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Why you might want to work in relief and development (and why you might not)

This chapter gives an overview of what I think are some of the pros and cons of working in international relief and development. Bear in mind that different agencies and different assignments vary greatly – these are the broad brush strokes.

If you find this site at least as useful as a beer, please consider buying my e-book on Amazon! Getting your first job in relief and development.

Some of the good things about careers in relief and development work:

A job with meaning that aligns with your values

I count myself very lucky to be able to make a living doing work that is in alignment with my values and the things that I believe in. It seems to me that a lot of people have made peace with the idea that work is something that is separate from your values, from your passions and from your interests – something that fills the work day and pays the bills, and what you really want to do happens on the weekend and evenings. I meet many people who express a level of frustration that the jobs they are in are not providing that level of fulfillment and purpose that they want in their lives. Mission driven organizations provide one way to reconcile the two elements of seeking professional fulfillment and paying the bills.
Being a humanitarian aid worker is a lifestyle (a calling, if you will) – not just a job. There is often no sharp distinction between work and the rest of your life, between your interests and passions and your job description. There is an upside to that work that you feel passionately about, and are not doing simply because you are getting paid to.

Opportunities to make a difference

On a good day, it can be the best job in the world. Really. I cannot imagine anything else being as interesting, challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding as some of the jobs I have had. Plus, every now and again, things go right, and you walk away feeling that, for some people, in some places, the world is a better place because of something you did. That’s tremendously powerful and motivating, and it’s what keeps many people doing this. This doesn’t happen every day, and the degree to which you feel a direct link between what you do and change in people’s lives depends on where you sit in the organization, but for most of us, there is a feeling that what we are doing is contributing to making the world a better place.

A community of motivated co-workers

The people I have met in this line of work are among the most wonderful friends and colleagues I can imagine. The bonds that are formed working together in intense situations are very powerful, and friendships formed over even a few days can be long lasting (although on occasion this intensity can produce equally high levels of acrimony!) I’ve known some people in the western world for years, and never got beyond small-talk, and have spent a few weeks working intensively with others who I feel I know as well as it is possible to know someone. Being a part of this community of people who share similar values and aspirations is hard to quantify, but it is definitely a positive aspect of the job.

Challenge and responsibility

You will likely have more responsibility and authority earlier in your career than you would have in the corporate world. While this can be a double edged sword, it is possible to be given responsibility for multi-million dollar programs and hundreds of staff with comparatively little experience. It can be a sink-or-swim situation, but if you swim, people will give you more and more responsibility. I remember vividly arriving in the office of a major NGO in Albania just as millions of refugees were fleeing war in Kosovo, and being put in charge of a major part of the logistics of supplying the food for hundreds of thousands of people. I tried to explain that I was new, and didn’t know how to do this, and was told that I would have to figure it out, because no one else was there on the ground to do it. I swam, just about, and you likely will too – it’s not that there is no support and training – there is certainly more than there used to be, it’s just that you need to be ready to step up to challenges and expect to be given tasks that are overwhelming. It’s part of the nature of the work – the problems we face are enormous and extremely challenging, and there is often no choice but to attempt to address a problem, even though the skills and resources available are not sufficient.

See the world, experience different cultures

Living and working in cultures other than your own can be fascinating and very rewarding. It is quite different from tourism, and lets you get to know a society and understand more about it than other types of travel. There are very few other careers that give you such an opportunity to experience a range of different countries than relief and development work. You will also see things that no one else will see (not all of them will be good, mind you, but they will be fascinating, challenging, and sometimes exciting!) You’ll be there along side the best and most inspiring examples of people working to overcome apparently impossible odds. You’ll find yourself constantly inspired by the determination, ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people with whom you are working.

Things that cut both ways:


While there is a huge range of salaries and benefits, ranging from agencies that only really ‘employ’ volunteers to organizations that pay extremely well, the pay even at the top end with the United Nations and some contractors is generally less than the equivalent in the corporate world. Furthermore, for most people working in the non-profit world, it is decidedly mediocre compared to careers in the private sector.
It’s very hard to generalize, but most of the larger international NGOS have pay-scales that allow their employees to live comfortably, and, if you are working overseas the equation changes again.

  • Many ex-pats are able to pay less income tax (or even avoid it entirely) in their home country while they are living overseas (you should consult a tax advisor on the specifics of this as tax law changes frequently and is different in each country). This can make a huge difference to your take-home pay, and you should get professional tax advice to make sure you take full advantage of it.
  • While it is possible to live extremely expensive lifestyles in capital cities like Jakarta and Nairobi, many postings are in relatively affordable locations where the currency you are earning in will go a long way. In more remote postings there may simply be nothing to spend money on!
  • Many international organizations have generous packages of housing, insurance, education for dependent children etc, reducing expenditures further.
  • There are sometimes ways to have some student debt deferred or forgiven if you work for a non-profit. You need to look into the specifics of your loans and your university to see what programs are available.

While you probably won’t make the kind of money you could in the private sector, it is perfectly possible to do very well and not be on the breadline if you are working for a relatively large agency, and possible to make a very good living with the UN or contracting.

Some of the less good things:


Pec, Kosovo, 1999

Pec, Kosovo, 1999

I’ve been posted in some truly fantastic places, but the reality is that much relief and development work takes place in some of the more challenging locations in the world. In emergencies you may occasionally be called on to live in a tent or share a small room with co-workers, more frequently in insecure environments you may live in the same house or compound as colleagues. You may not have reliable access to the normal amenities of the western world like electricity, hot and cold running water, reliable heat and cooling, and the freedom of movement to explore at your leisure. While aid agencies very rapidly find solutions for providing many of these things to their staff (through generators, water purification systems etc) the conditions in some postings can be distinctly primitive.

Conditions are not always harsh

Conditions are not always harsh

How big a deal this is to you will determine how long you want to spend in some of the more remote and inaccessible locations. I don’t want to suggest that it was the main reason I left the Balkans, but the idea of facing yet another winter of snow in Kosovo with no reliable heat and power was something that certainly factored into my decision to look for work in South East Asia!
Think seriously about how you feel about access to reliable medical care, social life with people from your culture, speciality food and drink, and other creature comforts, and pick your postings accordingly. Bear in mind that, when you are starting out, you have far less choice. A very informal system of seniority tends to reward those who have ‘paid their dues’, and more senior positions are usually based in regional headquarters offices in more connected capital cities with better amenities.


The flip side of a values and passion-driven business that is focussed on changing the world is that the employees are often expected to work hard and make personal sacrifices. Long hours and unpaid overtime are often the norm, and many jobs in the field are ‘meat-grinders’ – they are emotionally and physically exhausting and people tend to ‘burn-out’ in a few years. This is not to say that organizations themselves are always unreasonably demanding of their staff, but that they often have cultures and work-ethics that are very demanding.
This is particularly true in emergency postings, where the first few months can be especially hectic and sleep-deprived. Some organizations try to mitigate this by providing additional vacation time or rest and recuperation (R&R) for their teams in particularly stressful locations. You need to make sure that you take personal responsibility for managing your workload and stress levels.

It’s not always a feel-good business

Some people want to work in this line of business because they want to help people and feel good about what they are doing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not always a feel-good job. In places with high levels of need and suffering where resources are insufficient, neither you nor the beneficiaries of your work will likely feel particularly uplifted by the amount you are able to do. You may spend a lot of your time refusing requests because of inadequate resourcing, deal with donors who are unsympathetic, officials who are uncooperative, or combatants who are unwilling to help. Don’t expect to get a high level of recognition or praise for your efforts, or to feel that you are able to solve all of the problems you will encounter.

Relationships and roots

While it creates intense bonds between colleagues, the business can place enormous strains on marriages and relationships. The pace of work, the upheaval of constant and unpredictable travel, separation from loved ones, and other stressors can make stable relationships difficult. Go into it with open eyes, and talk early and often about what is going on. As Jan Davis and Robert Lambert succinctly point out “emergency relief work is frequently carried out in situations where there has been massive breakdown in civil society and where great evil has been perpetrated. Against this background, the immediate benefits to be gained from a comforting, supportive sexual relationship may seem to outweigh the long-term costs of dealing with the consequences of such a relationship when returning to normality. How you deal with these issues is a personal matter, but it is important to be prepared1.
Think seriously about the strains that this kind of work will place on your family relationships and friendships – not only will you be away for long periods of time, but your experiences will change you, and may make it more difficult for you to fit back into old relationships. It’s not impossible by any means, but go into it with your (and your partner’s) eyes open.
1 Engineering in Emergencies – Davis and Lambert.

Further reading

You can buy Engineering in Emergencies from Amazon and Powells Books (buying from these links helps me support this site).

384 Comments leave one →
  1. Shauna permalink
    March 9, 2011 6:25 pm

    How would someone with a strong background in systems administration get a job in the humanitarian field?

    • March 11, 2011 11:38 am

      Hi Shauna,
      I’m not certain I can give you specific advice on this – it may depend on what types of ‘systems administration’ you are into, but in general, the advice is pretty much the same for everyone – you need to get at least some experience living and working in the developing world before any recruiter will look at your resume, no matter how technically impressive it is.

  2. Fran permalink
    May 3, 2011 11:14 am

    I am 15 years old and would love to be an international aid worker… Would there be anything specific I would need or that would help me when I am taking my A-Levels and further on a degree.

    • May 3, 2011 11:26 am

      Hi Fran – first of all, good luck with your GCSEs! At this point I would say there isn’t anything specific you need to be doing unless you want to specialize in something like medical or engineering work. Languages never hurt (French or Spanish would open up parts of Africa or Latin America respectively, but only if your languages are good enough to operate without an interpreter), but really I would focus on things that interest you and set you up for a degree you’re interested in. I’m guessing A levels like Geography might be interesting, but I wouldn’t want to suggest they would be specifically helpful from a career standpoint.

      My main piece of advice would be to study what interests you, but to look for courses that include travel to the developing world. Get your A levels, and then find a degree course that includes travel, or maybe even a year abroad working somewhere in the developing world, use your summer vacations to travel or intern in the field, and network, network, network! Let us know how you do, Nick

  3. Aditi permalink
    May 3, 2011 1:35 pm

    Hi Nick,
    My name is Aditi and I am looking for work in the UK (I do have a work visa). I have been working in rural India for the past two and a half years on improving governance through increasing citizen participation. I have worked on improving the implementation of some very crucial government schemes in India.
    Apart from this I have also written a few papers and presented them at national and international conferences. I almost always only get calls for internships and never for paid jobs. And I am very disheartened with this. Can you suggest something and would reading your book help me or you have some other suggestion for me? One more thing I also did my MSc from the LSE.
    I am not sure if this is the best way to seek advice on my career. I hope you would not mind!


    • June 6, 2011 10:43 am

      Hi Aditi, I’m afraid I don’t know much about getting jobs in the UK, and I’m not sure I really understand what kind of work you’re looking for – it sounds like you are an academic? Good luck with that, I’m sorry it’s not something I can really help with.

      • February 16, 2016 7:29 am

        My names are moses ejenavi,i live in liberia but am a nigerian,during the Ebola epidemic I was involved as an individual helping the sick people with my pickup car carring them from one hospital to the other,I will be very happy if i can be part of the humanitarian group that are saving life in the world, am willing to work you if am opportune with all my heart,

      • February 16, 2016 7:30 am

        Good luck Moses, I am afraid I do not run a humanitarian group,

    • Bill Stanfield permalink
      November 22, 2014 7:31 am

      Hi Nick,

      I’m a 64 yr old retiree in good health save for eye drops needed to alleviateeye pressure to prevent glaucoma. Are there specific health disqualifiers for int’l aid workers ?

      • November 22, 2014 9:34 pm

        Hi Bill,
        Thanks for writing – how often I wish I had a little more information – especially where you live. This really affects hiring regulations – since this question is a lot about local labor laws.
        Now – bear in mind I am not a labor lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
        For agencies based in the US, agencies are basically required not to discriminate on the basis of disability or illness, as long as the individual is fit to do the job. That said, there are some jobs in the field that require a certain level of fitness and health – especially those that are far from medical facilities.
        Basically, if your medical condition is controlled, and you are able to perform the job as described, you should be fine. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s a good idea to be based wherever you are likely to be.
        Good luck,

  4. lizzie permalink
    August 9, 2011 6:19 pm

    I am 21 with a 4 year old son. I have always wanted to do humanitarian and relief work, but since I am a single mother, I’ve put it off. I try to do whatever comes around locally that is avaliable to me. I work with special needs people, I volunteer with Make-A-Wish, and will be spending a few weeks working at an orphanage in India next year. I want to do more, especially on the international level, but I’m not sure thats possible with a son, so I have been studying history in school. Is there any advice you can possibley offer on ways I can help or a career field that is kid friendly or anything else?
    Thanks ever so much!

    • August 12, 2011 12:01 pm

      Hi there Elizabeth – first of all, congrats on your son – that’s such a wonderful age!
      On the career questions, I would say a couple of things – first you mention studying history in school – I presume that means you are studying for a degree? If so I would encourage you to continue to do that, since having a degree these days is a basic requirement. Second, everything else on this site still applies. It’s a tough field to break into without experience, and experience is tough to get a the best of times, with or without a child.
      That said, I don’t want to put you off – there are plenty of people who do this work overseas who have kids, and some who are single parents. Child care and good schools are relatively cheap and it isn’t a bad lifestyle at all to have all the help you need on hand. I would actually break from my normal advice in your case, and encourage you to seek jobs in INGO headquarters, then try to leverage those into field positions. With a child in tow I think that may be the best bet, but let me ask around and see what the sense is from my friends and colleagues with kids in the field.
      Hope that helps,

      • December 20, 2013 7:12 pm

        Hi I love biology and science. I would love to become a nurse and go to foreign countries and help out. Would they take nurses? I’m very new to this and want to learn everything thing about it. Also how long are you their for about?

        Thanks so much

      • December 31, 2013 11:58 am

        Hi CJ – Lots of agencies recruit nurses – I would start with Doctors Without Borders, and then check out the other medical agencies (including the Red Cross agencies).
        Good luck!

  5. laurie glanx permalink
    August 16, 2011 11:40 am

    would like to travel to africa and work with children am a professional women with a bright eager adoptive daughter who would want to travel with me. she wants to exchange her beautiful stuff animal hundreds of them ang give them to every child she meets. would like to be shown her real life counterparts in the wild. please advise web sites that have organization that can accomidate us. thank you laurie

    • August 16, 2011 12:28 pm

      You know, I really try hard to be respectful of wherever people are coming from, and not to come across as negative about ideas that people are exploring. I’m going to make an exception here though. Sorry about that, but better that you hear it from me at this stage than someone less sympathetic down the line.
      So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts:
      1. You want to travel to ‘Africa’. You should understand that ‘Africa’ is not a thing. It’s the second largest continent in the world, and the second largest population of any continent. I contains north of 50 countries, with diverse cultures, languages, economic situations and geography. I cannot think of a sentence with the word ‘Africa’ in it that would not be better if the word were replaced with some more specific geographic term. Angola is not Algeria, Egypt is not Ethiopia, Zambia is not Zimbabwe. OK. Now I’ve got that off my chest…
      2. You want to ‘work with children’, and are a professional. Well, that’s good. I wonder what kind of children you want to work with, in what context, and what professional skills you bring that would not be available locally? Perhaps if I knew more about your geographic intentions, professional skills and languages I could help you more, but in general, the big international children’s agencies would be good places to start. Unicef, Save the Children, etc etc. Of course, they tend to want people with extensive experience managing programs for children, and tend to employ local people in their front-line positions, which is the problem this blog is all about.
      3. As to your ‘adoptive daughter’ (and I don’t know why the fact that she is adopted is relevant here, although her age would be), the idea of her traveling with you through ‘Africa’ with hundreds of beautiful stuffed animals, giving them away to the first few hundred children she meets sounds like a nice plot for a Dora the Explorer episode, but in reality is more likely to result in a riot in most of the places where INGOs work.
      4. In closing. Please, please, please, I beg you, re-think your plans. What I would suggest, if you have a serious interest in ‘Africa’, is to think a little more about what it is that interests you. Subscribe to National Geographic, and research some places to take your daughter on vacation. Go there a few times, try to make some friends, build some personal relationships with people you meet, perhaps your daughter can become pen-pals with some children she meets. Try to think of this as a genuine exchange of cultural knowledge. Most people, in most parts of the world, are very interested and welcoming of foreigners who are genuinely interested in learning about their language and culture. They may or may not want hundreds of second hand stuffed toys, but who knows?
      Good luck,

      • Emily Stewart permalink
        November 12, 2015 2:05 pm

        Thank you for this honest feedback to the previous comment, Nick! I wish more people in your position would provide such necessary truth in a cooperative, effective manner.

      • November 20, 2015 9:32 am

        Thanks Emily!

  6. September 27, 2011 10:28 pm

    Hi!! This site is wonderful! and I’m only on chapter 2! lol
    I’m wondering if u might be able to direct me to what’s out there in terms of upper-level non-profit work.
    ..The highest goal i have been able to set for myself is to become a hum. aid worker.
    ..but what can i work towards once I’ve begun working in the field? I guess some goals would be to feel fulfilled and live a comfortable lifestyle, & having the funds to visit other countries.

    A pre-question to that lol: I was hoping you could direct me to an agency that would hire someone in my position to work abroad as a humanitarian. I am 24yr old woman, have a BA in psychology, studied abroad for a year in Jordan & picked up a minimal understanding of Arabic, visited 5 other countries for vacation, & have a lot of experience working with homeless populations as well as some instructing experience with kids.
    My standards I think would be that I just want to make a difference and not freeze to death. lol i would prefer to have a semi-comfortable position to begin with, as to not shock myself too much when first starting out. but i can see how that might not be how it works. I would also prefer East/South-East Asia, South America, or the Middle East, as regions to be stationed. But I would be open to most all opportunities.

    Thank you so much for creating this website!

    • September 29, 2011 10:08 am

      Hi there – thanks for the feedback – I appreciate it. Might I suggest that you read the rest of the site, which, I think, answers your question? Please feel free to post again if I’ve missed the point. I’m sorry that I can’t point you to a particular agency who would hire you. Good luck! Nick

  7. Nas permalink
    October 18, 2011 3:06 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I’m a recent graduate with a bachelors in Aviation Science (Pilot program). I’m sort of going through a soul searching phase of my life. I initially picked aviation because it’s not a ‘normal’ career, as that’s something I can’t see myself doing; i.e. the typical 9-5 job. Now, I’m not even sure if I want to do that. I feel like I should do something meaningful with my life.

    I don’t have a degree in geography, linguistics, IR, or the like. However, I do have a somewhat diverse background. I’m originally from Pakistan, but I was born in Kenya (my dad worked as a volunteer doctor). I’ve also lived in Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and the US. I am fluent in 3 languages (English, Swedish, Urdu). Also, I’ve studied Spanish long enough to get by in a Spanish speaking country.

    To pursue a career in this field, will I have to go to grad school and get a Masters degree in something specific/related to this field of work? Can you name any specific humanitarian organizations with whom I can gain experience with?

    • October 18, 2011 3:20 pm

      Hi – Thanks for your note. I think I may have misunderstood your question, because I feel like the answers to all of your questions are already on the site, insofar as I can throw and light on them. Please do feel free to re-phrase them if I’ve misunderstood, but the short answers to your questions, from my perspective are:
      1. Not initially – I don’t think it helps you get your first job, although it may be a good idea later in your career.
      2. Peace Corps is always a good start, CRS has probably the most built out program of fellowships, other organizations including Mercy Corps have good overseas internship programs. While it has risks, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, a lot of people get a start in this line of work by going to a place they would like to work (that is relatively safe and has good infrastructure) and volunteering and networking until they get hired.
      Good luck,

  8. January 10, 2012 12:08 pm

    Thanks for answering all our questions! So many of us want to know how we can make a difference and contribute to the larger world and yet the responses to our inquiries seem distant and vauge. I’m learning from your responses to others and you bring the challenges a little closer without making me run away in tears. Please keep it up.

    • January 10, 2012 12:14 pm

      You’re very kind – if you want to really show your appreciation you can always go buy my e-book on Amazon, or if you feel like you need the $6 more than I do, at least rate it! Thanks! Nick

  9. zak permalink
    February 3, 2012 9:38 pm

    My name is Zak and I will be graduating with a degree in human biology this winter. I have already been on an abroad trip to the Dominican Republic for public health, and now realize this is what I want to do with my life.I am trying to figure out what kinds of jobs that this qualifies me for within agencies if any, or if there is another focus that would help me get my foot in the door.
    Thank you for your time,

    • February 4, 2012 4:12 pm

      Hi Zak – I’m glad to hear you’ve found something you’re passionate about – that’s wonderful. The bad news from my side is that I don’t really think your degree in human biology in itself qualifies you for very much in this line of work. The problem is most positions require substantial field experience. You might want to look at it another way – figure out your ideal job, and then work back from there. I sorry that I don’t really have any specific advice beyond what is on this site, but if you have a more specific question I’d be happy to try to help!
      Good luck,

  10. Sam permalink
    March 10, 2012 12:19 am

    I’m a 20 year old student in Sydney. I never really knew what to do with my life until I spent my first year of uni doing a degree I absolutely detested (it was a commerce degree); and then I realised that the only thing that I’ve ever wanted to do is development and aid work (as I was born in a developing country- I was able to see poverty first hand).
    Anyway, after a break of my degree ( I studied PR and development for a year), I started a business degree again due to the fact that it’s a solid degree to fall back on- but my question is what are the NGOs and development companies looking for? And if my business degree (with a HR and marketing major is suitable?)
    I really do want to work in development but I plan on using a business degree to get into the company and then move around. Is that ok?

