 18 right now and I want to do humanitarian work. But I don’t know how to go about it. Do I need to have experience before taking it up? If so, then what kind of experience, for example if they look at if I’ve volunteered in an ngo etc. Also, what degree should I take up if I want to work as a humanitarian aid worker.

    • May 22, 2017 10:29 pm

      Hey Zoya – I’m pretty sure the articles cover most of this, but if you have a more specific question please let me know! Thanks, Nick


  1. Welcome! « Getting Your First Job in Relief and Development

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