A guide to International Development

International development is a significant part of the charity and not-for-profit sector. However, it is one of the most desirable career paths and therefore one of the most competitive, CharityJob’s handy guide to International development will help you get your foot in the door.

The international development sector strives both to research and deliver practical aid and support to people living in the developing world. This can range from humanitarian work to construction of infrastructure, emergency response or working on the research side of things; looking into issues or problems and deriving solutions for developing nations. Either way, you will be helping to deliver essential work to people who need it the most.

There are a number of organisations, within International development, some are charities, some are not-for-profit organisations; but there are also Non-Governmental-Organisations, Government development department and even elements of the United Nations such as Unicef, UNIDO and the world health organisation. As such, there is great variety within the sector; it’s not just big charities, there are multiple organisations at work.

Types of international development organisation:

  • Charities
  • NGOs
  • Government Departments
  • United Nations organisations
  • Universities and academic research
  • Think tanks
  • Consultancies

What could you end up doing?

Field-based or programme work: The boots on the ground development; these are often voluntary and performed by local staff, the era of paid “on the ground” work is coming to an end in most areas. However, specialist work is increasingly available; engineering, health, legal and other types of in-demand professions may guide you toward this kind of role.

Research: Research and policy are generally based in the developed world (or rather the nations of the charity’s founding) and are office-based roles usually staffed by postgraduate students. Experienced candidates may not require a postgraduate education, but a research background is essential. You will be developing research-led projects, for charities, think-tanks, university departments and government organisations.

Technical roles: This jobs will require a technical speciality, possibly in an area of medicine such as Malaria or HIV research, you may be an engineer or planner with knowledge of infrastructure, or be from a scientific background in water and sanitation. It is generally expected for you to have both experience and qualifications in the area you would like to get into.

Support & admin: As most international development organisations operate offices in developed nations (though they may have an administration presence in the operational nations) admin and office support positions are often available. These jobs will likely be quite familiar, ranging from Office Assistants to Finance Managers and HR.

What do you need?


Volunteer work in the UK may not require any qualifications but most international development positions will require you to be educated to degree level; though not necessarily in the field of international development. Some more senior position may even require a Masters degree, it is generally expected that your MA or MSC will be in International Development, internships and placements are sometimes provided as part of a course, allowing you gain vital experience while studying. As always, experience does trump education, however; the most common career path is through an undergraduate degree, then an MSC in international development and work in placements/internships for a few years until a job opens up. Not being graduate in this field could put you at a disadvantage. If you have experience in the field, including solid and provable volunteering experiencing with known organisations you may be considered.

The best postgraduate international development courses:

  • MSC International development London School of Economics
  • MSC International development School of Oriental and African Studies


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A history of volunteering

The international development sector is likely to require some proof of your dedication to the not-for-profit world, a great way to demonstrate this is through volunteering. But it’s not just about proving your dedication to the sector; it’s about networking and building up contacts. Volunteering will prove to be an unspoken essential, luckily you can take the opportunity to volunteer while studying, if you’re considering a career change then you should still strive for strong, relevant volunteer experience. Volunteering overseas can be a great addition to your CV, and an overseas placement can provide you with relevant experience which charities and  NGOs will understand. Having a combination of good academic performance and relevant volunteering experience will push you ahead of other candidates.

International development volunteering opportunities:


Though some positions within international development require similar skillsets as other charity roles, there are a number of unique skills which are essential if you intend to pursue a career in international development.

  • Strong communications skills, including the ability to communicate with a diverse range of people who may have conflicting opinions. For local work, you may require language skills, native language skills relating to the country in question.
  • You must be able to understand cultural boundaries, perspectives and points of view.
  • You must have a functional (and possibly provable) understanding of the development organisation’s cause, you will need to show commitment to this cause.
  • Excellent writing skills, especially for research roles; you will be able to write to an academic or journalistic level of quality.
  • Project management skills: Managing an international development programme, or being on a coordination team, can be particularly demanding.
  • Evaluation analysis and monitoring skills.

Working in international development can be demanding, but extremely rewarding. If it sounds like you’d be suited to a career in international development then check out the opportunities available now!

Sanjay Bheenuck

Content and SEO Lead here at CharityJob. Writer of obscure fiction and global wanderer in my spare time.

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