    • March 11, 2012 8:57 am

      Hi Sam –
      First of all, congratulations on having found something that you really want to do with your life!
      Secondly, I would say that it’s a bad idea, in general, to study something that you ‘absolutely detest’. That’s just a personal opinion, but if you hate it now, chances are you’re not going to love it much more in 30 years time.
      Third – I’m a little confused about your career plan, but, broadly speaking, there are a lot of ‘development’ related activities that might be interested in someone with that background. The first thing I would do is take a look at Microfinance Gateway. It’s a great place to start on all things development finance. A lot of organizations doing job creation also emily small business advisors and the like. The other angle that I would explore is the option of becoming a finance professional within the NGO world. Like any business, INGOs employ bookkeepers, accountants, finance managers etc. It’s generally a position NGOs struggle to recruit for, for all the reasons you’d expect.
      Fourth – as you know, the drum I always bang is that your degrees and qualifications will help you later in your career. NGOs will likely not recruit you out of college without a couple of years of field experience.
      Fifth – Good luck!
      Oh, and please consider buying my book!

  11. Sam permalink
    April 3, 2012 2:19 pm

    I am liking what I am reading. Currently I am 21 years old and I am looking to pursue a life out of working for agency’s that help others. I have looked heavily into peace corps. I am currently an Architecture student but I am quickly realizing that Architecture is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. I am wondering if you have any idea on college programs that would give me the tools in helping people. I was looking into liberal studies to get a broad sense of humanities, ecology, health, and language. However; I am worried that even though this program covers many aspects, it does not get specific enough to actually help people in third world countries.


    • April 3, 2012 2:36 pm

      Hi Sam – glad you like the blog – please consider buying and / or reviewing my e-book on Amazon – it helps me keep this site running.

      Now – to your question – honestly, I’m not sure that I have any specific advice on college programs. I’m not convinced that there’s one major or other which will give you any particular advantage over any other in terms of getting your first job*. There’s certainly no degree that will qualify you for overseas jobs without additional work experience overseas. My advice is to study something that interests you, and spend your vacations, and any other chances you get, traveling in the kinds of places you think you’d like to work. Get a feel for what it’s really like, seek out internships overseas, and seriously consider the Peace Corps.
      That’s not to say that there’s nothing you can take in college that will give you any insight into development issues, some development theory, development economics, sociology, anthropology, conflict studies, international law, languages, you name it, they’ll all help you get a better understanding of what development is and how it works.
      Good luck, and let me know how you do!

      * Having said that, there are exceptions – the combined Peace Corps masters programs seem like a good deal to me, there are a couple of fields like engineering, finance, primary and public health etc where specific college course are required, and there are schools that bring a well developed career service and alumni network with them that certainly doesn’t hurt (you know who they are).

  12. danielle permalink
    April 5, 2012 1:44 pm

    Agh!! Sam, Don’t do a general degree just because you want to make yourself a better candidate for international work, please. Nick always has wonderful advice, so follow his lead. I just want to add, think about what you can offer a company or individual in another county. If you were them would you want to hire a generalist or someone who could tell you how to grow the best crops, which seeds work well in your area, how to engineer a long lasting latrine, how to upgrade outdated wiring in a building, how to get government funding for a project. These skills will also expand the choices you have with organizations like the Peace Corps. Without that your only option may be to teach english as a gateway to that international experience. ps. they can hire generalists from their own country. what will you offer that will add value to their work?

  13. Dan permalink
    April 15, 2012 8:48 am

    Hey nick

    First thing – love the site, exactly what I have been looking for, some good, first hand advice. And yes, I will be buying your book – but I must be honest and say I have not got round to doing it just yet.

    Anyway, as you will probably guess, I am looking in to getting a position in humanitarian aid. I am currently 23 years old and i now feel as though I know what I want to do with my future. The reason for my post though is because in one of your comments, you mentioned a degree is now almost a basic requirement. My problem is this – I left school at 18 and was employed on a management course with a financial institution and whilst this has (supposidly) worked out for me as far as progression etc goes, I am not educated to degree level (and i deteste the industry I have found myself in).
    I know there are many other barriers that I will need to overcome, such as work experience etc, but are you saying without a degree I wont even be considered?


    • April 15, 2012 12:24 pm

      Hey Dan, thanks for the feedback – I won’t pester you about the book!
      So – degrees. Look, it’s like anything else, when you give advice, you generalize. It’s not that you can’t get a job without a degree – one of the most successful and well thought of people I know in this business who is now quite senior doesn’t have a degree, but he does have a very impressive resume that demonstrates his effectiveness despite not having one. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that nearly every job I see posted has it as a requirement, and you’re at a disadvantage out of the gate if you don’t meet that requirement. Your resume probably won’t make the shortlist if you apply for jobs through a headquarters recruiting department.
      You’ll need to either:
      a) get one – where or what doesn’t matter too much, and you might find that you can use whatever qualifications or experience that you gained in banking to gain some credit.
      b) talk up your management training or whatever it was. It could be that a recognized course in practical management with some proven effectiveness can fill the gap in your resume that a degree would take, and you can present it as equivalent in some way that isn’t too dishonest.
      c) compensate in some other area.
      Assuming that you want to go the ‘c’ route, my advice is pretty much going to be the same as always. Get out there. Get experience living and working in the developing world, volunteering, interning, making a nuisance of yourself. Get yourself know – network like your life depends on it. Don’t mention not having a degree unless someone asks, and make yourself useful enough that someone hires you based on what they know about you, not based on your resume.
      Hope that helps,

  14. Erica permalink
    April 26, 2012 8:39 am

    Hi Nick, I am a 21-yr old undergrad working on my degree in psychology and am learning French and Arabic. I want to eventually work for an NGO in the Middle East and I have a couple of questions.

    1. I want to be both a psychologist and a relief worker. Is that possible?

    2. Should I change my major from psych to international studies (my college doesnt offer international relations)?

    3. If I do change my major, would I also need a graduate/master’s degree? If so, in what, counseling or international relations? If I dont need a secondary degree I was planning on joining the peace corps right after undergrad school.

    4. I’m studying abroad next year in the Middle East and plan to do volunteer work while I’m there. Would that count as some type of experience?

    5. I plan to get married and have 1 or 2 kids in the future. Will I be able to take them to my work site with me?

    Thanks in advance for your response.

    • April 26, 2012 12:58 pm

      Hi Erica,
      First off – please do consider buying my e-book – it really helps me support this site.
      So –
      1. A psychologist and a relief worker. All things are possible – I guess it all depends what kind of psychology you plan on doing. There are certainly people who have that background and work in protection or psycho-social assistance, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, working with rehabilitation of victims of war etc, but there are few clinical roles for expatriates in those fields. Check out organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children, or some of the orgs doing work around child soldiers for some examples.
      2. Only you can say. If psych is what floats your boat, then do it – there’s certainly no huge advantage that I can see to and IR or IS degree in terms of getting your first job – it all comes down to field experience.
      3. I address this on the site – my advice to most people is not to get a masters until mid-career. You’ll have more experience, get more out of it, know what you want better, and it won’t price you out of the market in terms of entry level jobs. Peace Corps is a good idea, but make use of the experience to build your resume and make contacts.
      4. It depends where in the middle east, how long for, and what kind of volunteer work. In general, the answer to this is ‘do the experience demonstrate that you can do the kinds of things you will be called upon to do in a paid job’?
      5. Broadly, yes, but it depends on who you work for and where the work site is. Most major agencies pay for dependent spouses and children if the environment is suitable. That rules out the obvious places without good security, schooling and health care, but still leaves a lot of positions open. The problem is that competition for accompanied posts is higher, and they generally go to people with a lot of experience.
      Good luck!

  15. David permalink
    August 6, 2012 1:55 pm

    Hi Nick

    Really enjoyed browsing your site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’m a carpenter and joiner with good general building skills looking to get involved in hands on work within humanitarian aid. I’m an avid traveler and adventurer and not really fulfilled with the normal hum drum of going to work, paying bills, going on holiday etc. I want to do something that makes a real difference and hopefully get a sense of fulfillment (Excuse the clique) I’ve scowered the internet and struggled to find much in the line of work i’m in. I’m prepared to work in dangerous areas if it gives me a better chance of getting in to this line of work. Can you point me in the direction of any agencies who would recruit for construction roles in this arena? Ideals would be rebuilds in earthquake hit locations, war damaged etc etc. Particularly interested in the DRC, Haiti, Burma, NZ, Bosnia, Japan. Appreciate any guidence you can offer.

    Thanks in advance.


    • August 6, 2012 2:07 pm

      Hi David,
      Thanks for the feedback – as always, please do consider buying the ebook or rating it on Amazon – that really helps me a lot!

      In terms of opportunities to use your carpentry skills, I think your best bet would be an organization like Habitat for Humanity, which definitely uses volunteers in this capacity. Within the mainstream humanitarian aid business there just isn’t much of a market for expatriate carpenters (or other skills that can generally be sourced locally). Rare indeed is the environment where you can’t hire a local carpenter for less that it would cost an international agency just to insure you as an expat. Having said that, a lot of agencies build a lot of things globally every year, and many of them are sorely in need of construction managers who can deal with overseeing design, procurement and contractor management. It’s the senior technical management roles that are generally expatriate, especially in the early stages of recovery, and if you have that kind of experience it’s just a question of getting over the field experience issues.

      As always, while not wanting to suggest you should just jump on a plane, it’s definitely easier to get hired in these places than it is through HQ offices, so if you’re vacationing in places where INGOs have offices do go network and make yourself available through that route.
      Let us know how you do!

    • Carmen Dapilos permalink
      August 5, 2018 1:36 am

      Hi David! I ran an Non-Profit NGO here in South East Asia, for nearly 29 years now focused on education, I am doing this purely voluntary. It started with a one pre school then later it became ten, catering the Indigenous People, promote their vanishing culture thru education and livelihood programs.. Technical Education is one of my objectives, in fact I pioneered here the German Dual System of Vocational Education for out of school youth and adults. A very rewarding and fulfilling work. If your objective to be of help is still open up to now, your skill would really be of great help. Feel free to contact me.
      I am a retiree, I started doing this Mission in the midst of my Career at 40, and since then, I am grateful for this meaningful and productive life for good.. Any one with an honest intention and sharing my objectives, they may be retirees like me is very much welcome.


  16. Rose permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:47 pm

    Hello! I’ve only found this website today but so far it’s been very helpful for me! It is my last year of High School in Ohio in the USA. I’m applying to colleges and wondering what the best kinds of subjects to major in are because I’m interested in doing humanitarian work in college and after college. I’m extremely interested in Geography, History, and languages…and in general: cultures, traveling and current events. I’m in love with National Geographic and other organizations that teach common citizens about cultures around the world. What would be your advice for me in choosing majors and minors and classes for my college education? Thanks!

  17. September 4, 2012 3:47 pm

    Hello! My name is Elise. I am currently in my sophomore year of college and was majoring in Special Ed. I have always been very interested in having a humanitarian job though. I never knew how to go about getting started. What major should I look into majoring in? Or what steps should I take to begin the process of starting a career in this feild?

    • September 8, 2012 11:10 am

      Hi there Rose, and Elise – sorry not to have got to this sooner, I’m overdue in updating this article – I will get around to it in the next few weeks, but the short story is – study what interests you. If you want to get into this line of work it’s probably going to be something around geography, development, languages, etc, but don’t worry too much about it – it honest doesn’t matter that much unless you’re going into something like public health.
      Just make sure that you take every chance you get to get overseas, do internships, get work experience in development and in developing countries. What you do with your time (your work experience and location) is much, much more important than what classes you take!
      Good luck, and please consider buying the e-book if you found the site useful!

      • Jason McBride permalink
        October 14, 2012 12:25 pm

        Nick, I’m really liking this site, and happy that I just found it, though I’m not sure if it’s quite applicable to me yet. I am really curious about one part of this reply that you posted. You said “…it really doesn’t matter that much [what classes you take] unless you’re going into something like public health…” I’m finishing a MPH (Master’s in Public Health) in a few months, and my two specializations are global health & health behavior and health promotion.

        To briefly explain other parts of my background, besides almost having an MPH, I am fluent in Spanish, and did missionary work in Central America for two years, so I have some international experience. Humanitarian work overseas would be a great fit for me, except I don’t think it’s feasible for me to be away from my wife and two young kids for long periods of time.

        I am hoping to work domestically (in the U.S.A), and do international work with the possibility of periodically traveling overseas, especially to Latin America (where my Spanish fluency can come in handy). To do this, I am willing to relocate anywhere within the U.S. What are some organizations you can think of that I should look at for volunteering and/or applying for jobs? Any particular advice? Thank you so much!

      • October 15, 2012 12:55 pm

        Hi Jason,
        Glad you like the site, please do consider buying (or rating) the ebook on Amazon – that really helps me!
        To be honest your question is a little outside of my field of expertise – I’d like to refer you to Alanna Shaikh, who runs a (very reasonably priced!) subscription based careers advice column. She specializes much more in public health questions, and I think would be a better person to advise you on this – her website is here.
        Let me know if that works out,

  18. Tas permalink
    September 8, 2012 11:09 am

    Helloo ! My name is Tasnim, and im currently in my Junior year of uni. I’m double majoring in journalism and media, and English literature. I’ve always been interested in perusing a humanitarian job, I’m a member of the Red Cross, and im going to start an internship at a human relief organization soon.. my interview is on monday so *fingers crossed*
    however i’ve been wondering if my major would help in any way in perusing a humanitarian job ? I already am fluent in both writing and speaking english arabic and french a little chinese… and im looking froward to learning spanish this year…

    • September 8, 2012 11:48 am

      Hi Tamsin – good luck in your interview – for my money it doesn’t matter much what you take in college. No one has ever asked me what courses I took, what I majored in, or even to see the certs for the degrees I claim to have. Study what interests you, and pursue those internships and overseas opportunities- they are the things that make the difference!
      Good luck, and please buy the e-book!

  19. Zenny permalink
    October 25, 2012 10:08 am

    Hello Nick,
    I just read the article above about relief work and most of the points listed is what I’d already been expecting. I’m in my last year of high school, and I’m going to college next year and I was wondering if a degree in psychology, sociology or anthropology would be of any use when it comes to relief work. I really want to work in a developing country, and for a while I wanted to study psychology to help people through traumatic experiences. But having lived in a third world country, I realized that people don’t usually go for psychological treatment even though they might need it because it costs a lot of money, money that they don’t have. Is there anything in the job market that involves psychology? My fallback options are Sociology and Anthropology which I’m also very interested in but I still have to figure out what work I could find if I major in those. I would love to work in Africa (East Africa to be exact), but i’m also open to working in Asia, South America, etc.

    • October 25, 2012 2:42 pm

      Hi there Zenny,
      I promise, as I keep saying, to update this article to reflect my views on this – but my take is pretty much the same as it has been every time this question comes up. It doesn’t really matter what you take in college, unless you’re heading for a technical speciality. Take what you enjoy, and most importantly use the time in college to get experience living and working in the kinds of places where you want to end up living and working.
      You’re right that western medical models of mental health are not applicable everywhere, and rely on relatively built out networks of services and professionals. There’s quite a lot of work on culturally appropriate models of psychological wellbeing, and certainly a burgeoning sub-field of ‘psycho-social work’, although typically expatriates are not involved in front line delivery of services.
      Good luck!

  20. Yvette permalink
    October 31, 2012 2:53 am

    Hello Nick

    I have stumbled across your site and it’s brilliant. You are a reinforcer of faith in humanity with your very articulate wise words and knowledge. Perhaps a link at the side with the itinerary would enable easier access to buy your book, which I shall be doing.

    On a personal note, there was a young lady called Lizzie with a four year old son who contacted you on August 9, 2011 6:19 pm inquiring as to the possibility of single parents working for INGOs. You mentioned that you were going to look into it. I was wondering if you had any more advice on this.

    I am in a similar situation with a very bright 6 year old daughter and would like to assist wherever I can in the world but ensure that my daughter is not only safe and comfortable but gets an education and has balanced time with me. Naturally, as with the U.K, I understand that I may need the services of a childminder. Ultimately whatever I do needs to have as little impact on her as possible…working in Kosovo is not an option and neither is living in a tent, put it that way.

    Do you have any updated information on this to share?

    Many thanks.


    • November 1, 2012 10:26 am

      Dear Yvette,
      Thank you for your kind words – I’m not quite certain, but it sounds like you think I should promote my <a href="Getting your first job in relief and development “>ebook more aggressively?

      Anyway, apologies to you and Lizzie – that is still on my agenda, and I am trying to track down some folks I know who have experience with young kids and single parenting overseas, but life and work has got in the way recently… It’s still on the agenda though. In the meantime – here’s my short take on it.

      It’s tough to gain experience when you have young dependents. The kinds of positions that you would need to take to build your resume might well not be suitable. You might have more luck going the route of looking for HQ positions in the UK (or elsewhere) and working on transitioning to the field (or into a job with travel) from there. I don’t usually recommend that, because, all things being equal, I think it’s sometimes the tougher route, but for you all things are not equal – your family is (rightly) your first priority.

      Having said that – don’t rule out Kosovo. While I wouldn’t have taken a kid there in 1999, today it is a stable place with many of the amenities that you need for normal life. I don’t know about the quality of the international schools, but it’s an hour from Vienna, and in many ways a great family posting right now. You’re going to be weighing the impact on your family of moving around, putting up with conditions that might be a challenge from time to time with the huge benefits of exposure to the wider world, and the incredible learning opportunity that some time overseas gives.

      Hope that helps a little, more to come, I promise! 😉

  21. November 29, 2012 5:21 am

    Hi there Nick. At 45 years old I have realized that it is not too late to live a life dream even if it means starting from scratch. Lack of formal education is possibly the largest setback I have, only completing junior high school. I have however, worked as associate editor of a national magazine, Ed in Chief of a regional newspaper and am a published author (all without formal qualifications). I was raised in Papua New Guinea, live in Australia and spent a few years living in Indonesia. I have traveled to 25 or so countries, some many times over, and a number of them third world. I do know what it is like to live in bamboo and thatch huts, bathe in freezing cold or salt water and cook over open fire for extended periods. Culture shock is something I dealt with on my first trip to a third world country many years ago, and very little shocks me any more, be it poverty, disease or corruption.
    I wish to work with orphans in Zimbabwe, and if possible children with AIDS. I am planning to volunteer with an agency for a month later next year, but in the meantime have decided to further my education and get started on gaining some tangible qualifications. What would you suggest I should study in order to work specifically with orphans in Zimbabwe? And one final question, if I continued to volunteer in Zimbabwe for a month or so per year until my education is completed, would it enhance my chances of securing a full time position with an agency? Your time is much appreciated.

    Kindest regards Kelly

    • December 3, 2012 11:05 am

      Hi Kelly –
      First of all, congratulations on your realization that it’s never too late to make a change!
      It sounds like your first career has been pretty interesting. I do have a couple of comments on your plans, but please do bear in mind that, particularly for those of us re-inventing ourselves later in life, everyone’s path will be different.

      1. While the goal of working with AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe is a laudable one, and not unachievable, I would advise you not to be too picky when looking for your first job, but rather take anything that will give you overseas NGO experience, and then specialize once you have a little direct experience under your belt.
      2. What qualifications you will need will depend on what, precisely, it is you want to do. If you want to work in some therapeutic capacity then you will clearly need some kind of medical qualification, but if you want to work in project management, fundraising, etc, then you may not necessarily need anything formal. I would encourage you to spend some time on the ground, even if it’s as a work / holiday volunteer to understand how the specific sector you want to work in functions. Find someone who has the job you want and sit them down over coffee and get their story and their advice.
      3. Volunteering in Zimbabwe will certainly help your chances – make sure you network like crazy while you’re there, and make sure everyone you meet knows your skills and intentions!
      4. Consider seriously whether your resume is good enough with your experience, and whether you even need a formal qualification. At your stage in your career it may be possible to pivot without a degree – talk to agencies on the ground and get their advice.
      Good luck – let us know how it goes!

