A Guide to Working in International Development

3 minute read

International Development is a significant part of the charity and not-for-profit sector. It’s also one of the most desirable career paths, which means there’s plenty of competition.

So how can you start a career in International Development with so many people fighting for the same roles? We can help with that.


What is International Development?

Combining research and practical aid, a career in International Development provides support to people living in the developing world. This can range from humanitarian work to construction of infrastructure and emergency response. Put plainly, it’s looking into issues or problems and deriving solutions for developing nations.

There are a number of organisations within International Development; some are charities, some are not-for-profit organisations. Beyond that, there are government departments and even elements of the United Nations such as UNICEF, UNIDO and The World Health Organisation that are involved. As such, it’s not just big charities that are making a difference―there are multiple organisations working to make real-world changes.

Types of International Development organisations include:

  • Charities
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • Government development departments
  • United Nations organisations
  • Universities and academic research
  • Think tanks
  • Consultancies
A Guide to Working in International Development

Which jobs are available in International Development?

Field-based or programme work

This is ‘boots on the ground’ development. Work in the field is often voluntary and performed by local staff, as the era of paid ‘on the ground’ work is coming to an end. However, specialist work is increasingly available. Experience in engineering, health, legal and other types of in-demand professions may make it easier for you to find paid work a bit closer to the action.


Research and policy roles are generally based in the nation(s) 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

These jobs will require technical speciality in areas of medicine and science. You may be an engineer or planner with knowledge of infrastructure, or be from a scientific background in water and sanitation. It’s 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 abroad), admin and office support positions are often available. These jobs will likely be quite familiar, ranging from office assistants to finance managers and HR.

A Guide to Working in International Development

What do you need to get a job in International Development?

1. Education

Volunteer work in the UK may not require any qualifications but some International Development jobs ask you to be educated to degree level (not necessarily specifically for an International Development career, but it definitely helps). Some more senior positions may even ask for a Masters. Internships and placements are sometimes provided as part of a course, allowing you to gain vital experience while studying.

As always, experience trumps 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 a graduate in this field could put you at a disadvantage.

If you have experience in the field, including solid and demonstrable volunteering experience with known organisations, you may be considered.


2. A history of volunteering

The sector is always on the lookout for passionate people. That means you’ll need to demonstrate a clear dedication to the not-for-profit world. A great way to do this is through volunteering. But it’s not just about proving your enthusiasm for the sector; it’s about networking and building up contacts.

Volunteering is an unspoken essential for careers in international development. If you’re considering a career change, this is even more valuable because it shows that you made time to get involved, even when working full-time.

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 include:

3. Skills

Though some International Development jobs require the same skillset as other charity roles, there are a number of unique skills that are essential. These include:

  • Empathy when dealing with conflict
  • Ability to understand cultural boundaries, perspectives and points of view
  • Language skills (if you’re working in the field)
  • A functional understanding of the cause
  • Excellent writing skills (especially for research roles)
  • Evaluation analysis and monitoring skills


Working in international development can be demanding, but extremely rewarding.

If it sounds like you’d be suited to an international development career then check out the opportunities available now!


This post was originally published in 2019. We’ve updated it to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience.


Benita Culshaw

Benita is Digital Content Assistant at CharityJob

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