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Where to start  

Spend some time in a developing country. This will be your most valuable piece of experience by far - whichever role you go on to have.

Work out what you could bring to this very diverse and complex sector. What role would you be good at? Develop those skills. Advocacy? Logistics? Fundraising? Social work? Finance? HR? Water engineering? Disaster preparedness and mitigation?

Jobs fall into two categories: 

  • Programme roles (direct involvement with the projects overseas) usually require languages and lots of overseas experience.  Preference is rightly given to candidates from developing countries.
  • Support roles (fundraising, marketing, comms, campaigning, policy, volunteer management, HR, Finance, IT, data science) are easier to get into and can still give you plenty of contact with the projects.  
How to know if you’re suited to this sector

Overseas experience is essential to test out this career - you need to understand that solutions are not easy. The sector suits pragmatists better than idealists.

Any experience with a charity or student society will give you a taste. In international development you get plenty of responsibility early on - if you thrive on that it is a good sign.

You need to be prepared to manage your own career, as there is no structured career path.

How to get the experience to be credible

Live, work or volunteer in a developing country, ideally one low on the UNHDI index.

Gain experience of a skill that would be useful. These might include student journalism (for comms roles); May Ball Publicity Officer (marketing); College telephone campaign (fundraising), or the student global health think tank Polygeia (policy work).

Get a foot in the door and work your way up - volunteer, intern, take a fundraising or administrative job in an organisation you want to work for and move across to a more suitable role when you can.


Finance is obviously a factor when seeking work experience. This list of NGOs have commited to paying their interns - though other organisations will also do so. 


Start in the public or private sector to gain transferable skills. Development organisations often recruit people who have business or public sector experience. Charityjob.co.uk is a useful site to find UK-based jobs in the charity sector.

Further study or certification required

For policy roles a master's is often required, but for other roles the sector tends to prefer experience above qualifications.

If you are considering doing a master’s degree, opt for one with practical elements such as work placements or field work.

How to find employers or training courses

Internships are rare in this sector, so it's likely that the majority of vacancies available on the following sites are mid or later-career options. However, it is still useful to familiarise yourself with the sector and what organisations are looking for so you know what skills and experience you should be focusing on. You can also use vacancy sites to gather information about which organisations you should approach speculatively:

www.bond.org.uk/jobs

www.devnetjobs.org/ 

www.eldis.org/jobs

www.devex.com/jobs

reliefweb.int

GoinGlobal is a very useful platform for researching work in numerous countries - including infromation on local development organisations. 

Look at the websites of the 14 big development charities that form the Disasters Emergency Committee.

The development consultancy Dalberg has a strong relationship with Cambridge. Other consultancies include Adam Smith International, itad, Genesis Analytics, and PWC (which has its own international development division).

Current vacancies and potential employers can be found via Handshake

Kaya e-learning platform has free courses and resources, that will help you understand the sector, although you need to create an account to access them. Volunteer essentials and humanitarian essentials are good starting points.  

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process

This is a very diverse sector, and no two jobs are the same. Make very sure that you fully tailor your experience to the employer’s requirements and demonstrate it with facts and figures. Give evidence that you are committed to the cause by showing what you have done, rather than talking theoretically about development.

What Cambridge offers to help with this career

Find recordings of our International Development and Charities Festival on our YouTube channel and previous panels on our catch up on past talks page.

Student institutions at Cambridge include the university’s international development society (CUID) and the Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI).

Other things you should know

Traditionally internships and work experience opportunities have been unpaid in this sector. This is slowly changing, wepayourinterns.org is one campaign working on this and large multinationals are also taking a different approach.

There's also a greater focus on people in developing countries- rightly- being prioritised for paid roles to support their local community so if you are not part of that community, consider how to develop specialist skills that will genuinely be of value.