      • February 22, 2013 5:48 am

        Hey there Nick, thought I would pop in again and let you know how all is going. I decided that the best thing to do would be to at least get a few credentials, so started college this month getting my community services certification (1 year full time, and diploma 1 year part time next year). I managed to convince my coordinator to allow me to volunteer overseas to gain the necessary work placement credits I need this year. Soooo I am off to Zimbabwe in September/October to volunteer on a medical & Community outreach program *big grin* Thank you for your assistance and guidance. Will let you know how it all goes with my first voluntary placement later in the year. xx Kel

      • February 22, 2013 7:47 am

        Hi Kelly – great to hear from you – congratulations – it sounds like things are going really well!
        Please do consider writing a short article for the site about your experiences when you get back – I’d love to have more first hand accounts of how these kinds of things are!

  22. Raju permalink
    December 8, 2012 7:48 am

    Dear Nick,
    I am a Nepalese Army officer and I am 27 years old now. I am serving in nepalese army since 2004 and currently my rank is captain. Within my service period i got a chance to take park as a peacekeepers in the UN( DRC) in 2008.I have completed my bachelor’s degree.Now I think to change my job and work in the UN nations . Working in the United Nations is my dream job. But i don’t know how and where to start to apply for the job in UN and i want to know what kind of job is suitable for the military background.Would be thankful if you give me some ideas.

  23. Grace permalink
    December 15, 2012 2:15 am

    Hello! My name is Grace. I am currently working as a sales consultant in a mutinationl company in lebannon called FAST MONDIAL & MARINE and was majoring in Ecnonomics. I have always been very interested in having a humanitarian job though. I never knew how to go about getting started. What major should I look into majoring in? Or what steps should I take to begin the process of starting a career in this feild?

    • December 17, 2012 11:01 am

      Hi Grace,
      Thanks for writing. I’m a little baffled by your question, it’s one that I feel is fairly well covered in the articles and comments on the site – perhaps you can rephrase it in a way that helps me understand what specific issue you’re asking about?

  24. Mariel permalink
    December 17, 2012 12:58 pm

    I’m a 15 year old and I would love to someday work for an organization bringing medical aid to countries in need. I was wondering what degrees are required to do this, as well as some organizations that have jobs like this. Thanks!

    • December 17, 2012 1:07 pm

      Hi there Mariel,
      Thanks for commenting – if you find this blog useful, please do consider buying the ebook on Amazon, or at least reviewing and rating it – that really helps me to cover the costs of this site.
      As to your question, there are a huge variety of roles in bringing medical aid to countries in need, and a wide range of organizations working in those sectors. I suggest the InterAction member directory as a good place to begin your research ( take a look at the organizations working in health, and then look at the jobs pages on their website to see the kinds of positions that they recruit for, and the qualifications that they ask for.
      Hope that helps!

  25. Natalie permalink
    January 11, 2013 2:24 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Firstly, thanks for this great article! loads of useful information in here.

    i wonder if you could give me some advice….i am a 30 year old nurse working in a hospital in the UK on a ward specialising in infections. i am interested in becoming a humanitarian aid worker, however i am not yet sure if i am cut out for such a challenging career.
    I am planning to do a 3-4 week volunteer experience in Africa, ideally working as a nurse. This would be an experience i would be paying for and there are lots of companies out there who organise such experiences. i was wondering if you think, firstly, that this is a good way in which to find out if this is the career for me. Secondly, do you have any recommendations or advice when choosing which company to organise such an experience with?
    Thanks in advance for your time,


    • January 12, 2013 8:14 am

      Hi Natalie,
      Thanks for the feedback – I’m glad you liked the article! If you’re able, it really helps me when people buy the ebook, or at least review and rate it on Amazon!

      Getting your first job in relief and development

      Since you’re in the UK, there are some resources that I’m sure you’re already aware of, but should really check out. REDR ( is a great organization that has resources and training for people wanting to work in humanitarian aid, including a ‘Do I really want to do this?” course! It’s also a great way to build contacts.

      Since you have a very practical skill, you should also check out the humanitarian agencies operating out of the UK – while you should look at the big ones (MSF, Save, the Red Cross etc), you shouldn’t ignore the smaller ones like IMC (

      I definitely think that spending time in the places you want to work is a great way to get a sense of whether this is what you really want to do (although ‘Africa’ is a pretty big and diverse place!). I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with particular companies offering work experience. While this might well be positive for you, and potentially a good way to check the area and field out, I would advise you use a lot of caution and due-dilligence when researching a group to go with. Talk to people who have been with them – while some of these firms are legit, some are pretty shady!

      Also remember that these kinds of paid experiences rarely ‘count’ on your resume – I would make sure you’ve exhausted other avenues before you do that. If you want to send me the names of the companies you’ve shortlisted I’ll post them and see if anyone has any feedback on them.

      One of the nice things about the primary medical field is that there is a norm of people taking short assignments overseas and then returning to their work in their home country, so if it turns out this is not for you, you haven’t burned your bridges – good luck, and do let us know how you do!

  26. lida permalink
    January 24, 2013 10:03 am

    Hi Nick,
    By writing this reply, I have obviously read your page, which by the way is very resourcefull and spurred me on to buy your e-book. As I, like others replying on your page, also wants to persue a career in humanitarian aid. However, I am dead scared to ask you a question now, as you are pretty ‘hush’ on some of your answers. Anyway , I am trying for 3 years now to find a way in how to get a relief job. Will give your book a go , if not , I will pop a question or two … what ever the consiquences.


    • January 24, 2013 5:32 pm

      Dear Lida,
      Glad you found the page useful, and saddened that you are scared to ask a question. Let me apologize absolutely to anyone who found my responses ‘hush’, that’s certainly never been my intent. Sometimes the internet is a funny thing, and text responses can be open to interpretation with very little context. I do confess to having a somewhat overdeveloped sense of sarcasm, which can occasionally get the better of me, but I do hope that you and others understand that my primary goal here is to give people frank and honest information that I wish had been available to me when I was trying to break into this line of work.
      I do hope that you feel able to ask anything that you want to,

  27. lida permalink
    January 25, 2013 5:30 am

    Well done…

  28. John permalink
    February 17, 2013 8:37 pm

    Hello Nick,

    I am looking into what paths I may take to get into humanitarian aid and development work. I am 25 and hold a three year diploma in business administration with a focus in international trade. I was interested in this field but could never really picture myself pursuing a career in it.

    I have been employed with a reforestation company in Canada for the past 5 years where I act as a crew foreman. This has given me experience working in very remote areas living in work camps with only basic daily necessities. I am responsible for the recruitment and management of seasonal employees who replant deforested areas. The job requires frequent problem solving in a fast pace and stressful environment in which I thrive. I am constantly away from home in sometimes horrible environmental conditions. I enjoy the challenges of the job, however need a sense of purpose in what I do and think I may find something in this field that will coincide with my values.

    I have traveled through numerous developing countries in South America and South East Asia without any volunteer experience that would hold any real weight on a resume.

    I have always been interested in international affairs and cultures but have never really been able to find a specific way in which I could turn these passions into a career. I keep focusing on the fact that you generally need some type of specific profession to offer in order to obtain a job. Do you have any suggestions on how I may determine what specific roles in humanitarian aid/development to pursue?

    Thanks for any input you can offer,

    • February 17, 2013 9:40 pm

      Thanks for your question – first off, please do think about buying the ebook and rating / reviewing it on Amazon – it really helps me keep this site going!
      Commercial issues dealt with, my first impression from what you say is that you have the perfect skill set for a a project management position in relief / development. While there are certainly a lot of jobs out there that require specific skills, a lot of relief work in particular has to do with getting things done in tough environments.
      That said, you lack the crucial experience living and working overseas, and as you suggest, travel doesn’t cut it. There are a couple of potential approaches here – the first is to try to convince a hiring manger in the west to hire you – I think this is a long shot – you’ll be up against a lot of people with more experience than you. The second is to try to get some experience volunteering overseas, while searching for work at the same time. I honestly think that this is going to be easier, although you need to be very careful that you do your homework. You need a place that you’re interested in, that has a good tourist infrastructure, and supports a range of INGOs. When you’re there, you need to do the rounds of all the local and international organizations, get informational interviews, hand out your resume, make yourself useful and volunteer. Make sure you network like crazy and let it be known you’re looking for work. It’s not a sure thing, but it’s the most reliable way I know to get hired.
      Good luck, let us know how it goes,

  29. Mariama permalink
    March 1, 2013 12:31 am

    Hi Nick,

    I’ve just read the entire blog and all the responses you’ve posted…. this is just excellent. Also, I’m trying to buy your book on amazon but it seems like it’s only available as kindle edition (I don’t have kindle). It’s a shame as I really wanted to read it. Could you do anything about that?

    Thank you so much for your help and hard work…honestly you’ve just changed my life.


    • March 1, 2013 8:23 am

      First of – thanks so much for you kind words.
      OK – the ebook situation – first off – unfortunately it is only available in kindle format, but luckily there are free kindle reader apps for the ipad and most other tablets. I know that’s kind of weak, but the truth is that there isn’t anything in the ebook that isn’t on the website. It’s a more convenient format for off-line reading, but basically the same content.
      Buying the ebook is a way for people who like the site to help me offset some of the costs of maintaining it, which I appreciate a lot!
      Hope you might be inclined to rate or review it on Amazon, sorry not to have better news,

  30. Erika Bishoff permalink
    March 1, 2013 11:19 am

    Hi Nick,

    I am currently a junior at my college studying Global Studies with a track on Developmental, Environmental, and Public Health work. I can speak both French and German, not fluently, but I can speak well enough to hold a conversation. I am currently also interning at the Department of Human Resources, Emergency Operations in Baltimore City. So far I have traveled to several places including Germany, Canada, Austria, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, the Carribeans, and Thailand (the only third-world country). I am not sure exactly what I want to when I am done with school but so far I feel like I have a calling to do humanitarian work, or something with the environment. I also have a passion for traveling (preferably to sites of indigenous populations, or third-world countries), and that is something I am set on doing. Having that in mind, it seems like International aid/relief work would be a good fit for me.

    Having that said, what do you think some of my next steps are besides finishing school? What would you advise me to do or look into?

    I would love to join the Peace Corps, but the only thing I am worried about is the fact that I have Chron’s Disease and I am on medication that lowers my immune system. This is a concern, because I would like to volunteer in a third-worrld country, and that may be difficult having a digestive disorder and a supressed immune system.

    • March 1, 2013 11:48 am

      Erika – thanks for writing – please do consider buying or rating the eBook on Amazon – it really helps me offset the cost of running this site!

      Re your two questions – sounds like your first one gets my standard answer of ‘get experience living and working in the kinds of places you think you might like to work’. You need to get out there, do internships, volunteer, and figure out whether this is the kind of work you want to do.

      Secondly – you have a medical question, which, I am afraid I am not qualified to answer. Having said that, I have known many people with different (sometimes serious) medical conditions who work in the relief and development field, sometimes in surprisingly remote conditions. Only you, with advice from your doctor and some common sense, can make the decision about whether your medical condition disqualifies you from any given job. Don’t assume it will until you’ve really shaken that tree, and good luck!

  31. abeautifulsimplicity permalink
    March 7, 2013 5:09 am

    Hello Nick,

    My name is Abby from the Philippines. I have a Bachelors Degree in Nursing and a Masters Degree in Global Development and Social Justice. Currently I am working as a University instructor but I want to change career and work in the field of development. I volunteer for Catholic missionaries’ education program for poor children in the Philippines which mainly involves teaching kids in arts, reading and values formation. I tried researching about NGOs in the Philippines but most of them require several years of experience . Is my 4-year volunteer experience enough? Can you give me advice about the next step that I should take? Thank you so much.


    • March 7, 2013 12:46 pm

      Hi Abby –
      Thanks for writing – please do consider buying the ebook if this site is useful to you, or at least rating it on Amazon! That really helps me offset the costs of maintaining the site.
      So – I’m not entirely sure that I understand what kind of NGOs you want to work for – I take it that you mean Philippino based organizations working in the Philippines? If so then that’s not an area that I have a lot of expertise with, but I would have thought that your best bet would be to seek out people who are doing the kinds of jobs that you want to be doing and get informational interviews with them. Network, get yourself known, and build relationships in those organizations.
      Perhaps you can jot me a note with a little more information,
      Good luck!

  32. Tatiana permalink
    March 13, 2013 7:09 pm

    okay can you hep me I don’t think a relief organiation is what I am looking for I want to work internationally educating in some capacity whether it be teaching english or teahing healthcare in undeveloped areas. please tell me where I could locate a list of education organizations that pay. I apreciate your help bc i am completely green about this topic. I hve alot to offer ad i want to give but I know my needs and I would not be able to tolerat the conditions you describe above-location matters to me as healthwise tugh i am extremely fit I do not tolerate extreme heat well nor rusti accomoations, I am more of a lotus than a tough shrub:) Thank you for answering and thak you for educating me on the conditions I would have to endure in a true “relief organization”.

    • March 14, 2013 11:37 am

      Hi Tatiana, thanks for your comment. Please do consider rating or buying the ebook on Amazon if this blog has saved you from an inappropriate career choice!
      I do just want to point out that not all development work is carried out in harsh or remote conditions, but totally approve of people making the decision that it’s not a good choice for them.
      To your question about lists of education organizations, I’m afraid that’s outside of my area of expertise. Sorry!

  33. Grace permalink
    April 15, 2013 4:08 pm

    Hi Nick!

    My name is Grace and I am a senior in high school trying to figure out what to major in so I can have a stable career in some sort of humanitarian work; whether it be international or within the states. I’ve done some research and have heard conflicting views on if a career in this field requires a bachelors or masters degree. What is your take? Do you think a bachelors degree (in something like sociology or cross-cultural studies) is a solid foundation for a humanitarian aid career?

    Also, I want to say thank you for taking the time to get the information out. Reading over some of your pages have helped me out a lot with questions I was having a hard time finding answers to. I feel even more compelled to pursue this type of work. Keep it up!

    • April 15, 2013 6:16 pm

      Thanks for your kind words – perhaps I’m missing some nuance in your question, but I feel like this question is pretty well trodden ground – is there some aspect of this that isn’t covered clearly here: ?
      I do think a bachelor’s degree is pretty much essential, but it’s not enough – you need a solid amount of overseas experience. As to the topic, I think the specific matter much less than getting out to the kinds of places you want to live and work.
      Please do jot me a note and let me know if I missed something in your question,
      Let us know how you do!

      • Grace permalink
        April 15, 2013 6:55 pm

        Sorry I hadn’t seen that post! I am definitely planning to get experience in college and after I graduate, maybe something like the Peace Corps. I guess I’ll think more about graduate school down the line if it seems worth it. Thanks again.

  34. Erin permalink
    May 1, 2013 7:13 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I am a case worker at a non profit in Austin, Texas. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a background in both fine arts and education. I am looking to shift into a career where I can both travel and make enough to pay off my absurd amount of student loan debt. I studied abroad in Spain and would love to go back. Do you have any advice?


  35. May 2, 2013 8:56 am

    Hi Erin –
    Without a little more specifics I’m not sure I can help you much – I don’t really have much experience with getting work in places like western Europe, and without having some kind of idea of what you mean by ‘absurd’ it’s hard to give an indication of whether aid work is going to give you the kind of income you need.
    My first thought is that it may not.
    If you want to drop me a line and chat in more detail I’m very happy to.

  36. May 6, 2013 11:31 am

    Hi Nick,
    you seem really dedicated with replying to all these posts! I have a masters in architecture, I did an internship with an international cooperation in Asia, and now at an EU institution. However, I don’t enjoy the small scale of work of an architect and always felt I need another masters or a PHD to be a real HR material. I am trying to find out what would be more useful to specialize in, but the answers are not very obvious. I would prefer to work in a governmental sector or some kind of consultancy where I think the conditions are less tough than in the NGOs. Urban planning, water engineering, emergency management, climate change, environmental or energy field…. do you happen to have any insight in what would be a nice addition to an architectural background? Would it be wiser to go into technical field or management/general development studies? I’d appreciate your opinion.

    • May 7, 2013 8:53 am

      Thanks for your comment. Just a little statistic for you – this site got about 10,000 page views last month, and the associated ebook on Amazon has 6 reviews… Just saying – you might like to make that 7 for me…
      Anyway – your question.
      You know, my advice is pretty much always the same… Get out there, spend some time volunteering or interning with the kinds of organizations you want to get a job with, and hang out with the kinds of people who are doing the jobs you want to have in the future. There’s no replacement for spending some time on the ground really getting to know what the business is like. You list a vast range of possibilities, and from that I deduce that you need to spend some time ‘finding your passion’. Most of us in the line of work who are not technical specialists (and even some who are) spend most of their time in the field trying to get things done in tough environments. The skill set that is most in demand is to be able to solve tough problems under pressure in resource scarce environments. I think architecture sets you up well for that, but would encourage you to go out and get your boots dirty before you consider another degree.
      Let us know how you do!

  37. Veera permalink
    May 6, 2013 4:34 pm

    Hi Nick,
    I’m a first year undergraduate at university doing a Bachelor’s in Politics with International Relations. So far I have taken all the possible development modules… do you think this is enough to get a placement in some kind of development related organization in my third year? Any other tips on what I should do at university to improve my chances at this? Thanks a bunch 🙂

    • May 7, 2013 8:48 am

      Thanks for your comment. If you find this blog helpful please do buy the ebook on Amazon, or at least leave a review and rating!
      Without a little more information it’s hard to say, but if you’re looking to get a posting overseas rather than in a developed nation you will usually need some solid overseas work experience or volunteer time.
      Good luck!

  38. Erika permalink
    June 23, 2013 2:25 am

    I’m very interested in doing humanitarian work around the world but am only 18 and, of course, do not have a degree. When I research possible organizations it seems you can only apply if you have a degree. My Spanish is good and I know that I could help with the skills I have but I’m wondering what organizations would accept my help without a degree.

    • July 2, 2013 9:58 am

      Hi there Erika – first off – please do buy my ebook on Amazon – or at least review it! That really helps me to offset the costs of running this site!
      OK – working without a degree is not impossible – I know people who have worked their way up by demonstrating their use and ability. It is tough these days though – an undergraduate degree for most people is the bare minimum, a lot of people have graduate degrees, and relief and development is becoming a more technical and structured field.
      Being only 18 is not an absolute impediment, but to be honest, I think the question is what skills do you bring to the table? If you don’t have a degree or a lot of field experience you really need to be able to articulate very clearly what value you add to the situation. You might look at the Peace Corps if you’re in the US – particularly at the programs that integrate with university degrees.
      Good luck – let us know how you do!

  39. charlotte permalink
    July 9, 2013 3:08 pm

    Heyyy nick
    That was amazing post , it has really helped get good idea of aid worker i am very grateful.My education for becoming an aid worker is doing business course for two years then going to university to do international development. I know education is important for aid worker but i want to get experience abroad but i haven’t got the money to be able to. i am seeking advice on how to get experience in disaster/relief field if you have suggestions please lets me know.

    Am a 17 years old, living in the uk thank you ^^

  40. Diana permalink
    July 10, 2013 8:44 am

    Hi Nick!

    After reading loads of great information on both your blog as well as the comments and reponses left on your page I am certainly purchasing your ebook! I was wondering if you could help me futher my chances of working for and NGO like Unicef or similar to it. I am a rising Junior in Maryland, double majoring in either political science or public policy (still deciding between the two, any suggestions?) and chinese (I am planning on studying abroad in china during my spring semester). I learned that experience and knowing various languages are very useful in this field of work so ive studied French and chinese and am fluent in Spanish (thanks to my Argentinan and Bolivian parents!). In terms of experience, my freshhman year of college I spent 5 months interning with Save the Children in Ethiopia and realized that developmental work was most definetly my life dream job. Since then, ive volunteered in Costa rica (1 month) and am currently interning once again with Save the children in Bolivia for 2 months. Do you have any advice to further my chances of working in this field? I would love to work as a regional or country director for Save or Unicef. Also, what are my chances of finding a job or at least a paying internship right out of college? (I´ll need a source of income to pay for grad school). Thank you so much for your dedication.


    • July 10, 2013 8:56 am

      Thanks Diana, I appreciate the feedback – it really helps me help defray the costs of this site when people buy the ebook, and review it on Amazon – so thanks for that!

      OK – your questions:
      1. I don’t think it matters whether you major in PolSci or Public Policy. I don’t think that aid agencies care very much about what you study in college (unless you are in a technical field).
      2. Languages. Languages are good. French is awesome for West Africa. The only thing I would say about Chinese and Spanish is that there are not that many expat jobs in the aid world in China, or, increasingly, in the Latin American world. That’s a good thing, largely, but I’d think about whether Chinese is a good language for a career in aid – it certainly could be, but it’s going to put you on a pretty specific track.
      3. Your internships sound great – I hope you’re staying in touch with the people you got to know and really leveraging those relationships.
      4. CD or Regional Director jobs are typically 5-15 years out for most people (depending on the agency and the size of the country), but it’s totally realistic. Finding a paying job is not impossible straight out of college, and you probably know my thoughts about the best places to be when you’re looking!
      Good luck, tell us how you do!

