Careers in international development

This page explores the options that may be available to you in the field of international development, including routes in and the ways LSE Careers can support you.

What is a career in international development?

International development offers a wide range of opportunities. You could be working in policy development, developing donor relations, delivering aid on the ground, supporting colleagues through HR initiatives…the list goes on. What underpins the work is a desire to promote economic and human development in developing countries.

It’s a popular sector with LSE graduates and you’ll find alumni working in the sector all over the world. Many will have done a master's qualification and most will have gained relevant experience through volunteering or internships. As you progress in your career it’s common to become more specialist and expert in a particular field.

Where can I work, what can I do, and how can I get there?

Where can I work?

  • International NGOs – make  up the largest sub sector. Organisations range from large global NGOs (non-governmental organisations) with hundreds of staff, such as Save the Children, to small, locally based organisations with a handful of employees. 
  • Development Consultancies – bid for work from government donor agencies such as DFID (Department for International Development) and international organisations such as the World Bank. There are a mix of specialist consultancies, such as IMC and Dalberg, and large management consultancies such as PwC. 
  • International Organisations – include multilateral organisations such as UNICEF, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and development banks such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Visit our Careers in International Organisations page to find out more. 
  • Foundations – include  organisations such as the Clinton Foundation. These are philanthropic organisations which donate bursaries, fund projects and, in some cases, deliver support on the ground. 
  • Government Aid Agencies – such as USAID, DFID and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zesammenarbeit). Work is often policy based, with consulting firms frequently used to implement and deliver projects. 
  • Social Enterprises – are typically small organisations run on private sector models but designed with a social purpose in mind. Escape the City carries vacancies in this area. 
  • Academia – many universities around the world teach and research international development. A PhD is required in most cases. The Development Studies Association is a useful resource. Visit our Careers in Research page to find out more. 
  • Think Tanks – are small organisations involved in research and policy work. Entry is usually with a Master’s. Visit our Careers in Research page to find out more. 

What can I do?

This is a sector where it’s important to use a variety of approaches to job searching. This means applying to advertised jobs on industry specific websites such as Devex, keeping an eye on CareerHub, but also reaching out to new or existing contacts in the sector. LinkedIn is a great place to start and you’ll find hundreds of LSE alumni working in development organisations listed on the site.

There are a number of organisations who focus on supporting volunteering in the sector. The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) arranges training for those considering volunteering overseas. The International Citizen Service (ICS) provides overseas volunteer placements for 18-25 year olds and The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has a range of resources for volunteering in INGOs and charities.

You can also visit the LSE Volunteer Centre, who help LSE students find a volunteering placement at a charity or not-for-profit organisation during their time studying at LSE. Read their blog about How to find a volunteer role in international development. Two examples of well-known organisations recruiting volunteers with skills and qualifications include VSO and Medicins sans Frontieres. 

There are a huge number of different job roles in this sector. We’ve outlined some of the major functions, with links to where you can find more information. If you can, try and talk to someone who’s doing the job you’re interested in, so you get a real flavour of what it’s like.

  • Advocacy – involves running campaigns and developing strategies to influence organisations and individuals to effect change and promote an organisation’s goals. 
  • Communications – an increasingly important area for any organisation, the work involves deciding how to present key messages and information to internal and external audiences. Visit our Careers in Media and Communications page to find out more. 
  • Consultant – depending on the amount of experience you have, the work can range from preparing bid documents for projects to developing policy and delivering projects on the ground for clients. Most consultants work either for a consulting firm, or in the case of those with relevant expertise, as freelancers. 
  • Fundraising – work can range from putting together bids for grants from donor organisations, to marketing to individuals and event organisation. Often overlooked as a career option, this function has a comparatively large number of vacancies compared to other roles. Found mainly in NGOs. Visit our Careers in Charities page for more information.
  • Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning – roles involve conducting research into programme effectiveness and impact. Mande is a good source of additional information.
  • Policy & research – roles involve researching development issues and formulating policies. Most often to be found in NGOs, government departments, multilaterals, think tanks and academia.
  • Technical specialists – such as medical professionals, engineers and accountants. Often to be found in humanitarian (emergency relief) work. ReliefWeb is a good source of information.
  • Corporate functions (HR, IT, Finance) – ensure organisations are governed efficiently. It is not unusual to gain experience of these roles in other sectors and then transfer across. Visit our Careers in Business page to find out more.

How can I get there?


Relevant work experience is essential for securing a role in the ID sector. Engaging in work experiences which give you exposure to your sector or region of interest is highly encouraged. Volunteering is great way to gain the relevant skills which you will need to enter the sector, both in the UK and overseas.


Networking is very useful in this sector as you may find an entry point through someone that is working in an area or location you’re interested in. Spend time researching your organisations of interest, learn about their internal team structures and keep an eye out for entry-level roles to see what types of candidates they usually seek. Speak to current employees, read their blogs and follow their social media platforms to keep up to date with their work. Doing this in the months leading up to making your applications will give you plenty of time to learn and pick up information.

If you’re looking to gain experience

If you’re just starting out, then doing some volunteering whilst you’re at LSE is a good way to gain experience. You could also get involved in a student society that focuses on development.

If you’re early on in your career

Although there are a few structured graduate schemes, some development consultancies and in a number of UN organisations, the vast majority of entrants to the sector start off by volunteering or undertaking internships and then progress to permanent positions. Larger charities such as Christian Aid, Oxfam and People and Planet offer internship opportunities.

If you have more experience

Most positions are gained by applying to advertised jobs or using personal networks. For more senior jobs, specialist recruitment agencies such as Oxford HR may be useful. 
You can also engage in volunteering using your experience. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recruiting volunteers with professional skills and qualifications.

If you’re changing career

People often move into this sector using existing relevant experience, for example moving from working in HR in a corporation to HR in an NGO. For moves that involve a change in role as well, it’s often necessary to take some stepping stones to gain relevant experience. This could involve volunteering or perhaps taking a more junior position. 

Not sure what to do next?

We’re here to talk over your career plans with you. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, so don’t feel you have to have it all worked out. You can book a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant on CareerHub. 

Where can I find out more about working in this sector?

Interested in finding out more about a career in international development?

Here are some helpful links, including the ways LSE Careers can work with you on your journey.



LSE Careers resources:

External resources:

How to network with alumni in this sector:

Jobs and opportunities

Useful websites:

  • CareerHub – jobs board targeting LSE students, including events and networking opportunities.
  • Devex – US site with global jobs and articles.
  • Devnet – 100s of global development jobs.
  • CharityJob – Not-for-profit jobs in the UK.
  • Eldis – Sharing global development research for policy and practice vacancies and volunteer opportunities
  • Bond – mainly jobs with UK based NGOs.
  • Escape the City – great for social enterprise jobs and career changers.
  • LSE Volunteer Centre – volunteering opportunities in a wide variety of organisations.
  • – jobs in academia and research institutes, UK and global positions.
  • Project RE: – resource created by LSE alumni.
  • Prospects – Occupational profiles and career tips and insights
  • DevelopmentAid – Information about tenders and grants, potential partner organizations, short- and long-term projects for individual consultants, tender shortlisting and awards.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders
  • Engineers Without Borders UK


If you’d like to discuss your options in this sector, or chat through your current plans, please book an appointment with an LSE Careers Consultant.