International development

 

International development is a popular career destination for LSE graduates. Alumni can be found working in this field in a variety of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), international organisations, think tanks and academic institutions.

Useful Information

Routes in

Many graduates start in an NGO; you will find few graduate training schemes, those that exist have early application deadlines. Generally organisations recruit as and when they have vacancies. Most recruiters in this sector are looking for:

  1. Skills - these may be “hard” technical skills such as to work as a specialist in public health or they may be “soft” skills, such as teamwork and communication. Increasingly, recruiters are placing an emphasis on hard skills, especially for jobs “in the field.”.
  2. Academic training/intellectual ability - typically a good undergraduate degree (typically 2.1 or better) or, very often today, a master’s degree. You also need to have good written English.
  3. Relevant work experience - gained through volunteering, internships or paid work. It is advisable to gain development experience before undertaking a master’s degree.
  4. Fit - will you fit into the department and the organisation to which you are applying? 
  5. Passion and commitment - are you committed to the cause?

The amount and relevance of your work experience gives you a competitive edge. Unless you already have relevant work experience, you should volunteer whilst at LSE or, failing that, directly after you leave.

Things to remember:

  • Flexibility and determination are the keys to success. 
  • Your first job, whilst important, won’t define you for the rest of your career. 
  • Your first position is a stepping stone.
  • Many LSE graduates start off in roles for which they are over-qualified. 
  • Do not stay too long (no more than two years) in an entry level job, you'll be able to progress into more demanding, interesting roles.

Working "in the field"

For many, one of the major motivations for wanting to work in international development is to spend some time “in the field” (in developing countries). Getting this kind of opportunity is difficult for new graduates especially those without prior experience. 

Increasingly posts in the field are filled by local staff and it's mainly higher level jobs or jobs with skills in short supply (such as engineering, for example) that go to non-local staff. Generally employers look for at least a years continuous field experience for a paid position.

For new graduates wishing to gain field experience there are three main options:

  1. Volunteer with organisations, such as VSO, which offer structured volunteering opportunities of up to two years.
  2. Arrange your own volunteer position with a local NGO once you are in the country.
  3. Work in the head office of a development organisation and try to get a secondment to a field programme.

However, field experience is not essential for many jobs in international development (for example, HR, IT, fundraising, communications, finance, etc.). It is very helpful for policy jobs.

International development organisations

Organisations working in this sector have the common aim of trying to alleviate poverty and ill-health in developing countries. However, the way in which they go about achieving this varies considerably. The sector can be broken down into numerous sub-sectors including NGOs, international organisations, national government agencies,  think tanks and development consultancies. It is not uncommon to move between different sub-sectors, particularly in the early stages of your career. For more about these sectors and web links see: International Development organisations

When to apply for jobs

Most NGOs operate a “just-in-time” approach to recruitment; therefore start applying for jobs near to when you are ready to start work. 

The exceptions to this are some of the schemes run by international organisations (such as the Young Professional Programme (YPP) at the World Bank and the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) in the UN), government graduate training schemes (e.g., for DfID), and the ODI Fellowship scheme. For example, the deadline for the World Bank’s YPP is in July of the previous year. Keep a note of deadlines in your diary.

Networking

Many jobs in this sector are gained through making contacts. Network by: 

  • Attending conferences.
  • Going to talks.
  • Undertaking some part-time volunteering.
  • Talking to your classmates about opportunities.
  • Creating a LinkedIn profile and connecting with employers, e.g. UN Association.
  • Writing to people who have written web articles on subjects that interest you.

Events are run by LSE Careers, LSE departments and student societies, but also by other organisations:

Job websites

Many people get jobs by applying for advertised positions, although if you network at the same time you will substantially increase your chances of success. Main international development job websites:

Job roles

Since entrants into the development sector typically find their first jobs with an NGO, it may be useful to indicate what kinds of positions are available. In fact, the number of different types of job roles is this sector is as varied as in any other sector. Broadly speaking they can be categorized as follows:

Policy and research

Usually head office-based. This is probably the most competitive area and attracts largely Masters and PhD students. Normally successful candidates have previous experience gained through volunteering and internships. Experience in the field is a distinct asset.

Fundraising and campaign strategy

Most often found in NGOs, but also in think tanks and some international organisations (e.g., UNICEF). Fundraising in particular has a poor image amongst new graduates, due in part to stereotypes of rattling tins on street corners. In reality, most fundraising jobs are professional roles of crucial importance to the organisation, and rely on innovative fundraising ideas and events designed and run by organised individuals who are able to work well as part of a wider team of colleagues or volunteers.

Advocacy

Advocates help people who are struggling with an issue to understand their human and civil rights. The advocate would present the client with different resolution options and empower them to make a change, through a number of different methods; including petitions, marches, protests, talks, reports, etc. Although no particular qualifications are required for advocacy a motivation for and an understanding of the work is required. As there are many forms of advocacy, including social justice, budget, bureaucratic, health, media to name but a few, a genuine interest in a particular area can help with applications. Advocacy organisations exist at the individual, local, national and international level. A database of advocacy services can be found at Action for Advocacy.

Media and communications

Responsible for how the organisation presents itself to the outside world. Direct entry is possible but it may be more feasible to transfer across from other sectors with relevant experience or to have gained media experience in the public or private sector. In smaller charities this role is sometimes combined with a fundraising or marketing role.

Programme

Essentially project management roles are usually field-based. Increasingly these roles are being filled by nationals of the particular countries where the programmes are being run. Some programme liaison roles can be found in head offices.

Technical specialist

Usually field-based roles which require technical expertise. The most common roles tend to be in engineering (especially water and sanitation) or health (HIV/AIDS, nutrition, public health). Most candidates have a relevant technical qualification and previous field experience.

Support roles

Human resources (HR), IT and finance roles exist in all but the smallest organisations. Many entrants to these roles gained their initial experience in other sectors and then moved into international development.

Useful websites

  • LSE Volunteering Centre - offers advice on volunteering and sources and advertises a wide range of voluntary opportunities on LSE CareerHub.

  • The Communications Initiative Network - a specialist website that acts as a portal for a wide range of communication actors in the field of social and economic development. Also has job vacancies.

  • Devex - international development jobs and consulting.
  • Bond - the UK membership body for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in international development. Established in 1993, Bond now has 370 members.