  41. Erika Bishoff permalink
    July 11, 2013 5:44 pm

    Hello Nick,

    I know you continuously say that degrees do not really matter as much. However, right now I’m making like a life decision of choosing either Social work or International Studies (concentration on development, health, environment). Does one really suit my dream of traveling abroad better? And in terms of language, right now I know German and French. And, would love to pick up Spanish. Out of the 3 is there a specific language that would be of more use?

    • July 11, 2013 10:09 pm

      Erika –
      So – you know that I continuously say that your degree does not really matter that much, but your question is still ‘what degree should you get?’ Seriously? 😉
      I don’t know what to tell you – I don’t think it matters much – what matters is the overseas experience that you gain, and the contacts you make. But, whatever – you asked me to pick, so I pick International Studies. There. That’s the degree you should get.
      OK – so – you speak German and French – well- French is by far the most useful of the two if you want to work in West Africa, Spanish if you want to work in Latin America (although there are not many jobs for Gringos there these days). Arabic certainly puts you in the running for a lot of challenging jobs – that would be my pick!
      Good luck – let us know how you do!

  42. Ellen Maunder permalink
    July 22, 2013 1:50 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Firstly, many thanks for the blog and the book (which I will definitely be purchasing). I am 25 years old female from UK with a first degree (English, Oxford) in humanities and a master’s in International Relations (LSE). Whilst I was studying and living abroad (Chin and Japan) I volunteered for a number of organisations in Tokyo and London, mainly working on refugees advocacy, advice and guidance as well as some fundraising and outreach projects. Due to lack of funds (mainly after many, many, many unpaid internships and voluntary internships), I never managed to actually volunteer in a developing country so I have no first-hand experience of working on development projects. I have actually been working in access to higher education and outreach with young people from deprived areas of inner-city London for the past 2 years which, although really meaningful work,I’ve decided just isn’t what I ultimately wanted to be doing. So I applied , and have been offered a Team Leader Role on a DFID -funded project in Zimbabwe this September which I’m really excited about.

    My question (I promise I have one) is whether or not a 3 month project (working in a rural Zimbabwean community with local volunteers on HIV/AIDS awareness raising) is actually going to be meaningful to employers when it comes to working in this sector? My concern is that it won’t be seen as sufficient experience ‘in-field’ to qualify for a Programme Officer role (which is ultimately what I’d like to do) and that my experience in youth work in the education sector in the UK isn’t really transferable to humanitarian work. I’d be giving up a well-paying job in order to volunteer so I’m a little nervous about my prospects long-term. Any advice you could give would be much appreciated.

    Ellen, London UK

    • July 22, 2013 2:07 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Ellen, and thanks for buying the e-book – it really helps me cover the costs of running this site. If you don’t mind rating it on Amazon that also helps me hugely.
      OK – to your question:
      Three months in Zimbabwe, while it won’t hurt, won’t necessarily make you competitive for international positions on its own. What this will do however is give you the opportunity to make connections and meet people. You can build a network of relationships of people who have seen your work and will vouch for you as reliable and able to get things done. Make sure you tack some days on to your Zim experience to hang out in the capital and network with ngo and donor representatives, hand out your resume. Better yet, plan to stay an extra 3-6 months and volunteer there, make yourself useful and look for work. With a resume that is impressive in many ways, but lacking field experience, I don’t think there’s a better plan out there.
      Good luck – do let us know how it goes!

  43. nobutu permalink
    July 24, 2013 7:55 pm

    Hey nick! Thank you for the advice its been very helpful.
    My name is nobu, a student studying development studies and minoring in psychology in zambia. Although I haven’t majored in specific fields for both yet. Firstly, I’m hoping you could give me some advice on which field of development studies to do? I would love to travel and be exposed to new cultures in which ever field I am going to do and I highly doubt that an office job would give me such an oppourtunity. I was considering studying food and relief aid but after reading your blog, I am not quite sure if I can withstand the intense conditions of the job. Secondly, for my psychology minor, I thought health or child psychology. Which one of the two, do you think would be a useful minor with my development studies degree?
    Thirdly would I be able to work abroad or my course only limits me to Africa? would there be need for me to study international development studies too? One other thing does not having a second international language work against you when looking for a job? Is it cardinal that I learn another language? Of the main languages, how do I know which language would be of best help?
    Thanx nobu

    • July 24, 2013 9:51 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Nobu.
      If you’ve read my site, then you know what I think about which degree you should take.
      As to whether you can deal with the demands of the job, that’s a big reason why internships and overseas experience are important – there’s really only one way to tell.
      You ask whether you can work abroad, or only in Africa – well, there are plenty of places that are both abroad and in Africa, but I think your question is whether it’s easy to break out of the expatriate African circuit? It’s certainly possible – I think a lot of Africans stay within the continent because it’s big, and provides a lot of opportunities without going half-way around the world, but there’s no reason why you would have to do that.
      Language matters for certain places – again I address this – French in west Africa, Spanish in Latin America, Russian in the former Soviet world, Chinese for China, and to some extent Arabic are really helpful, otherwise it doesn’t much matter from a recruiting perspective, but never hurts professionally.
      Which one you learn is going to depend on where you want to work.
      Good luck, let us know how you do!

  44. Cat KEnnedy permalink
    July 26, 2013 3:41 am

    I’m going into year 13 this year and therefore I need to begin looking a university degree’s however I am unsure what degree to do as the only thing I want to do is to help people any way I can – hopefully by becoming a relief worker. What degree would you suggest would enable me to get into this?
    Thank you,

    • July 27, 2013 5:40 am

      Hi Cat – I want to be supportive of your goal, but I’ve actually answered this question several times on the site – feel free to drop me other questions that I have not already answered!

  45. Séamus permalink
    July 30, 2013 11:34 am

    Hi Nick, I have to say fair play to you for giving the attention and reply to the comments left on your site.

    Your book would be something I would be interested in purchasing after recently purchasing a book looking into the UN organisation

    Im 22 now and have completed BSc Education & Training and MA Society & Space. Ideally I would like to be Working as a Field Officer abroad in a development context,possibly with the UN who have UNV internships funded by the Irish Aid opening soon. My downfall is the lack of experience I have abroad. Money obviously being a big factor in that, and I dont really like the concept of fundraising money, other than if solely for the organisation and not for your own expense. I have nearly 3 years experience volunteering in local homeless shelter, which I would consider the humanitarian sector, would this be beneficial to me?
    Also in doing out Cover Letters in regard to development jobs/internships what details should I be putting in, and should I be displaying in depth knowledge of particular areas or keep it simple? Sorry for it ending up being a long winded comment, currently in process of applying for internships and any help would be brilliant if you could

    Kind Regards,


  46. Ruth permalink
    August 5, 2013 4:27 pm

    Hi, I’m 15 years old, and I also would like to be an international aid worker. I already speak French and Spanish, but what i don’t know is what subject should I study in university? What type of diploma will I need?

    • August 6, 2013 1:07 am

      Hi Ruth,
      Thanks for writing. It would be great if you read the site and then please feel free to post if you have a question that hasn’t been dealt with.
      Good luck!

  47. Anna Berry permalink
    September 3, 2013 10:11 pm

    Hi Nick!
    I’m a 20 year old student in NZ. I know you’re constantly answering the same questions from so many different people so I have ordered your book! But I have a question for you too. I know I want to work in aid, it’s a life long dream. I’ve always been drawn to travel and have spent time in places like Vietnam, Malaysia and Bali and I plan on volunteering through the organisation Lattitude in Malawi. I know I want to be hands-on and work for an organisation as a nurse, but I wonder how that fits into a series of organisations where paid work seems so focused on administration and project management and co-ordination.

    So I guess my question would be are there jobs for nurses rather than doctors? Where are they and how do I get my hands on them! haha

    Thanks so much for your time and running this page, from what I have read you’re helping aspiring aid workers like myself immensely.


    • September 4, 2013 8:03 am

      Hi Anna – thanks for your kind words and question –
      I’m in the rather messy process of changing domains, so if you don’t mind I’m going to move your question over to and answer it there!

  48. yaya permalink
    September 29, 2013 5:17 am

    I am still in high school and plan on dedicating my life to helping the world whether it be environmental or humanitarian, I love marine biology but I also love bio-medical engineering and psychology… I have been on humanitarian missions to Ghana, marine conservation expeditions, I am a volunteer with green peace and a local anti-bullying campaign. My problem is I LOVE THEM ALL, I thought that by participating in all of these id find the one that calls my name, but I love all of them. Any advice on what to study or how to figure out which one to dedicate myself to?

    • October 1, 2013 11:10 am

      Hi there Yaya,
      You have a great problem! You need to get out there and meet people who are doing the jobs you’re interested in, do internships, volunteer, and find out more about the realities of these careers! Good luck – let us know how you do!

  49. Shiloh permalink
    November 11, 2013 5:12 am

    Love this blog! I’m wondering if you could give me some guidance? I’m a 24 year old student (Junior) in College double majoring in Linguistics and Russian. I’ve been on humanitarian missions before-mostly teaching English in Russia and different parts of Asia. I love LOVE children-seeing them learn, I love it when you can see them transform into healthy happier kids, it’s all great- rough but great. My question is where do I go from here? Would a graduate degree be the best thing for me as far as applying with different relief programs or are they mostly looking for experience? Any help would be great!

    • November 11, 2013 11:45 am

      Hi Shiloh,
      I think I’d probably point you to the article on this site about grad school for my advice on that!
      Good luck!

  50. James Buchanan permalink
    November 11, 2013 11:40 am

    Hi James –
    Thanks – you know – you don’t need a Kindle to read the book – there is a free app for PCs, Mac, iDevices etc that will let you read it!
    If you’ve read the site then you pretty much know my response on this question – I think it’s all about relevant experience. While you may not have money for travel right now, I think getting experience living and working overseas is vital to a career in this line of work. There are various ways you might get that, not all of which require you fund travel.
    Good luck!

    Hi Nick

    Great article, thank you for the information. I have looked at your book on Amazon, however unfortunately I do not have a Kindle.

    I just wondered if you could give me a little advice. I live in Scotland and I was a medical student for 3 years but I left the course after deciding I didn’t want to be a doctor. I got a basic degree for the first 3 years of the course – BSc Medical Science – and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life.

    I’m extremely passionate about wanting to make the world a better place and help people in whatever way I can but I don’t know what steps I should be taking or if a career in international aid is even feasible for me. I do not have any spare money to travel places and all I have is my BSc in Medical Science. In your opinion, would there be any opportunities for me to pursue in this field?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Kind regards


  51. Kat permalink
    November 16, 2013 5:16 pm

    Hi Nick…I have so many questions about how I could help people around the world going through all sorts of difficulties but that will be for another day…today,let me just say…you are doing an amazing job!Thank you, for being human in character.

  52. deidra lopez permalink
    November 18, 2013 9:38 am

    I’m very interested in trying out a career in the field. I would like to start almost immediately. I only have limited experience in the US. But, I believe my drive will make up for that. I have been doing research but I just want to get started I think the best way to do something like this is just to do it, after a fair amount of research of course. I feel the need to do it I can’t say it any other way. Hope this comment reaches somebody.

  53. Hannah permalink
    November 21, 2013 7:51 am

    Hello Nick, Im Nigerian, live in nigeria and I studied communication in uni so right afterwards, I got a job at a tv station. As interesting as that is, it’s just not fulfilling if you know what I mean. Anyway, I check online for ngo jobs all the time, i think im even obsessing sometimes but they all require some ngo experience and basically no entry level position. Its not Your country where there are programs you can volunteer for, they always seem to need qualified candidates all the time. Now for someone like me, it becomes a problem mainly because the nigerian system is not well structured. Please I need your advise. I really want to work for an Ngo but all the openings never seem to match my qualification and sometimes I apply anyway but they never reply. Im thinking of getting a masters degree as soon as i can afford it so please, How else can I get in?

  54. Walters permalink
    December 9, 2013 7:48 pm

    I am a Cameroonian presently in Korea on studies.I own a master’s degree in N G O studies and presently pursuing a P H D in Community education.Before living my country for further studies,I have been working with local N G Os.I just won the US lottery so I plan to stop my P H D program and relocate to US.Would it be easy for me to find a relief job there with my MA in N G O studies?
    Accept my best regards,

  55. laker gloria permalink
    December 19, 2013 12:35 pm

    am totally in shock at the misconceptions most people have of Africa. As an african it kind of amuses me to see the

  56. December 30, 2013 10:03 pm

    This might sound rude, but I’m very irritated. I want to go to the worst of the worst places and do humanitarian work. I don’t care about hours, conditions, type of work or the danger. I can’t find one organization that brings volunteers on board without thousands of dollars in their pocket for “safe home bases”or whatever they spend it on. I care less about a home base, I’ll sleep in a damn tent! I’m sorry, I just need help. I truly just want to go and help people, but I can’t save up that amount of money. Can you direct me to anybody looking for volunteer humanitarian workers where you don’t have to spend 4,000$ to help people. Thanks

    My email:

    • December 31, 2013 11:35 am

      Seth, thanks for the comment – I feel your pain, but am actually going to take your question and reply in a post, as it’s kind of involved!

      • Seth Krattiger permalink
        February 4, 2014 11:51 am

        Thanks Nick,
        Where can I find this post at? Also, sorry for being so upfront. It’s just, I’ve wanted to do humanitarian work for awhile. I volunteer here in my home town, but whenever I try to go abroad I get turned down. It’s almost as if humanitarian work is like golfing. Got to be rich. That sounds rude, but it’s true. I’m not looking for a free ride. I’m just simply looking for work.


      • February 5, 2014 9:44 am

        The field is very competitive, perhaps especially at the entry level. Without seeing your resume its hard to see why you’re getting turned down, but my suspicion is that you don’t have much field experience, and that you’re getting beaten out by people you do.
        Your comments on class privilege are not unusual – unpaid internships and volunteer positions are very common ways of getting a break, and people with more financial security are definitely better able to do that.
        Good luck!

  57. Sabennaba permalink
    January 9, 2014 9:07 am

    Hi Nick,
    Do you have any ideas about how a musician might get into humanitarian aid work in Southern Africa? Or how a musician living in the US might prepare himself to become a good candidate for this kind of work? There is a good chance that I will be moving to South Africa in a couple of years to pursue an advanced degree and my partner, a successful musician with no college degree, will be coming with me. He is interested in getting into aid work, but a degree is a prerequisite for most organizations we have researched thus far. He has other skills in addition to music, including building and remodeling work, and he would like to work with children–he has been especially inspired by UNICEF’s projects. Should he think about finishing school (as he has a couple of years worth of community college credits under his belt), at the very least, or can he bulk up his experience with extensive volunteer work prior to our departure?
    Thank you!

    • January 15, 2014 9:34 am

      I haven’t forgotten about this question – I’m working on tracking down a friend of mine who is a musician who has been working in Afghanistan to write a guest post since this is really outside my area of expertise!

  58. Sarah permalink
    January 9, 2014 2:06 pm

    Hi Nick
    i’ve 24 years, i’m from Algeria, i finished my study “master in financial sciences”, i can use the IT very good, i speak 3 language,…..i want To work in this feild cuz i loved sooooooooooooo much but dn’t know HOW?!!! because there’s not relief agencies in my country !!!!!
    can u help me???

    • January 15, 2014 9:33 am

      Hi Sarah,
      I have to say that this isn’t really my area of expertise – I would suggest that you look at Voluntary Service Overseas, and look at neighboring countries that might have more established relief and development infrastructure.
      Good luck,

  59. Jennifer permalink
    January 30, 2014 7:42 pm

    Hello Nick!

    I loved reading your article! My name is Jennifer and I have a dual degree in Psychology and Religious Studies. I have lived in South Korea teaching ESL for three years and was able to volunteer in an orphanage there and I am currently volunteering with the Red Cross in Arizona. I have always wanted to do humanitarian work and make it a career, not just something I volunteer for from time to time. I am currently looking for employment; what advice to you have for me? Anything would help!

    • January 31, 2014 8:13 am

      Hi Jennifer,
      Glad you liked the article – I would suggest you read the rest of the site, which is pretty much my advice on this issue – if you have a more specific question, I’d be happy to take a swing!

  60. Bianca permalink
    February 3, 2014 6:55 pm

    Hi Nick,
    for a long time I wanted to be a pilot but after a year of studying in business and environmental management at university I have changed my mind. I would like to work in international development so to focus on the area of development more I am changing to a bachelor of Social Science (majoring in development) this year. I know I want to work as an ‘aid worker’ but I’m not sure what to specialise … like I know I have an interest in the environment and economics but I can envisage a job that combines all of these things. Just wondering if you have any ideas or links I could have a look at?

    • February 7, 2014 10:19 am

      Hi there Bianca, did you read the post on this on the site? Take a look, and let me know if you have a follow-up question – thanks!

  61. February 3, 2014 9:22 pm

    Hey!! Very soon i will be an enrolled nurse, is this a good attribute to have to be hired in international aid work?? Also, do i have to start in volunteer work before i can move to a paid position?

    Thankyou!!! Much respect to you and your co-workers 🙂


    • February 7, 2014 10:20 am

      Hi there Samantha, I need to get something up about medical specific opportunities, but essentially yes, nurses are in demand for international postings – you might want to check out MSF, ICRC, and IMC as starting points.
      You may have to volunteer, but there are certainly paid positions available. Check out REDR as well.

  62. Rich Wild permalink
    February 9, 2014 2:56 am

    Hi Nick,

    I am just about to finish a 3 year International Relations BSc degree. I am very interested in working in NGOs in the field. I have volunteered in Zambia and Tanzania, each for a month at a time over previous summers, and would love to become a humanitarian worker. Before applying for these jobs I want to boost my criteria in order to have a greater chance in being accepted, perhaps with a year out to work on this. What would you suggest I do now in order to give myself the best chance?



    • February 10, 2014 9:07 am

      Hi there Rich – this site is sort of my accumulated advice on this topic – the most important thing is to get field experience under your belt ! Good luck,

  63. February 10, 2014 11:03 pm

    I’m looking for any humaniterian aid organization based in Nairobi Kenya. Can you kindly find me one to work with during my part time.

    • February 11, 2014 9:06 am

      Hi Michael,
      I regret that I really can’t.

  64. February 12, 2014 4:48 pm

    Hi, my name is Emma and I am a sophomore in high school. And i’m trying to figure out what i would like to do in the future because it seems everyone knows what they want to do except me. I love traveling, meeting new people, doing community service, working with kids, and well i came across international aid workers and seems very intriguing. I was curious about what kind of jobs do aid workers do/ what type of jobs do agencies look for. I’m not exactly sure how it works, and I just wanted to see if this is something possible for my future, thank you(:

    • February 12, 2014 4:53 pm

      Hi Emma – thanks for your question – did you read the site? Perhaps you have a more specific question for me!

  65. February 12, 2014 5:38 pm

    i clicked on a link that only led to this article and hadn’t looked at the rest of the website, oops, but i will let you now if i have more specific questions, thank you

  66. March 5, 2014 1:15 am

    Sorry Nick, I don’t have questions since the informations that you provide are clear, excellent job, I admire people like you assisting others. That’s good. Ok, ok, I will buy your book and i will rate it;)

  67. Brendan Mill permalink
    March 5, 2014 1:52 am

    I was on a diatribe and was rudely cut by my phone and a wrong button. (took a bit of searching to get back) he he. I was trying to say that as my son gets older I can go where I have actually wanted to for a long time. .. as long as I can still put in for my boy at home. Help me out in the right way to apply and add myself to the skill set I know I can bring. logistics, trade experience, people skills and I don’t care where I sleep…or how.
    he he.

  68. Jose Coco permalink
    March 11, 2014 6:05 am

    Hi there,

    I am bilingual English Spanish 26yo male from Spain currently living in Colombia. Have experience in community projects run by my-self and locals from Uganda, Africa (carried out in situ) and a master’s degree on sustainable development. I really want to find a job on humanitarian aid, Any suggestions? Don’t mind having to move to the end of the world.
    Many thanks, great website.
    Jose Coco

    • March 11, 2014 2:02 pm

      Hi there Jose –
      Thanks for your post – I’m afraid I don’t have any specific questions – I’m really not able to respond to questions like this that are very specific to your situation. If you have something more general that might be of broader interest I’d love to take a swing at it!
      Good luck,

  69. Jonathan permalink
    March 16, 2014 2:02 pm


    Thanks for the work you put in for this site, the information is great! I have become increasingly interested in humanitarian aid work since I left the army back in 2008. During that time I deployed for 15 months and learned well what it means to live in austere environments, while I also saw first hand how hard people in third world nations can have it and how much they often suffer. Since then I’ve had a growing desire to eventually work in humanitarian aid. Recently, I completed a Masters in Economics and I have begun to look around for opportunities in the aid world. However, my wife has epilepsy and I am afraid that will be a no-go for us. Can you shed any light on working in the aid sector when you have family members with disabilities? Furthermore, we do not have children and would be interested to find work together. Certainly some environments would be ruled out for her, but in general is their aid work and organizations that will work with her epilepsy so ensure she had access to her medication? Finally, if I alone find work, is it common for these organizations to provide decent medical coverage for the family?

    • March 16, 2014 2:11 pm

      Hi Jonathan,
      Thanks for the feedback!
      So – first off, epilepsy is not necessarily a problem for finding work. Not all jobs are in hazardous environments, and I’ve seen people with serious disabilities perform admirably in environments that are. From what you say I’m going to assume that her illness is controlled by medication – that’s usually not an issue in anything but the most extreme environments. People are often on medication, be it anti-malarials, heart medication etc, most organizations are set up to be able to deal with this kind of thing.
      Secondly – dependent spouses – this depends very much on the job (is it relatively senior and in a place where dependents are acceptable from a security perspective), and the agency. Most of the larger US and European agencies provide for dependents in many cases, but you need to check on an agency-by-agency and job-posting by job-posting basis.
      As an example, the benefits offered by Mercy Corps here give an example of what a mid-to-large size US organization offers expatriates.

      Hope that helps,

  70. KINGA permalink
    March 23, 2014 5:33 pm

    I completed Master degree: in field of Environmental Engineering with major in Alternative Energy Sources in Civil Engineering. Currently I work in regasification plant at construction site as a civil engineer. I would like to connect my future to humanitarian engineering. My dream is to take a part in projects which main purpose is to improve life quality of people who have been struck by disaster or misfortune. Currently I search on line articles, website where I can learn more about humanitarian engineering. At the beginning I am planning start as a volunteer and step by step get to know new environment. Due to fact that I do not have any experience in humanitarian engineering I can face difficulties in finding a job. I hope my involvement and determination will help me to fulfill my dreams. I would be grateful for any advice in following subject. How to start? Where I should search advertisement?
    Thank you in advance for help,

    • March 24, 2014 10:42 am

      Hi Kinga,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m unable to give personal advice in the comments – I simply don’t know enough about your situation to be of much help. That said, I do hope you find this site (which is my distilled advice for people wanting to get into the field) helpful, and if you have specific questions please do post them! Good luck with your search,

  71. Jorick permalink
    March 25, 2014 7:37 pm

    Hi! I am a public highschool teacher for 11 years and a community organizer since college…I find it limiting my true passion to just work in the classroom…will you help me find a meaningful career that could satisfy both my teaching and social inclination? Thanks!!!

  72. Kate permalink
    March 26, 2014 11:52 am

    I am in my senior year of high school, about 3 months away from graduation, and I am interested in doing some relief and development work for a few years while I decide what degree to peruse. I am not too concerned about money, though a small pay would be helpful for saving for school, etc. Do you have any advice where I should start?

    • March 26, 2014 12:04 pm

      Hi there Kate – as a matter of fact, I do! It’s all collated conveniently on this site – if you have a more specific question please do feel free to post!

  73. james toop permalink
    April 12, 2014 12:29 am

    I have been thinking of this kind of job but I have a dog I’m very fond of and would hate to get rid of are there ways to take a pet with you?

  74. peter soro permalink
    April 23, 2014 7:26 am

    hey nick

    i am a high school graduate, been away from school for about 2 years now, am wanting to get a really outstanding job in the humanitarian sector/ UNHCR but haven’t got any previous experience or education in it, do you think u have any idea of what courses/degree/master required for this career. i’ve been asking around a lot but never seem to get anything.

    thanks in advance

    • April 23, 2014 10:20 am

      Hi there – did you read the two pages on this in the site? If so could you try rephrasing the question? I’m not sure i understand how what you’re asking is different to what I’ve answered before.

  75. April 23, 2014 7:23 pm

    Hey Nick,

    I’m 19 and currently studying EMS and Fire Science courses to become a Firefighter/Paramedic, however I have become heavily interested in international aid. Should the time come that I decide to change my major, what kind of direction and classes should I take? I was told to study some language classes as well as some humanitarian type classes and work my way into volunteering for organizations like the Peace Corps just to build my background before turning it into a career.

    Thanks for your time,

  76. famministries permalink
    April 25, 2014 7:06 am

    Hi Nick
    I have a degree in civil engineering but have a heart and compassion to serve people and help people, I have excellent interpersonal skills and have done mission work for many many years. How do I get a job in humanitarian aid, please advice.

  77. Monica Martinez permalink
    April 29, 2014 10:26 am

    Hi I am trying to figure out about opportunities in relief and development. I am 33 years old and I am single and with no kids. I am always looking into helping others and I want to devoted my life into assisting others around the world. So I need some assistance in how I can do this and accomplish my goal. I don’t care where I go as long as I am helping others in need I am a happy. I have a lot of work experience but I can’t conform into the corporate America life. I don’t mind leaving everything behind for a bigger cause. Anyone that might know how I can turn my dream into reality please contact me at MIa0077@yahoo.,com

  78. Clare permalink
    May 5, 2014 8:33 am

    Hi Nick,

    Had read how much you helped so many people on here through the blog etc and would like to ask if you would mind me picking your brains?.

    I am looking to move into humanitarian work within the medical sector but also for paid work, as it still have a mortgage and bills to pay.
    My experience is within anaesthetics, in a surgical environment, and although not a Dr I work very closely alongside them, working with children and adults requiring all kinds of surgical intervention .
    I have also 8.5 yrs as a police officer previously so feel I can offer life experience and a depth of understanding and many qualities required for this type of work.

    It’s an itch that won’t go away, a calling if you like but to avoid the cliche!, I am willing to take
    a language and do what it takes.

    Could you advise me on the appropriate agencies and organisations to approach .

    Thank you so much for time .

    Clare 🙂

    • May 5, 2014 12:30 pm

      Hi Clare – thanks for your question – while I can’t speak to your specific case here it does sound like you might have a skill set that is in high demand in primary medical agencies. I’m long overdue a post on medical specialty careers – thanks for your patience on that!
      I would look initially at MSF, Medical Teams International, MERLIN (Save the Children), IMC and other agencies that are engaged in primary medical work.
      Good luck,

  79. Jeanne permalink
    May 5, 2014 7:50 pm

    I am heading back to school this fall for an International Development degree and am weighing the organizations in where I want to complete my internship. I’ve always wanted to work for Oxfam and was wondering if anyone has info on salaries I may expect from a Program Officer or similar position. I am still on the fence about pursuing a strictly aid-related career, but working in the UN or USAID are appealing to me as well. Thanks for any advice.

    • May 5, 2014 8:11 pm

      Hi there – thanks for the question!
      In terms of salary (and other factors) I really like – you don’t mention which Oxfam you’re interested in, but they have most of them with salary ranges. You’ll find the UN agencies and US governmental agencies there too, although for those two you can often find ranges on their websites. In fact it’s always worth looking, because some agencies (and a lot of European ones) will post ranges.
      Good luck!

      • Jeanne permalink
        May 6, 2014 1:42 pm

        Awesome, thanks so much Nick. Really great blog BTW, I think this will be my bible for the next 2 years.

      • May 6, 2014 4:50 pm

        Glad you like it! Please consider rating and reviewing my ebook on Amazon!

  80. dechen angmo paldan permalink
    May 10, 2014 4:00 am

    Hello nick ,
    I’m 21 old year,I last year completed my graduation in life sciences and right now persuading masters degree in sociology.
    I always wanted to be an environmentalist or social worker.
    I want to work at UN org.can I get any work there ? I’m mean to say can I make a career out there?

  81. Brenda permalink
    May 10, 2014 1:22 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I live in Canada and am searching high and low for international aid relief work within my country. It is a task that I thought would be somewhat easy, the search that is. Can you recommend some Canadian organizations who hire international aid workers to work at home but also called to perform duties abroad? This is my goal and I am confident I will find what I want, I need direction.
    Thank you

    • May 11, 2014 12:48 am

      Hi Brenda –
      Sorry to be obtuse, but I doubt the problem is that you can’t find Canadian organizations who hire aid workers?
      A quick internet search should pull up the largest. I would check out and the Canadian Government’s overseas aid website where they list their partners (many of whom are Canadian organizations).
      I suspect that your question is about getting a job that is based in Canada and has stints abroad?
      Hope that helps,

  82. Jamal permalink
    May 11, 2014 9:50 am

    Hello Nick-

    Thanks for the wonderful advices; your blog is really great.

    Here is my 2 cents and questions.

    After working with pharmaceutical company for five years while working with New Product Developments and undertaking microbial, sterilization validation, and biocompatibility testing of new products as required. I totally forgot all about where I originally came from “ Somalia”
    I recently left my job and backed my bags to see what’s out there, oh why did I really came here? I asked my self. The small town (Beled Hawa) I visited does not have access to basic human necessities, clean water, medicine, and e.c.t…. urgent action needed to help thousands of people who desperately need help.

    I am back to the states and I need to do something about this situation, but I can’t think of where to start? I am willing to work for free to help those people.
    Should I look for Humanitarian work? but i don’t have prior experience with Humanitarian filed.
    should I start my own NGO and go from there?

    • May 11, 2014 9:59 am

      Hi Jamal,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I’m not very qualified to opine on Somalia or what should be done, having never been there. Since you were recently there I would be fascinated to hear your impressions. That said, I agree that it is a country that seems beset with development issues. My suspicion is that it’s going to be hard to make much progress on standards of living for most people without solving the chronic governance and violence issues, but that’s a guess based on a very cursory understanding of what’s going on there.
      As to what you should do, I would start by trying to really understand what is at the heart of the issues you care most about, and then work backward from there. Are you trying to address the situation country-wide, or is your focus on this particular town? Are you concerned simply about availability of basic amenities, or do you have broader interests? Defining your personal goals should help you clarify exactly what it is that you can contribute that will be of most value.
      Hope that helps,

  83. Alison permalink
    May 15, 2014 12:05 pm


    I am close to being done my undergraduate degree in geography with an environmental speciality. I am very much interested in development and just recently went to Uganda on an exchange and completed two classes at the University there and an unpaid internship with a library NGO promoting literacy and working closely with the education system there. I am very interested and helping people and passionate about the environment and definitely want to persure humatirian/environmental work in developing countries as a career. I am considering doing a minor in international studies but do not know how useful this would be. I really want to gain more hands on experience and pursue my dream job. If anyone has any tips or advice please share them :). Thank you so much for your time!

    • May 18, 2014 11:36 pm

      Hi Alison – did you get a chance to read the page on this? I feel like it addresses this issue, but if you read it and don’t think so please do drop me a line!

  84. Aishnawy permalink
    May 18, 2014 3:55 am

    Hi there. I’m only 17 and humanitarian work has always been my passion. I have been participating in many charity and social work. My question is besides doctor or being in a medicine field is there any possible careers that can be useful for humanitarian aid?
    Second is being born in Malaysia, I only know a handful of language which are English, Malaysian Language ( which is very similar to Indonesian language) , Tamil and Chinese. Are these helpful and what other languages is more benefiting for humanitarian aid?
    Third is does a major in sociology and psychology helpful in humanitarian aid?
    Fourth is that I would really love to help put the Middle East with the current crisis happening there however I also have interest in helping out in Africa ( East Africa to be specific) so my question is whether should I get involved in both and be fully committed to one?
    I’m sorry for the abundance of questions but I’m trying to open up to other job options( so that I can devote my life to humanitarian work cause it has always been my passion) other then medicine cause medicine studies is tough fight for scholarships here

    • May 18, 2014 11:35 pm

      Hi there Aishnawy –
      did you get a chance to read over the site? I feel like all of these questions (apart from whether you got to Africa or the Middle East, which I’m afraid there’s really no right answer to).
      If you read the pages on the right hand side (or in the E-book on Amazon) and think I didn’t answer your question please do write back!
      Good luck,

    • Aishnawy permalink
      May 21, 2014 5:00 am

      To be honest, I read through every single comment, I still couldn’t find an answer for my first and third question. I’m sorry for the trouble. And yes thank you

      • May 21, 2014 5:37 am

        Hi there Aishnawy.
        Thanks for the push-back – I get a lot of very similar questions and do appreciate the clarification. So – let’s go!
        1. “besides doctor or being in a medicine field is there any possible careers that can be useful for humanitarian aid?”
        Essentially, all of the jobs that occur in any organization are present in the humanitarian aid world. There are certainly medical staff in (mainly medical) organizations, but there are also IT professionals, HR staff, recruiters, administrators, logisticians, and, perhaps most prevalent, managers. I think that most of the tasks that expatriates do in ‘the field’ is management – and by that I mean the tasks of structuring and ‘operating’ an organization to get things done in challenging environments.
        3. “Third is does a major in sociology and psychology helpful in humanitarian aid?”
        OK – I’m going to call you out on this one, because this is overwhelmingly the most common question I get. It’s dealt with here –
        and many other places in the comments. To re-iterate, because apparently I’m not being clear – I don’t think that your major matters that much, with the major caveat that if you want to be a doctor or an engineer then clearly it does.
        Hope that helps somewhat – and thanks for writing back!
        Let us know how you do,

  85. Salim permalink
    May 18, 2014 8:14 am

    Hello Nick!! How are you!! 🙂 Hope you doing GREAT!! What you doing is such a big favor..
    Please, Nick I need some clarifications if possible!!
    I started working at an International NGO [War Child Holland] as an administrative assistant for the educational part in Lebanon.. I have a BS in auditing and accounting which is totally different than what am working in.. I have a big interest in working at NGO’s and Helping others, but what confuses me is that I have no clue of what majors could be helpful for me!!
    Much Appreciation 🙂

  86. Court_ permalink
    May 21, 2014 10:50 am


    I am wondering if you’d be able to help guide me in which direction I should turn education wise. I am currently in school for Psychology/ counseling and education. I’ve always been interested in humanitarian work. I started studying psychology to more so understand how and why people in general and people from different cultures, genders, etc behave and what motivates their actions. I was originally in school for Pre- Veterinary. I was interested in wildlife rehabilitation, mainly in South Africa and other areas on the continent of Africa. I found out that this dream career of mine was simply a dream career and nearly impossible to make a reality. I am very interested in “helping others’. I would love a career in 3rd World countries and in areas of poverty where I could help perhaps teach children, help feed and care for individuals. I would honestly love any career that involved me interacting with people from different countries and cultures and just being able to radiate positivity into the world. I would like to incorporate the field of Psychology into humanitarian work but I am unsure if this is even a possibility. Therefore, I am confused on what type of education I would need to make this type of career a reality. I understand I will need to continue to volunteer and visit said countries and build up contacts and so on. I was just hoping you’d be able to let me know if I can continue in the education field I am in or if a different education route would be more appropriate in getting me to the field of work I am interested in. Hope you can help guide me in the right direction!


    • May 21, 2014 11:24 am

      Hi Court – thanks for your question. First off – I hope you read my general advice on what to study – there’s a page on that.
      I’m afraid I can’t solve your problem what to study or what type of work to pursue, except to say that ‘yes – it’s definitely possible to incorporate psychology into a career that puts you in contact with people from different cultures’. I would suggest you keep doing what you’re doing, and get as much experience of different places and types of work as you can. Broadening your horizons will help you decide where to focus your interests. I would also suggest that you take a look at some of the books that I’ve recommended on this site in the past, which give some more insights into the types of careers that people take. There’s a tremendous amount of variety, and lots of opportunity to find your own way.
      Good luck, and do let us know how you do!

  87. Samah permalink
    May 22, 2014 3:03 am

    Hi, I have a BA in Business Administration, and have been working in corporate companies for 3.5 years, I am now thinking of doing an MSc in Programme and Project Management as I am very interested in working with International Relief Organisations. Do you think this degree will ease my access into the field? also I read above about how important work experience is, I am prepared to do some voluntary work, do you have any suggestions on what I can start with in the UK?
    Many thanks.

    • May 22, 2014 10:36 am

      Hi Samah,
      As always, if you’d read the post on degrees, you’d know I don’t think it matters much. I’m afraid I’m not really up to date on voluntary opportunities in the UK beyond VSO, which I heartily endorse. Please do let us know what you come up with!

  88. rachelle daleo permalink
    May 27, 2014 2:29 pm

    hey! i am wondering where to start, how to find a major in college that will go with helping out and working in third world countries. i know i want to help out any way possible i just don’t know where to start school wise, what classes or major i should be doing to perdure this. i have volunteered with students helping Honduras. but i would like to make this a full time career path, i am very passionate about this and will do whatever it takes, i just need a little guidance in the right direction 🙂

    • May 27, 2014 2:31 pm

      Hi there – Thanks for the post – I get the same question every week, and give the same answer – please do read the blog – there is a page that specifically address this!

  89. May 28, 2014 2:52 am

    Hi Nick,

    Your article does provides much information but still wanted to have your opinion on this. I have recently shifted from Corporate sector ( was working as a Business Analyst for a Telecom giant) to a BMGF funded NGO “CARE” . The work primarily deals with Analysis support.

    As i have just started my job-carrier 3 years back , I am really confused a bit which sector I should really go for – Corporate or Development. Or is it feasible to switch again after working for say 2-3 years.

    • May 29, 2014 10:48 pm

      Hi Rahul – perhaps you can help me understand your question a little better – you have a job with CARE right now? I think you should take the opportunity to talk to people in that organization, let them know what you are interested in, and build connections to help you make the moves you want,
      Good luck,

  90. Paige permalink
    May 30, 2014 7:38 am

    Hi! I’m Paige. I’m 15 years old and I’m trying to see what occupation I want to pursue when I go to college. My number one occupation is to be a humanitarian. I see myself doing this in my dreams! The only thing is id specifically like to work with the children. What should I major and minor in. I just need an idea!

  91. Jenna permalink
    June 8, 2014 12:03 pm

    Hello, My name is Jenna, and I’m currently 20 years old. I’m going to school to get my B.A in Nursing and International Studies, and I would like to minor in Arabic studies. I definitely want to work in other countries and help ones that need care like health, or people that lost their homes due to hurricane/earthquake/etc, provide clean drinking water, and just be an encouragement for them. Do you have any advice of how to get my foot in the door? Or what the next step would be after I get my degree?

    • June 8, 2014 6:45 pm

      Hi Jenna – thanks for the question – as a matter of fact I do have some advice – to avoid having to answer the same question a lot of times I put it all on this site! Please do let me know if you have a question you think I haven’t answered,
      Good luck,

  92. makwembo kelvin permalink
    July 5, 2014 5:51 am

    I have a Bachelor of arts with education and i majored in geography and minored in history at th University of Zambia. Am currently teaching at Rusangu secondary school in Monze district of Zambia. I have been teaching since 2009.I would love to work in research involving environments.Your postive response or advice will be highly appreciated. Thanking you in advance. my phone number is xxxxxxxxxx

  93. July 9, 2014 12:42 am

    Hi! My name is Tyler Townsend. I want to serve in third world countries building shelters, houses, schools, and hospitals. I am 20 years old and have 2 years construction experience. eventually i want to own my own company. As for right now i would like a decent job building overseas, enough to support a family. Where do i start?!

    • July 16, 2014 7:55 am

      Hi there Tyler – thanks for the question – I would take a look at the ebook or chapters on this site, and then look for jobs in project management of programs with significant construction elements.
      Good luck!

  94. Rhi permalink
    July 9, 2014 11:32 pm

    I have lived abroad for two years and am soon to be heading back to the Uk.Ive previously completed a degree in english and creative writing and have been working as a journalist in cambodia and australia. When I get home I want to do a postgraduate degree but I’m trying to decide whether to go down the english teaching road or the humanitarian red cross road. I have looked into working with the red cross and other similar organisations and would like to try. I’ve previously done volunteer work and enjoyed it immensely.
    What postgrad/MA degree would you recommend for humanitarian jobs? Or do you think I could combine english teaching and humanitarian work? Choices choices!

  95. Suneet Mukherjee permalink
    July 22, 2014 3:49 pm

    Hey Nick !
    First of all I would like to thank you for the amazing blog you are running here as well as for answering all the queries & helping confused people like me to figure stuff out.

    I come from India & grew up in the middle east. I already speak & understand about 4 Indian languages & have a working understanding of Arabic. During my bachelor studies I volunteered with the National Service Scheme, where we camped in rural areas & educated villagers on healthier lifestyle habits. I also have teaching experience with Make A Difference, an organisation in India that teaches English to kids in street shelters.

    Currently, I am doing a Masters in Transport & Logistics in Germany & have decided to pursue a career in Humanitarian logistics. However I understand that none of the org. recruit you if you don’t have an experience in disaster relief operations.
    As I am new to both the logistics as well as relief sector I am looking for an internship / entry job …. your suggestions will be highly appreciated


  96. angie permalink
    August 5, 2014 2:39 pm


    I am 16 and would like to pursue a career in humanitarian aid work. I was wondering if specific degree paths, such as medicine, are necessary or required to work with a humanitarian agency. I plan on majoring in International Relations or Global Studies, are those, in your opinion, sufficient degrees for humanitarian work in a non-profit?

    • August 5, 2014 2:49 pm

      Hi Angie – thanks for the question – have you read my post on what to study in university? Let me know if you have a question that isn’t answered there! Thanks,

  97. August 5, 2014 11:50 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I hope you find my message you are in good health and wealth, i have done MS in Medical Entomology and Disease vector control and more then four years working in this field in Pakistan now i want to work in Africa or any other country. so can you guide me in this regards.


    • August 6, 2014 10:18 am

      Hi Jaipal, what kind of guidance did you have in mind?

  98. thomas permalink
    August 12, 2014 3:07 am

    Gday mate, how are you? Im a carpenter and would love to help people get on there feet with shelters and rebuilds and what not, can you point me in the direction of a group that could take me on. as it becomes unaffordable to always leave a paying job

  99. Meenah permalink
    August 29, 2014 1:58 pm

    Hello Nick.
    I am 18 years old and currently preparing for my A level exams next May. I am studying economics, geography, English language mathematics. I speak a little French and hope to study more of it in college. I have a relative that works with UNICEF and his advice paired with your amazing blog, now certainly makes me thrilled about the idea of working with a humanitarian agency. I don’t have a specific one in mind yet but I am sure it’ll ‘come to me’ with time..
    I know this might be a difficult question to answer.. But what sorts of college courses would you suggest I take alongside economics/geography in hopes of getting a job at one of such agencies..
    My second question is what kind of job exactly could a person with an economics degree or strong economics background get in the humanitarian field?
    Thanks & hope to hear from you soon!

    • August 29, 2014 2:02 pm

      Hi Meenah –
      Did you read the page on this?
      Let me know if you have a more specific question, or something that isn’t covered – thanks!

  100. Philippa MacMahon permalink
    September 13, 2014 2:33 pm

    Hi Nick,

    You are amazing at responding to everyone!

    I work as an IT consultant, and have a first class maths degree. My work has always been in the financial sector, and finally, after 15 years, I’ve realised I need to work for an organisation that I care about, in order to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile for not just myself, but putting my education to its best use.

    I live an hour from London, and have two very young children, so my ability to travel is very limited. Do you think I’d be able to find work with any NGOs? Or am I best waiting until my children are older? I’m only interested in applying my IT skills to back office ops now I have a family,

    Many thanks,


    • September 15, 2014 9:23 am

      Hi Philippa – I’m going to reply to this in greater length in a post, but quickly, medium to large INGOs have all the same IT needs of the corporate world (although they tend not to pay for them as much…). Have you looked into the big 10-20 organizations in the UK that you might be interested in? I would recommend that you list them out, then get in touch with the IT (or finance – whatever it is exactly you do 😉 ) teams and begin to lay the groundwork for some professional networking there. Some volunteer consulting with them wouldn’t go amiss, and can turn into a job offer if you play it right!
      Good luck,

  101. Hannah birkholz permalink
    September 20, 2014 11:15 am

    Hi Nick,
    My name is Hannah, I am 17 years old and I am wonder what type of career would be best if I were to peruse a humanitarian career? I do have prior experience in Bolivia with humanitarian work.

    • September 20, 2014 3:43 pm

      Hi Hannah – thanks for the question. Glad to hear you’ve had experience in Bolivia – that’s a country I’d love to visit. I’m afraid I really can’t tell you what the best career is – my advice would be to get some more experience overseas, and try to figure out what it is that you’re passionate about,
      Good luck,

  102. Kwaku Preba permalink
    September 20, 2014 5:23 pm

    Hello Nick

    I’m from Ghana and I just completed university three months ago with a degree in Development Planning, a feild related to humanitarian professions. I currently work with a local district assembly as a national service personnel but my greatest goal is to work with the UNDP. People like always inspire me. Thank you for your encouragements.

  103. Jes permalink
    October 8, 2014 12:49 pm

    Hi Nick

    I am 26 and I do not have a degree as I dropped out of uni years ago. Since then I have travelled to quite a few places including South America, South East Asia and volunteering in South Africa. My ultimate wish is to work within the Humanitarian/International relief/ development field. I will be starting University next year to study Health Studies. Will this degree aid me in my future endeavors to get a job in the field?

    • October 8, 2014 12:55 pm

      Hi Jes – did you read the page on college degrees? Let me know if you have any other questions! Thanks,

  104. Dzidzor Biantey Nartey Kwame permalink
    October 14, 2014 3:55 am

    My name is biantey Nartey Dzidzor kwame and am interested in working on the field as a humanitarian how can u get involve since am having a certificate in humanitarian Relief management.

    • October 15, 2014 11:42 am

      Hi there Nartey – I’m afraid I just really don’t have enough information to give you any specific advice.

  105. October 23, 2014 2:33 am

    Hi there Nick, not sure if you remember me but I contacted you a couple of years ago. I am the single mum who decided in her 40’s that she wanted to devote the rest of her life to humanitarian aid After speaking with you I went on and completed a certification in community services at TAFE, then volunteered with an NGO in Zimbabwe for a month. I am still gaining qualifications and am about to finish my first year of sociology and psychology at university 🙂 I have found my niche with war and conflict refugees, and made a trip to the Syrian border in June/July (on my own) where I got to do a lot of ground zero hands on work supplying humanitarian aid. Am doing a humanitarian leadership initiative certification with Harvard Humanitarian Academy over the summer break and have Red Cross training units planned for next year too. I will still have to wait until I finish my degree to land permanent international aid work with one of the larger NGO’s or IGO’s. However I just wanted to thank you for that first bit of inspiration that made me feel that I could really do this. Now it feels like the sky is the limit, and that very soon I will be able to truly make a difference in this world. Thank you!!!

    Kindest regards Kelly

    • October 29, 2014 11:32 am

      Hi Kelly – of course I remember you! Glad you’re doing well, I replied to you by email,
      Take care,

  106. November 8, 2014 6:28 am

    I am a now college seeking a levels graduate from Nepal, and I have seen firsthand some of the hardships people face in a developing country. I am lucky to have come for a relatively well off family, all due to the hard work of my father, but everyone was not like my father and many of his school friends do not have a relatively better life. I hope to help my country and its citizens, so could you recommend some undergraduate subjects to pursue.
    Would be happy if you could respond.

  107. November 9, 2014 1:11 am

    Hi Nick,

    Thank you so much for this very informative article. The truth why I stumbled here on your page was, I am qualified for a position in an NGO here in the Philippines. Now I have this confusion over my current job as an Operations Head in a company in Cebu. Whether to leave or not? But I know in my heart that extending my help to the weaker section of the society is thing I want to do long time ago.

    What advice could you give to someone like me who comes from a corporate world.
    Thank you so much Nick!


  108. Jhiselle permalink
    December 9, 2014 10:48 pm

    Hi adita,
    I’m a 20 yr old junior in college currently majoring in communications and thinking about changing to nutritional medicine. I really beleive a humanitarian job could be my passion. I wanted to know your thoughts on what I should major in if I want to be an imternational aid worker. I was thinking I want to work with children perhaps but adults are fine as well and I have a history of Japanese language skills and recently Spanish. When I was 8 yes old my mom who’s a teacher took a job through the jet program . We lived in Osaka and Okinawa and my sister and I went to local schools. Sometimes we would make sandwiches for this old man who lived outside our building and I enjoyed helping him and wished I could do more. I think this was one of the first times I realized how much I loved helping others. I told myself when we left that I would find a way to return and help them. I don’t know if I can do that but I do want to help somebody around the world . I just want to make others lives better . I do volunteer at shelters sometimes and I worked at a daycare for 4 1/2 yrs. Can you give me some pointers please?

  109. Jhiselle permalink
    December 10, 2014 9:41 pm

    Sorry I meant to say nick !

  110. Hayley permalink
    December 27, 2014 6:21 am

    Hi Nick, just wondering is there any courses rather than having to go to university to do a diploma I don’t want to waste a few years doing something that maybe of no use anyway I’m more of a hands on learner, don’t like classrooms. Last 3 years I’ve worked as a disability support worker with general disability, child safety, spinal injury and challenging behavior/ restrictive practice. Last 6 months I’ve been working with someone who has boardline personality disorder so they self harmed almost daily. I have out lasted a lot of other staff. I am very resilient and patient and manage stress quite well and quick thinking in times of crisis. However DSQ deemed this person unsafe for females to work with so working else where. I’m thinking that I would be interested in doing aid work in a nursing sort of role, with my experience do you think I would be able to get any work/volunteer without having a diploma to back me up?

  111. Eman permalink
    January 5, 2015 2:28 am

    Hi, nick,
    i am eman from Egypt, 30 years old. i am a pharmacist and had a master degree in quality management. i apply for master of public health scholarship this year, plz wish me luck.

    this is the second year for me to work in a national humanitarian aid organization (AArab Medical Union) in a project funded by UNHCR of Egypt.

    I worked in Refugees’ health support program at AMU. I worked in the project for providing medical assistance for Syrian refugees of concern to the UN Refugees Agency.

    And this year we will make establishing and enacting a standardized 2ry, 3ry and emergency referral care services including for emergency obstetric and neonatal care for Syrian Refugee also.

    My aim is to work in African developing countries at a non-governmental organization, national or international working in health systems development projects. As I believe in the right for every person in good health. Also I have a passion to work with marginalized groups including women and children.

    Do you think that i may have a chance to work at international organization in other African countries rather than Egypt ? As a i am not a Doctor, i have difficulties in entering these carrier in Egypt. what is your advice for me?

  112. February 15, 2015 6:15 pm

    hi nick!! I’m a medical student from portugal… and I wanna follow an humanitarian career, but most of these organization ask for field experience!! and how do I get that experience if they don’t give me any chance? thanks

    • February 18, 2015 7:13 pm

      This is the classic experience catch-22 – I don’t really have more advice on this than is on the blog – good luck!
      PS – one thing that works in your favor is that some of the medical organizations are much better at integrating medical staff with no field experience into their programs than non-medical ones!

  113. February 24, 2015 3:21 am

    Hi i just want to say great work. I myself is a humanitarian aid worker from Pakistan and i loved the information which you have shared 🙂

  114. February 24, 2015 3:31 am

    Just a piece of advice for those who wants to pursue a career in humanitarian aid that its all about passion. Most of the educational backgrounds in this sector which i have come across are usually a masters degree in social sciences ( famous ones are development studies, international development, international relations, public policy, governance, gender studies, economics). But let me tell you experience hold more weight then your educational background that is my experience so far so try as much as you can to do internship or serve as a volunteer during your studies. This will pave the way for you career in the development sector. Besides that try to be good at learning at least one more language other then your mother tongue (e.g. English, Spanish, Arabic).

  115. Marietta permalink
    March 1, 2015 2:30 am

    Hi Nick,
    So I’m currently in the last year of High school preparing for my GCSE’s and have some ideas on what to take for A-levels in college but would it come to any use or contribute to becoming an aid worker? I am really interested in the subjects I’ve taken which are Geography, Geology, Spanish and Philosophy. The fact that you work with people in developing countries and do the work that you do has re-sparked my interest to work with people abroad, however I was wondering on what you would advice me to take part in to lead up to this. Things like volunteer work, courses to take etc etc. Also, have you personally been in dangerous situations working as a International Aid Development worker and does it give you a chance to travel the world in all means?
    Thanks, Marietta.

  116. Mabeh permalink
    March 2, 2015 4:12 pm

    Hi Nick
    am a student of history from Cameroon.please i wish to take up humanitarian work.i once did work with this NGO RENATA. IT was a great experience.please do i have what it takes to work both national and international?Thank you

    • March 2, 2015 4:21 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that your experience with RENATA was good – I regret that I have no insight into whether you have what it takes to work nationally or internationally –
      Good luck!

  117. March 3, 2015 8:49 am

    Hi Nick!

    My name is Joybelle, and I’m an International Business and Marketing major who’s minoring in Spanish. Development work is my passion, and I lived in Guatemala two summers ago doing consulting for small, rural coffee farmers and helping women to grow and sell their crops. I went back to Guatemala last summer on an internship with Social Entrepreneur Corps training local entrepreneurs to administer eye exams and sell eye glasses, solar lamps, water filters, and more. I’m currently planning on going to Ghana this summer to enact micro-finance programs in rural communities through Finanzas sin Fronteras. However, I graduate in a year and don’t know which path to follow, exactly. I’m very interested in social enterprise, but my dream job would be to work for the UN. However, these jobs are extremely competitive and are only applicable after years of “relevant work experience” and a masters degree in most cases. I so desire to work in development, and have the above experience in economic development through business, but have no idea what the next step should be and how I can make money in the future while gaining this experience. I would love to go and work in the field, but many of these positions are unpaid, and I need some way to earn a living, as I’m sure you can understand! Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thank you so much!


    • March 3, 2015 2:23 pm

      Hi Joybelle,
      Congratulations on graduating! My advice on this sort of stuff is at my blog, – if you have a more focussed question that you think isn’t addressed please do let me know, good luck!

  118. Chris Lonsdsle-Cooper permalink
    March 17, 2015 1:31 am

    Gday Nick.
    My name is Chris. I am 28 and an established Carpenter of 12 years experience in the building and construction industry in QLD Australia. I am looking for a way to put my skills to better use. The industry in my area is very crowded and finding and securing work is becoming more and more difficult. I want to combine my love of travel, my desire to help or at least be involved and the skills I possess to help in areas such as; developing and third world countries remote and disaster areas.
    I’m basically looking for some sort of a contact or a point in the right direction.
    Would appreciate your feedback.
    Cheers. Chris.

  119. Mikhail permalink
    March 18, 2015 3:59 pm

    Hey Nick,
    I’m a second year college student at the University of Chicago. I’m currently a physics and math major, and I’ve always wanted to be a physicist. Or at least I thought as much. Lately, however, I’ve realized that international aid is something that aligns with my values. My question is: if I want to pursue international aid, should I change my major to something like Public Policy? Should I stop waisting money on tuition and drop out entirely and jump into the aid industry?

    • March 18, 2015 6:39 pm

      Hi there Mikhail,
      Thanks for the question. I’m guessing you didn’t read my article on this ‘What should I study in university to get a job in humanitarian aid’ – it deals with exactly this question. The short answer is that for your subject I don’t think it matters at all what you study.
      Good luck!

  120. underlockandk3y permalink
    March 23, 2015 12:15 pm

    Hey Nick,

    Your site was very helpful! I’m actually a grade ten student, at fifteen years old, and humanitarian aid is the closest I’ve come to my dream job thus far. As of right now, it might as well be my dream job. However, if it is my dream job “for certain”, I’m not so sure. I need to make a decision fast about what I want to persue for the rest of my years at high school, but how do I know that humanitarian work is for me if I have no experience in the field whatsoever, as I am only fifteen?

    Although I am attending a Me to We Youth Volunteer Trip to Ecuador this summer. I realize that the conditions will be quite luxurious compared to the conditions of an aid worker, and the stuff I will be doing (building a school, learning a language, volunteering with community members) is a lot different than the work of an aid worker, but is it a good start? This will be the first time I have left Canada, and I’m quite excited. I know that I want to travel (see the world – in it’s beauty AND in it’s destruction), and I have a passion for volunteering and helping people that is probably unnatural, so a career that contains both is exciting for me.

    I’m doing all of the research I can surrounding humanitarian work, and I loved your site – it has helped me very much in discovering what humanitarian/international aid is all about.
    Thank you,

  121. Elisa permalink
    March 23, 2015 2:18 pm

    Hi Nick,
    I’ve just been reading through you’re questions, comments and wonderful advice.. and wondering if you may be able to help me?
    I’m due to graduate with a BSc Environmental Science degree from the UK in May this year. I am most interested in steering my career towards humanitarian work, in particular environmental aid/relief, something along the lines of the work UNEP do with their disaster and conflict environmental programmes. Would you please be able to offer any advice as to where to start? I know the UN is particularly difficult to get into, especially for a UK citizen, are there any feed-in NGO’s that you know about?

  122. Ellie permalink
    March 30, 2015 11:03 am

    Hi, I’m 16 years old and I’ve known for a while that I want to be a doctor and I was thinking about being a Pediatrician because although I don’t know what type of doctor I want to be, I know it has to be working with children and babies. I feel like I am here in this world to help people who really need it and although I know there are millions of people in america that need care, I feel like I want to be a part of a team of people who want to help others in other countries whose medical programs aren’t as advanced so that I can make an impact. I’m part of a volunteer program called chain reaction and it has really led me in the direction of this, so my question is what can I do at this part if my life to prepare me for relief and development in college? I know I have to medical related things, but what others minors would I need?

  123. Kris permalink
    April 5, 2015 7:13 am

    Im 17 and I want to go to college for many things, but above all I want to be able to help others like you, I’m not concerned with money.
    What’s your advice? And what company/group did you work for? Are there any that will take me around the world? Thank you

  • Liz permalink
    April 6, 2015 12:24 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I very much appreciate your insights, they resonate with much of what I have been thinking about recently in terms of my future and passion. I am 20 years old with one year left of university, planning to graduate with a double major in International Studies and Social Work. I’m not clear on how I can concretely contribute to an organization with the skills I have developed. However, I hope to go on an internship this summer and am still figuring out the details. The internships that I am looking into don’t seem to give much information about what precisely I’ll be doing, but I’m writing to a few and letting them know what my interests are and seeing if those could be connected to their internship possibilities. Is there any way you could direct me in what specific work might be useful in getting a feel for what international development work would be like in the long-term? My internship will be for at least 6 weeks this summer, and I hope to do more field work after I graduate for about a year before I pursue my master’s.
    I am very interested in each of these areas: refugee work, community development, counseling, and fighting against human trafficking.


  • sameer bakal permalink
    April 7, 2015 9:15 am

    Hi, I am 28 years old guy from india. I am currently work in Multinational company in Human resource department. I would like to Volunteer myself for any humanitarian work out of india. I can work for 1 month each year. Need assistances to know if any NGO is ready to take me.

    • April 7, 2015 1:47 pm

      Hi Sameer – good to hear from you. There are many international NGOs that hire people from all parts of the world. I would take a look at the jobs pages of any agency you are interested in – they all need HR people from time to time! I regret that I really don’t know much about the Indian NGO scene. I would do some research into the local job market there – it would be great to hear about what you find,

  • April 9, 2015 11:37 pm

    i would like to work with this organisation in my life since from my young age am now 35 years and am carpenter and i can do most of the wood work and assembling and joinery and making wooden houses and roofing even operating most of wood machines and am ready to share my skills with other people and facing challenges in any situation i will be very happy if am given this chance

    • April 10, 2015 9:13 am

      Great to hear from you Samuel, good luck!

  • Keleeja permalink
    April 20, 2015 12:30 pm


    I am 16 and looking into career choices. I have always been interested in Humanitarian Aid Worker, however, I am having troubles finding a Field that does not particularly require biology to get into. I am struggling with bio and am worried that I will not have a good enough mark coming out of bio 30 to get into any sort of program i am interested in. Do you know of any fields I could look into? Thanks so much!

    • April 20, 2015 12:39 pm

      Hi there Keleeja,
      I don’t know of any job in the humanitarian field that requires a biology degree.
      Good luck!

  • April 20, 2015 7:12 pm

    to face challenges and to help the needy even to develop my career

  • Idayu permalink
    April 21, 2015 10:30 pm

    Hi Nick,

    It’s so nice to know there’s someone as nice as you here.

    I’m 19 and currently an architecture student having an internship in Singapore. I started off studying architecture as I wanted to make a difference; to help people build roofs over their heads and all. But now that I’m here, I realised that the projects and work that im involved in doesn’t really match with what i initally thought it would be. Though its nice to design beautiful buildings for the rich, I just felt that the skills and knowledge that I’ve learnt in school could be put to greater use for people who need it more.

    I found out about “Architecture for Humanity” recently and its really sad to know that this humanitarian organisation had folded due to bankruptcy. I’ve tried to search for similar organisations as that but to no avail. I would greatly appreciate it and really really be thankful if you are able to suggest some other humanitarian organisation that would probably make use of the skills that I’ve adopted as an architecture student.

    Thank you so much,

    • April 26, 2015 3:01 pm

      Hi there Idayu –
      Good to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words. I’m sorry to hear Architects For Humanity folded, I’m afraid I don’t know of any similar organizations. To be honest, you don’t see a lot of architects in the aid business. The construction that goes on tends to be relatively small, and relatively simple, and not re-designed that often. That said, there is a high demand for construction project managers, which is something I believe architects end up doing a lot of!
      Good luck,

  • Immmz permalink
    April 25, 2015 2:57 pm

    Am 21 years old am just doing my generals then am planning to take a bachelor in Global studies since I was a kid I loved helping people in any way I could but I didn’t come from a rich background or family that has money so my resources were limited then as I grew older I found out they’re jobs that pay you for helping people like the relief jobs I want get in to that soo bad that’s why I started school and I talked to someone and the classes I needed like Human rights and justice are requirement of Global studies in university of Minnesota am trying my best to get it and In God’s will and my hard work I will but I wanna do volunteer works or jobs like that for experience where would You suggest I Start???and am specifically looking for human rights international development and relief nothing to do with health more with Justice

  • Qatsina permalink
    April 26, 2015 1:57 pm

    Aloha… any insights on Nepal, and a good place to look for relief work? Thank you for any insights…

    • April 26, 2015 2:14 pm

      You saw my post yesterday on Nepal? I don’t have any huge insights, beyond Nepal being a wonderful place, and natural disasters being better than conflict emergencies in terms of first jobs. Take a look at my post on this and let me know if you have a more specific question, Good luck, Nick

  • Lauren permalink
    April 27, 2015 9:05 pm


    I have a quick few questions for you. I’m considering an internship next fall, however I’ve never worked an internship or job that didn’t at least offer a basic stipend, in which this organization does not (MAMTA). I have worked in Central and South America and across the US doing disaster relief on long and short term projects and I’ve always rated at least a decent stipen. I have a Bachelors in Anthropology, I’m a licensed paramedic and I’m applying for Med Anthro Programs for my graduate certificate (unfortunately I don’t have the financial means to pay for the graduate degree program). Specifically I’m interested in emergency medicine, however I have done logistics, distribution, and assessment and I enjoy these aspects of relief work as well. Also is it necessary to stick with one specific job within the realm of relief work? In addition my longest assignment has only been 3 months (although I’ve taken them back to back) will this reflect badly on my resume? I did order your book on Amazon and I look forward to reading it!


    • April 28, 2015 8:57 am

      Hi Lauren,
      Thanks for writing – so – it sounds like you’ve got quite the resume! Congratulations on your internship – I’m afraid in the international space it isn’t uncommon to find completely unpaid internships, and it’s nothing to do with what you’re ‘rated’, it’s just a case of supply and demand. There are so many well qualified people wanting to work overseas in this kind of job that internships can pay nothing and still attract good candidates. That’s a shame, but it’s how it is right now.
      In terms of emergency and relief work, people understand that those are short-term assignments, so in the international world no one will think that’s a problem. At some point though you’ll probably want to get some longer assignments, because you’ll most likely eventually want a more stable job.
      Good luck, and do let us know how it goes,

  • Nisha permalink
    April 28, 2015 8:24 pm

    Hi Nick –
    I’m a college freshman, and I’ve wanted to work in international relations since I was 14. Since taking economics a few years ago, I’ve narrowed in on international development as what I wanted to do. I entered college as an Econ major, and I hated it. I’m awful at calculus, and so I switched to Government and Politics, but I’m finding that it has a really America-centric focus. I’m torn between becoming a geography major or doing public health – which field do you think would be more employable in the NGO world? My school offers an international development minor, and I’m going to apply for that, but I’m really stuck on my undergrad major. I know that once you get into the workforce your undergrad course of study is less relevant, but I want to do something where even if I could not get a masters, I would be okay. Thanks!

  • Abdul Samad Khan permalink
    May 3, 2015 3:21 am

    I am an advocate in Quetta balochistan pakistan I spend some time to educate people for change to facilitate there young jeneration to get modern education I have my Facebook page by the name of DASTAK ( KNOCK ) ORGANIZATION some time I paste some of my articles and some time I guide them in there circles by speeches if my crevices r required I can join with out any finance

  • Ashley permalink
    May 19, 2015 6:01 pm

    Hey there Nick,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to the above comments. I have spent a great deal of time reading them and have learned much.

    Like the others who have posted, I am looking to get involved in humanitarian work. I have been attending a university with an interest in Public Health, however, I too have had problems with the educational system. I do not know that this will ever change and am aware of the importance of obtaining a degree but would like to take a break from it. My question is (finally)- Should my priority be to get experience or to receive a degree first? I understand both are equally important. It seems I am lacking something tangible to keep myself motivated to finish school. Possibly a time spent better understanding what I am choosing to get involved with might make me more eager to complete my degree?

    Any advice will greatly be appreciated,


    • May 19, 2015 6:36 pm

      Hi Ashley – for sure you should finish your degree – while you’re at it, try to get as much experience living and working in the kinds of places you want to work.
      It will be hard to get a job without completing your degree.

      Good luck!

      • Sina permalink
        May 22, 2015 2:56 am

        Hi Nick,
        Only now I have come across your article. It really touched me, I guess because I am on the edge of entering the humanitarian world. I am 27, had various opportunities to travel and intern in “crisis” settings and just about to finish my masters degree in development studies. My first real job begins in August in one of the worst refugee crisis these days. I am neither naive nor trying to save the world, and yet feel what you identify as “the call”. I am leaving behind family, friends and a stable relationship. Not for good, but for quite some time. Of course time is not ripe to take a decision now, but eventually the two forces – notion of home, love, security, having children vs. “the call” – may not be reconcilable anymore.

        I would just be interested in your thoughts and experiences on that topic.


      • May 22, 2015 8:24 am

        Hi Sina,
        Thanks for your kind comment, it sounds like you have a lot going on in your life right now. I’m not sure I have any particular wisdom on this, except to urge you to be kind to yourself and those who care about you. When you’re immersed in suffering and grief for too long it change how you see the world, and those around you, so look after yourself, and be careful about how much suffering you let into your life – at 27 you still have a marathon to run, not a sprint.
        Good luck, and best wishes. Do let me know how you do,

  • Alex permalink
    May 24, 2015 11:27 pm

    I’m 18 and graduated High school last fall. I would like to know what education or work experience I will need to be prepared for this field of work.

    • January 1, 2016 2:54 pm

      Hi Alex – is there something specific that I can help you with that isn’t covered on the site?

  • lovemore Ringisai permalink
    June 19, 2015 11:47 pm


  • Cas permalink
    July 12, 2015 1:40 pm

    I am 60 years old and while I do have to pay the bills, I long to be of service; to make a bit of a difference in this world. Is it too late to get into service work? I have worked overseas. Cas

  • July 12, 2015 11:57 pm

    Hi my name is Nasra and I’ll be starting college soon. I’ve always wanted to help people around the world learn about different cultures but the thing is I don’t know which courses to take I want to be a humanitarian relief worker do u think majoring in international studies would help me get there if not what do u suggest I take

  • Natalie permalink
    July 18, 2015 9:18 pm

    Hi Nick, I’m 16 and exploring what I might be interested to do as a profession. I went on a short term mission trip to Guatemala and it was really interesting to see the way that helping people in developing countries is really complicated. Now I’m looking into what I might want to major in college for humanitarian aid work. I took an AP Human Geography course and it was more interesting than any other class I’ve taken to me so I was thinking possibly Geography and Spanish as majors. How would that do to set me up in the field? Thanks!

  • sarah permalink
    July 19, 2015 6:01 am

    Hi I’m a student going onto university next year and im unsure of what degree to choose from. I’m thorughly interested in international relations and development (along with human rights specifically) but cant help thinking what sort of specific jobs can i get with its degree? Ive always wanted to help people in foreign countries and recently thought perhaps becoming a social worker would provide more stability. Theres a course that includes travelling overseas to places like cambodia and the phillipines. Is there a demand for social workers in the non for profit? What’s your advice?
    thanks in advance 🙂

  • August 7, 2015 5:44 pm

    Any information on health benefits for NGO employees? While working overseas?

  • Julie permalink
    August 19, 2015 7:48 am

    Hello, I am an RN and i’m looking to work in the humanitarian medical field in South America. Do you know any company I could apply with?

    • August 20, 2015 10:36 am

      Hi Julie – I’m overdue a post on medical jobs. That said, it depends where you live. I would check out RedR, the Red Cross, and MSF as a starting point for your research.

  • Paige Janse van Vuuren permalink
    September 8, 2015 3:04 am

    Hi Nick
    I am 21 years old and have never known what I have wanted to be or what to do but I’ve always known that whatever I decided it would be making a difference in the world.

    I am currently living abroad working as a Stewerdess but I am very interested in finding out how I could make a difference by getting involved with relief work. I finished matric in South Africa but have no university degree. Would this mean it wouldn’t be possible for me to get involved in relief work.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


    • September 16, 2015 3:30 pm

      Hi Paige – my general advice is pretty much on this blog – is there something more specific you want to ask?
      Good luck!

  • Esther permalink
    September 15, 2015 6:45 am

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks so much for the insight on Relief and Development work.
    I find them very useful. you have answered all the questions i have in mind through your responses.
    I admire you and know you are really a Pro in this field.
    I find your last advice on marriage and relationships while working in this field particularly useful. I will sure go into it with my eyes and that of my partner wide open 🙂
    I’ll love to read more of your post -please keep them coming.

  • Luke permalink
    September 18, 2015 12:55 am

    how does a chef get involved in something like this, that is experienced in nutrition and mass catering

  • David McGuinness permalink
    September 22, 2015 6:21 am

    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.

  • Patricia Seagrove permalink
    September 23, 2015 8:45 am

    My son has a degree in anthropology and is fluent in Arabic and French.He has studied abroad in Morocco and Syria. He is single. He would like to work in a field similar to this and has applied to several NGO’s. He hasn’t received any offers or even replies. He has pretty much given up. Any ideas on where he should be looking or if there’s some place he can contact to get help with this?

  • Vannesa permalink
    September 28, 2015 5:39 pm

    I am 15 years old and would love to be an aid worker. I want to get degrees in Social work and engineering, and also learn Spanish. I’ve researched a ton about this career, learned all of the pros and cons, and it still appeals to me more than anything else. But, I wonder what a normal day would actually be like as an aid worker in another country. Does the organization provide food? What’s the food like? How often do you take showers and where? Do you get to explore the country in your free time? Do you get free time, if so, how much? I know a lot about what you do on the job but, not a lot about how you live in these countries.

  • Wendy permalink
    October 8, 2015 12:21 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Do you think that working overseas as an ESL teacher has any potential as a gateway to humanitarian work? I know that many people take assignments in populous cities and well-developed countries due to more attractive pay, but I am interested in less populous destinations that are faced with greater challenges. I am a registered nurse, but to be entirely honest, I loathe the medical profession, and I don’t think using something I detest as a potential in for a new career is a very good way to start things off. However, do you think it possible that my knowledge could have applications in the humanitarian world outside of primary care provision?

    I would like to make it clear that I am not specifically interested in starting a career in relief and development, which appears to be your area of expertise, so I apologize if my question falls outside the scope of your experience. I think that a non-profit or NGO organization with any humanitarian agenda would be a satisfactory starting point for me, and I am especially concerned about social and economic justice and challenges facing women and children. Do you think any of the above could be useful toward this end?

    I appreciate any input you may have! Thank you for maintaining this informative site!

  • Logan permalink
    October 9, 2015 7:29 pm

    I’m 40. Two years of lib arts college. Is it too late?

    • October 9, 2015 9:00 pm

      Without a little more context it’s really hard to know… 40 isn’t particularly old though…

  • October 12, 2015 10:33 pm

    hi nick …. my name is arjun .. iam 26 old . i want to work NGO . i degree graduate .. iam from india .. olease help me u know any NGO in india please refer me…

    • October 13, 2015 5:32 pm

      Hi Arjun, I regret that you are probably better connected than I am with regard to NGOs in India – good luck with your search, Nick

  • Craig permalink
    October 15, 2015 7:29 pm

    Hello Nick.
    I am a Grade 11 High School student in Canada. I have wanted to travel for as long as I can remember and am fascinated with the diverse cultures of the world and also want very much to achieve a sense of purpose in life by helping the impoverished, and needy. I would love to do humanitarian work anywhere, and want to see the world and do some good while I’m at it. I have a question regarding career path for this particular field.
    So, what College/university courses do you suggest for building a foundation for entering this field. I understand that much of the prerequisite is volunteer and travel experience based, but where do I start?

    • October 15, 2015 9:14 pm

      Hi Craig –
      Thanks for your question. It’s one I get a lot, and have answered a lot, so when people ask it I always like to point them to the post on this I have about what to study in college. Perhaps there is some more specific question you have though?…anitarian-work/
      While we’re on the topic of what to study I did notice that the Foreign Policy Top 25 Schools in International Relations for 2015 came out this week, which you might want to check out, with the caveat that having a degree in International Relations from one of these places without substantial field experience still won’t help you get a field job in humanitarian aid!
      Good luck, and please do let me know if you had a more specific question on education!

  • October 18, 2015 8:23 pm

    I am working with an NGO in India since 6 years now as a Program Manager and I am interested in working and doing something for people in USA as well, how easy or difficult it is to get a job in NGO’s or organization in USA?

    Please advice

    • October 26, 2015 11:23 am

      Hi Amit,
      I’m assuming you’re Indian, and don’t have a US work authorization? If that’s the case then getting a job in the US can be tough. Your best bet is to get a job with a US based organization working in India and working on getting an internal transfer where they will sponsor your visa.
      Good luck,

  • catherine monari permalink
    October 24, 2015 5:37 am

    hi, am catherine and i leave in kenya. Do you know any relief organisation in kenya i can join? i am a physician assistant.

    • October 26, 2015 11:17 am

      Hi Catherine – I’m afraid I don’t have any current info on organizations in Kenya – since you live there it should be pretty easy for you to research though – good luck!

  • Iftekhar Ahmed permalink
    November 8, 2015 9:26 am

    Dear Sir
    Greetings !
    I have been efficiently working more than 07 years as Finance & Accounts position under development sector.
    I have sound experience of handling a dynamic team of finance professionals for preparing projections, fund raising like ECHO,EC,EU,USAID,DFID & German Federal Ministry.
    I have completed Masters in Accounting. Can you help me, how I get opportunity in International organization in where in world ?

    Iftekhar Ahmed

    • January 1, 2016 2:51 pm

      I appreciate your post, but I’m afraid I can’t be of any direct assistance – is there something specific I can help with?

  • john permalink
    November 18, 2015 1:15 am

    I am looking forward and passionate in working in the humanitarian and relief sector . My years of studies and work experience have confirmed working in the humanitarian and development sector as the career choice for me. I am now looking forward to a career focused on my passion through pragmatic and sustainable programs and that presents opportunities to work with similar minded people.

  • Ana permalink
    November 21, 2015 9:27 am

    Hi Nick,
    I bumped into this (quite helpful) website when looking for ´jobs with NGOs in remote areas´ for my friend and wonder if you could give us an insight. She´s a 28yr old Lab technician and single woman who wants to have a break in her career to dedicate her time and expertise in humanitarian aid in remote areas outside her country of birth, Angola. She does speak some English, but more fluent in Portuguese. Could you direct us to specific agencies in south America.Many thanks

    • December 2, 2015 10:11 am

      Hi Ana,
      I’m afraid I don’t have any particular recommendations for agencies in South America, but I would suggest that she approach her professional body, as there are sometimes opportunities to use skills like that in a humanitarian context.
      Good luck,

  • alize permalink
    November 22, 2015 3:20 pm

    Hi Nick

    I just read your article, full of useful information
    I will be graduating next year from university of Hertfordshire and have just realized
    that I want to work in non profit sector, I am planning to do my postgraduate in development studies
    currently I am studying towards a business degree, but not really interested in working for a financial institute or
    profit making business.
    any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated.


  • Lila permalink
    November 23, 2015 2:23 am

    I’m currently studying nursing, I’m hoping after I get my bachelor of nursing, I will persue a Humantarian aid and Development course. That said, what do I need to do or do you have any advice for me, so that I become successful in my Humantarian aid and Development career

  • Terrance B. permalink
    December 6, 2015 1:15 pm

    How can an adult with no degree or career begin his or her work in humanitarian aid jobs? I have some military experience but no degree and haven’t had any long term career committements. All I do is play video games and wonder what’s out there for me to do if not doing anything useful. I came with bad luck into this stinking world of capitalism and favoritism. How can I join a team of humanitarians and disappear for long missions?

    • January 1, 2016 2:48 pm

      Terrance – thanks for your question. First off I would point you to my post on motivations, and then suggest that you think about what skills you might bring to the humanitarian endeavor. I would encourage you not to think of it as a less demanding profession than the for-profit world. Good luck!

  • Helga permalink
    December 24, 2015 9:33 pm

    Hello there Nick,
    Thanks for the article. It is especially useful indeed since I am doing my master degree, and planning to make research on what really motivates humanitarian workers: desire to help, like salary, prestige etc.


    • December 27, 2015 6:17 pm

      Good luck with your research Helga, I look forward to hearing about it!

  • Geraldo permalink
    January 13, 2016 3:08 pm

    My name is geraldo (24)I am from South Africa I just completed my BA degree in Psychology, Linguistics and Ethics. I have a passion for helping people in need whether it be psychological or social it is my calling I would really like to work in relief and development

    • January 13, 2016 3:08 pm

      Thanks for your comment Geraldo, good luck!

  • January 13, 2016 9:44 pm

    Hi Nick. I’ve just finished my Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in Marketing and Information Systems in NZ . However, I really want to become an int’l aid worker. Is there any possibility of me being able to start that career path ?

    • January 13, 2016 9:46 pm

      Hi there – have you read my post on degree topics? I basically don’t think it matters what you study, you need to focus on getting field experience and building your network in the aid world. Good luck!

      • January 15, 2016 11:00 am

        Thank you very much 🙂

      • January 15, 2016 11:04 am

        You’re very welcome!

      • January 16, 2016 9:26 pm

        Hi Nick,
        There are so so-called ” volunteer” programs that I can apply to but have to pay for them. Is “volunteerism” experience considered as field experience that can be beneficial for me to get a job as an aid worker ?
        Kind regards,

  • William Willersrud permalink
    February 9, 2016 11:57 am

    If I would, someday, like to dedicate myself to humanitarian work, would a bachelor-degree in nursing help me on the way?

    • February 10, 2016 1:10 pm

      Hey Will – I replied to this in a post.

  • February 14, 2016 3:04 pm

    Hi, Nick. I really enjoyed this post!
    I’ve finished a Bachelor of Psy program, and it was not until the last years that I figured I want to work in NGOs. I thought it’s impossible to “work” there since it’s all voluntary, but after doing some research, I realized you can make a career out of it. So it’s been almost a year since I started being a volunteer, and I’m glad that I get to learn a lot. I am currently volunteering in a local NGO which deals with violence to women. My first term of voluntary work just ended 10 days ago, and I signed up for another term. One thing that bothers me though: I know I can’t stay like this forever without making any living. I’m on my way figuring this out, but hopefully my experience will take me somewhere.

    So yeah, I just want to say thank you for sharing this post. It’s such a nice read. Not many posts like this in my language so it’s difficult to get my way around this field.

  • Hugo permalink
    February 15, 2016 11:24 pm

    Hi my name is Hugo and I am very intetested in the kinds of work that you offer. Please concider me.

    • February 16, 2016 6:09 am

      Hi Hugo, glad to hear you are interested, I regret that I am not hiring, Thanks,

  • asherby permalink
    February 19, 2016 4:32 am

    ABSOLUTELY well written , clear and covers all aspects one should consider when thinking in this direction. This was really helpful to me and you will surely be my go to guy and guide when I have confirmed my decision . thank you so very much and Be Blessed

  • Ocean Sweeney permalink
    April 3, 2016 11:05 am

    Hi I really want to go into this field and work for the a NGO international and was wondering what type of degree I should be looking into that would maximize my ability to find work in this field? I am looking at colleges currently and am having a hard time figuring out what type of degree would go along with a job in this field. Thank you very much !

  • elizabeth kenley permalink
    April 15, 2016 2:02 pm

    Hi im Elizabeth and I would really like to be an international aid worker, its been my dream to help people. Im a freshmen in highschool and they offer internships in nursing at my school but my question is would an Emt be better than a nurse or would the nurse been prefered when going into this profession?

    • April 15, 2016 2:13 pm

      Hi Elizabeth!
      The short answer is that there are no jobs for EMTs in international aid, while nursing is a job that is in demand. That said, I would encourage you to pick a route that interests you at this stage. You’re young, and I presume you don’t have a whole lot of overseas experience. I would suggest you train in a profession that you are interested in and look for internships, Peace Corps, or other opportunities to live and work in the developing world to get a better idea of whether this is the right career for you,
      Good luck!

  • Christy Wortman permalink
    May 29, 2016 6:21 pm

    I am very interested in obtaining a job in in humanitarian work. I have been LPN for 23 years and would love to help people in other countries. How do I get started. Thanks you

  • Skye permalink
    June 16, 2016 7:08 am

    Hey Nick,I am a 20 year old from southeast asia and going to further my studies in Ireland pursuing medicine actually.I’ve always had this dream of wanting to become a humanitarian.Just a quick question,is it possible to become a doctor and to do humanitarian work as well?

    • June 16, 2016 6:42 pm

      Skye – quick answer – absolutely. Check out the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders as a starting point, both employ doctors in a humanitarian capacity.
      Good luck!

  • Terence permalink
    July 21, 2016 7:44 am

    I am currently entering my first year of college. I am going to be studying “international Studies”. I have a large interest in traveling, learning about different cultures, and meeting new people. Rather than being a “tourist” I like to immerse myself into a country and culture and learn as much as I can while developing friendships with locals. My recent trip was to Accra, Ghana where I helped coach unprivileged youth basketball. I made some great friends and I am planning to return. I am eagerly searching for a career path that I could work in the US but occasionally travel and help with issues in a particular country (social, development, peacekeeping etc). I looked at the peace corps ,UN careers, and working in the department of state or Civil Services. I don’t know if you could help me with any tips, suggestions, or advice, but if you could that would be great! Thankyou!

  • Kerry Erickson permalink
    August 4, 2016 1:27 am

    Hi Nick,

    Can you suggest a few agencies to look into for paid international social work jobs? I’m looking broadly, and also specifically at empowerment agencies, or youth based agencies.


    • August 6, 2016 5:30 am

      Hi Kerry! I would look at DevJobs, or on LinkedIn – ReliefWeb is also a good place to start, Nick

  • Laura permalink
    August 7, 2016 8:05 pm

    Thank you for the information you shared in this article. Are you aware of any organzizations that might be available to work
    With for myself; I have a masters degree in architecture and am interested in construction. I was researching architecture for humanity waiting for the time when my children went off to college, but unfortunately that organizations is no more.

    • August 18, 2016 1:40 pm

      Hi Laura – sorry – I’m not really on top of this kind of thing – let us know what you find!

  • Dina permalink
    September 6, 2016 1:04 am

    Where do I start if I want to try do this ?? I’m don’t actually have money and I don’t have any Uni education … But I want to try something like this ?? Yes I will need to be paid to survive myself … …. A there anything I can do to help to make a difference ??

    • September 6, 2016 8:43 pm

      Hi Dina – I’m really not sure what to advise you. Perhaps you should focus on getting a degree first, and learning a little more about the field at the same time?
      Good luck!

  • September 14, 2016 4:19 pm

    Hi Nick

    I have a few questions.

    My first one is how much is the average salary? Could I support a family off that money?

    My second question is whether it is a full time job?

    Lastly, do you get to choose where you want to work, or is it assigned?

  • Joseph Markell permalink
    October 9, 2016 12:17 am

    Hi there, I’m currently in college and in ROTC but I’m not quite sure if the armed forces is for me but all I want to do in life is directly save lives and change people for the better. I need to make a comfortable living for my fiance and I’m not afraid to be down on the front lines. I just want to help people, not hurt them. I am getting my degree in Geography with a History minor, so where would I fit in? What could I do?

  • Chris Dewick permalink
    October 19, 2016 9:58 am

    Hi Nick

    First off I just want to thank you for the article! It’s a very informative read and gives probably the best insight into life as an aid worker that I’ve yet come across. And your dedication in replying to questions is inspiring! I will be buying your ebook and leaving a review!

    So I’ve a couple of things that I hope you can help me with. I’ve recently realised that working in relief and development is what I want to do with my life. I’m 25, from the UK and have a degree in Biomedical Science. I’ve found a postgraduate masters course – Humanitarian Studies is its title – that I think may be useful. What is your opinion on this sort of postgrad study? Is it necessary? Will it give me an advantage? I’m also planning on gaining field experience by volunteering abroad, as I know this is vital. Are there any particular NGOs that you would recommend for this?

    Thanks for your time,


    • October 19, 2016 9:08 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, it’s always great to hear from readers. Have you read my post of graduate degrees? I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the short story is that I think graduate study is awesome, it just won’t help you get your FIRST job. I would advise you to go to grad school once you have a couple of years of work experience under your belt.
      Since you’re in the UK, VSO is the obvious choice, but there are a bunch of good options,
      Good luck!

  • Nea Holliday permalink
    November 2, 2016 5:25 pm

    Hi. I am a 48 year old female wanting to get into a humanitarian career. I have an AAS , I’m a Registered Medical Assistant and I have traveled and lived all over the world but never found the perfect career I was desiring. Now that my children are grown I would like to pursue this. Do you have any information that might help me get going? I also speak Spanish.
    Thank you

    • November 2, 2016 5:26 pm

      Hi Nea – you’re in luck – actually I do – I put it all in this blog! If you have a more specific question please let me know,

  • john permalink
    December 2, 2016 7:47 am

    Hi my name is john i live in papua new guinea and i would love to work with yous

    • December 2, 2016 7:55 am

      I would love to work with you too John, but I regret that I’m not in a position to hide anyone right now, good luck, Nick

  • James rose permalink
    December 13, 2016 12:09 am

    I have been hoping to do mission or relief work for sometime. I’ve no money to do “missionary” trips, so, if anyone can help me. Subject “relief” to

  • December 15, 2016 1:59 am

    Hi Nick, I live in Kenya and would really love to be a humanitarian particularly for my own country. I am 21 years old and am in my final year at the University taking Gender and Development studies. In relation to this, i wanted to ask
    1. What would be the best course to back up my humanitarian career other than the one i am currently studying?
    2. Are there a few pointers you can give for entry level applicants who would want to work to develop others as well as themselves?

    Lastly i would like to say thank you for your blog. Am still reading through it and would love to know more about this world. It has been my passion to help others but i do not get the opportunity but i am positive i can grow my country and the African community with the guidance of people with respect and passion for the same like you.


    • December 16, 2016 9:25 am

      Hi Vicky – unfortunately I don’t have any expertise in seeking jobs in Kenya as a Kenyan. With regard to the university question, there is a post on this site that addresses that question – hope it helps! Good luck!

  • December 22, 2016 5:59 am

    Hello Nick,
    I found your blog while doing some extensive research on career options as an international development aid worker (or anything of the sort). Its helping me narrow down my options and I would like to thank you.

    My name is Angela and I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Namibia (South- West Africa). My tour ends in about 9 months and I need some advice on how to obtain a job working in the humanitarian field; I have a ton of interests ranging from Foreign Service to non – profit work to the United Nations, however, I am certain that I would like my concentration to be focused on Africa.

    Do you have any ideas on how I can go about looking for grad schools (domestic and international) and careers paths I could look into to get my dream job?

    Thanks in advance!

    Angela S.

    P.S. I also like to blog about my time in Namibia thus far and I would be extremely grateful if you checked it out! Its .

  • January 5, 2017 3:12 pm

    Hi there,
    my name is Chanté, I am currently a paramedic student completing my last and final semester and I thought becoming a paramedic and working at home (NZ) was enough for me. I felt drawn to working in places where they needed paramedic workers in areas such as where you have worked in or my home Samoa where isn’t any ambulance sa. It’s weird but I just felt that I needed to become a paramedic for this line of work but didn’t know how to until I recently was searching for work outside of New Zealand and I came across your blog. I might be late at commenting under this blog but I feel passionate for the job that I would be soon working in and I was hoping if you could give me advice in which direction you think I should go towards.
    I have other experience which involves working with a disability organization which works with children, youth and adults in outdoor activities but majority of gaining all my experiences is working as a student paramedic on the ambulance.

  • rebecca permalink
    January 6, 2017 5:23 am

    Hello Nick I m Rebecca b.m .from nepal .I m recently highschool graduted .I wanna take one year’s gap these year on do stuff on the human right women empowerment and etc if you have any stuff??

  • Haikel permalink
    January 8, 2017 6:23 am

    Hi, what career options are available for social workers in the humanitarian sector? I have 4 years experience in humanitarian sector locally and less than a year experience in mental health. Thank you.

  • January 24, 2017 5:28 am

    Hi first of all
    I like to thankyou for sharing your related experience as a worker aid abroad.
    I would love to do this has been my ideal goal for most of my life.
    I have completed a Diploma in Community services and case Management.
    I have worked with children and young adults with trauma and challenging behaviours.
    I am Australian citizen and permanent resident.
    Throughout my career I have over 12 years experience as a nurse assistant in age care, mental health and dissabilities.
    I was abroad in South America for 6 months learning the culture and people ways of life in 5 different countries.
    I venture into the Amazon for a month and assisted the indeginous people.
    I am fluent in spanish, as I was born there and raised in Australia.
    I can also speak portuguese and italian.
    I would love to go back and work there as an aid worker.
    Could you provide me with the lead of company names please I could approach for work.
    I am currently studying Bachelor of social science in welfare due for completion mid year 2018.
    In the meantime I continue my work as a youth worker and would like to gain experience in domestic violence services sector.
    Your information would be much appreciated.
    If you could also suggest which countries of South America would be most suitable with my skills.

    • February 2, 2017 10:35 am

      Giselle, I regret that I’m really not able to give personalized advice on the blog, and that I’m not sure I could match you to a country in South America based on the information you gave – good luck!

  • Justin permalink
    January 28, 2017 10:46 pm

    I’ve always considered doing something like this, but i never took into account the amount of physical and mental stress it would make. Even so, I’m not deterred by it. But, my question is, are there any specific qualifications that i need to have before I can go and help?

    • February 2, 2017 10:31 am

      Hi Justin – I would suggest you take a quick read of the book section of the bog – it gets into these kinds of questions!

  • Shailesh Shankar permalink
    February 6, 2017 10:24 pm

    Hi, I am interested to work for any relief works. I had work for UN WFP about 14 years.

    • February 22, 2017 10:35 am

      Good to hear from you Shailesh, and good luck with your efforts.

  • Marina permalink
    February 12, 2017 6:33 am

    Many thanks for a good overview of what it takes to work in the humanitarian and development field. I am a Russian national with a relevant Masters from one of the leading US universities and about three years of field experience with national NGOs in Southeast Asia. My skills are mostly in research and analysis, and capacity building on topics relevant to human rights. I’ve been trying to enter the INGO world for a couple of years, but without project management experience it turns out to be incredibly hard. I would be happy to work in M&E, where my research skills can be useful, but I also haven’t been able to find anything so far. I have experience designing research studies and conducting fieldwork in conflict-affected areas. This could be a useful skill for a consultant, but I would really love to work in a team and possibly on projects rather than research. I understand that most INGO positions for my level of experience tend to be filled by nationals. I realize that working in headquarters would be one of the options to gain that experience, but without a work permit anywhere but Russia, from where almost all INGOs have been recently kicked out, I find myself stuck. Would you have any suggestions? I am now considering gaining project management experience in the private sector, maybe in the CSR to make it even more relevant, but not quite sure it would be translatable. Thank you!

    • February 22, 2017 10:36 am

      I sympathize with your predicament, the passport lottery is a tough one. I’m really not sure what to recommend, except that there might be opportunities to work for humanitarian agencies overseas. Perhaps there are readers with some insight into how to deal with this one?
      Good luck,

  • Aleena permalink
    February 19, 2017 11:35 pm

    Hi Nick,
    I have always thought about becoming an international aid worker as helping people is a passion of mine.
    What degree or qualifications do you suggest are most needed to be successful in this field?
    Would a medicine degree be useful at all or is it worth studying social science or something else…?

    • February 22, 2017 10:34 am

      Hi Aleena,
      I wonder if you’ve read the chapter on degrees and qualifications? Definitely certain types of healthcare workers are in demand (see the recent interview with MSF), but a medicine degree on its own is probably not helpful.
      Good luck,

  • Dalton permalink
    February 22, 2017 10:31 am

    Hello, my name is Dalton and i’m in my senior year of high school. I have a couple of questions to ask. First off, I want to go on a mission trip before I head into college (UCO) studying humanities and philosophy. I’m curious to know what I should be prepared for and where is the best place to start?
    I have many other questions but i would rather ask another time. Thank you for the time.

    • February 22, 2017 10:33 am

      Hi Dalton,
      Without knowing a little more about what kind of trip you’re planning, and where to, it’s hard to give any specific advice. In general though, I would ask the organizing group for as much information as possible, try to learn as much as you can about the location you’re heading to, and try to talk to people who have been there.
      Good luck!

      • Dalton permalink
        February 22, 2017 12:33 pm

        Would you mind if I use you in an upcoming career interview for my English class? I’m trying to get more detailed information about humanitarian and mission work. You are the only one who seems to be readily at hand and very knowledgeable about the field of humanitarian work. I know i’m asking a bit much on such short notice, so if not, that’s okay, I understand you are busy and I don’t want to use up any time you don’t have.
        Either way, Thank you for your time.

      • February 22, 2017 12:36 pm

        If you have some specific questions I’m happy to do my best, Nick

  • Dalton permalink
    February 23, 2017 12:30 pm

    Please excuse the length, I just have some general questions about the work. If a question is too personal, you – by all means – don’t have to answer. Thank you
    Who or what first interested you in mission work?
    When did you make the decision?
    Who is your role model (if you have one)?
    What kind of education do you have?
    How long did it take you to get where you are?
    What was difficult to get used to when you first began your work?
    What is the everyday schedule like?
    Are there certain tasks you have to accomplish?
    What are some challenges you face and how do I overcome those challenges?
    What do you love about your work?
    What kind of person does it take?
    What is needed the most out of someone?
    How can I meet those needs?
    What types of skills will be useful to know when on a trip?
    Where do you travel?
    How often do you travel?
    Generally, what does it cost to travel?
    Is there a salary range?

    Where should I begin in taking that first step?
    What life skills has this work taught you?
    Would you do anything different involving your profession? (If so:) Why?
    Is there any advice you could give that may be useful?
    Is there anything else you would like to share with me that I haven’t asked?

    Thank you for taking the time to answer, I really do appreciate it. It helps me a ton.

  • March 5, 2017 4:08 pm

    The wickedness and greed of the white devil is to blame for much of the dire state of the world today.

    Countless innocent civilians, who have have tried to make the best of the very little they have, have been left dying from poverty, hunger and war while the British, Americans and Europeans invade countries and plunder each of them of their wealth before returning home to build their economy. Out of guilt, they try to help but it will never be enough.

    By the way, the author is very rude to people asking questions and seeking advice. Perhaps he should research and develop his apparently very weak skills in diplomacy. Cheers.

    • March 5, 2017 4:48 pm

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment ‘TroothMayHert’, the idea that colonialism and systemic exploitation through economic systems and violence is a fairly established strain of thought in political science. It’s really outside the scope of this blog though, which focusses on job-search strategies. Apologies for coming across as rude, that’s not my intention,

  • Keith permalink
    March 5, 2017 10:47 pm

    Would someone with a degree in microbiology fit in somehow with humanitarian jobs?

    • March 8, 2017 4:26 pm

      Hi Keith – it’s hard to say – I wouldn’t think there is a lot of call for microbiology as a skill, but in general I think that degree doesn’t matter that much. The core skills of aid workers are really problem solving.
      Good luck!

  • Janelle G. Cervera permalink
    March 7, 2017 9:46 am

    Hi Nick! I am Janelle, from the Philippines and our country has been deeply affected by the typhoon Haiyan last 2013. Just this January, I resigned from my job as a bank teller for almost six years primarily because I am not happy with my work anymore, and I am feeling that I have not significantly contributed to the betterment of the lives of the less fortunate. Currently, I am deeply seeking for a venue that would allow me to help my community. An opportunity opened for me to apply for a job in an internationally-funded non-government organization in our province here in the Philippines (Our province is Antique – pronounced as /ɑːnˈtiːkɛ/) or (/ɑːnˈtiːkɛ/ Note: pronunciation taken from Wikipedia). The job is to extend livelihood assistance to those who have been greatly hit by the typhoon. I really wanted the job because this is a chance for me not only to help people in my country, but my province in particular. Please help me on how to build a good application letter for me to have chance on that job I really wanted given that my previous work was for a private bank and is way, way different from what I wanted to push as my next career. I would really appreciate hearing from you. Thank you so much.

  • Jackie permalink
    March 20, 2017 12:35 pm

    Is there a particular age range that can do this work

    • March 20, 2017 12:41 pm

      Hi Jackie – thanks for the question – not really – while the travel-heavy lifestyle sometimes appeals more to younger people with fewer responsibilities, some of the most effective people in this line of work come to it later in life, bringing experience from a previous career.
      Good luck,

      • April 3, 2017 1:25 am

        Am currently working as a computer technician and at the same time studying political science and communications because i want to work as a humanitarian aid.How can i start looking for a job in line with my calling?

      • April 3, 2017 10:47 am

        Hi Ndemi – I think you’re going to find a lot of the advice on this blog relevant to your situation, let me know if you have a more specific question, thanks! Nick

  • May 9, 2017 4:48 pm

    Hi Nick, am from Nigeria a technician on power lines in one of the company Nigeria and I have 11 year experience on the job, but I leave the job when it as privatize by our president 2013. Please can I get a job as an technician in any humanitarian jobs or any company. thanks

    • May 10, 2017 1:32 pm

      Hi Jonah, I get a lot of questions like this, and unfortunately I don’t run a humanitarian agency and am not hiring right now. Good luck! Nick

  • Alexander Nice permalink
    September 24, 2017 2:04 pm

    Hey nice article, I build fuel systems and just got tired of making money by destroying the planet. I don’t care about the money that much, but I love to build, any way you can point me tward a organization that builds (I know very vague but I am not exactly sure what is out there,) anything for say disaster relief and so on? I’m young and just sick of working for a paycheck, when yes I would break my back for free because I’m a artist with a cement trowel and pipe wrench, I’m just sick of putting more fuel stations on this Earth.

    • October 2, 2017 5:23 pm

      Hi Alexander,
      Thanks for the question. It’s a complex issue, but the long and the short of it is that there isn’t usually that much need for manual labor, even free, in post disaster countries – there’s usually of lot of that. What there is often a need for is experienced construction project mangers who can manage subcontractors and procurement processes well.
      You might want to look into the major US and European INGOs, all of whom do this kind of thing to some degree, UN organizations like UNDP, and also contractors, who usually do the larger infrastructure pieces.
      Good luck!

  • Pamela Beatty permalink
    October 20, 2017 5:45 pm

    Hi I am 48 years old and have just cleared my mortgage. I have been working as a financial controller for the past 15 years and have teaching experience in payroll where I ran evening classes for fetac level 5 qualicatications. I would now like to do something volunteering for anything as I have a very big heart and care if there is any position I can fill I would really be interested thank you

    • October 23, 2017 9:49 am

      Hi there Pamela!
      There is a huge demand for Finance Officers in the international world, especially those who speak French and are willing to work in the Franco-phon world. These are full time, real jobs, based in the countries where aid agencies work. There are also all of the accounting, payroll, controller etc roles that every other company has, usually based in HQ offices. You should take a look at the websites for agencies you like and look for posts of relevant jobs, or talk to recruiters. They might well be willing to work with you to get the kind of experience and skills you bring to the table.
      Good luck! Nick

  • Sarah Mullen permalink
    January 5, 2018 1:38 am

    Hi Nick,
    I just came across your webpage and read every bit of it! Thanks very much for sharing your experiences and setting up this page it’s a massive inspiration. I’m also very passionate about humanitarian work and would love to gain some experience. I’m nearly done with my undergraduate degree in psychology and was wondering whether there are any chances to use my degree for helping others in developing countries. So far I‘ve looked at Organizations that mainly look for medical staff but have you got any tips where I could apply to? Or as for an internship? Sometimes I feel a background in social work would have been far better. If you have any advice this would be highly appreciated!


  • Samantha Holmes permalink
    January 23, 2018 6:16 am


    I am a registered nurse and I feel a passion towards humanitarian work! I have been to Uganda before and I am going to Kenya in June, I am just so desperate to be able to work like this full time and don’t know how to go about it! I would need a job where primarily I am based in the UK and about 4 times a year I could go abroad and do work there for about 2-3 weeks! Do you know how I can achieve this?


  • Joe Gbolo permalink
    April 5, 2018 7:15 am

    Hi, My name is Joe and I’m a college graduate and a professional boxer. Boxing has allowed me to seek active work and I love helping people and would like to work overseas in third world countries, like Liberia. I’m originally from West Africa but currently a U.S citizen.

  • August 6, 2018 4:08 am

    Hi Nick,

    I have a background in clinical psychology and have been studying psychology for the past 7 years. I have been interested in working with aid relief organizations, specifically in the context of mental health. The issue, as you have clarified in many of your replies is the experience required. The problem now being, I need experience to apply but without getting the exposure (through a job in an aid relief organization), how can I improve my prospects?

    Thank you.

  • June 6, 2019 6:22 am

    Hey Nick hope you are well!
    I am 20 and currently in a difficult decision between going to university or not. I feel deeply called to help people and begin a career in this field but am unsure of what route to take. In an ideal world I would love to learn through experience; start by volunteering working my way up etc but have found that even many volunteer opportunities require at least an undergraduate degree. I was wondering if you know whether I need a degree to enter the field or if you know of another route e.g any organisations that accept volunteers or hire people without degrees?
    Look forward to hearing from you,

  • Trackbacks

    1. The Field Mission Dilemma: How to Feel Good, Be Good AND Do Good | The GOODistaThe GOODista
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    3. Northwoods natives bringing water to villages a world away – Price County Daily | I Want To Travel The World
    4. Five stories in the news today, March 30 – News1130 | First Aid Blog
    5. Nine CEOs call on Pence, legislature to modify ‘religious freedom’ law – Indianapolis Star | eegbusiness
    6. Why you might want to work in relief and development (and why you might not) - Governance in practice
    7. Water Underground | Humanitarian groundwater projects; notes on motivations from the academic world

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