How to break into international development

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A speculative approach can land you an internship – but make sure you stand out from the crowd: For anyone that is looking for an internship with an international development NGO, I would suggest you decide on the specific function that you want to work in and then make a speculative approach. We are inundated with speculative approaches, so make yourself stand out by having done your research on the organisation and by tailoring your approach. However, we are also always looking for people who are able to support us by offering their time – so we welcome serious approaches.

VSO offers overseas and UK-based volunteering experience: If you’re interested in volunteering in the UK and overseas – and have six months to spare – check out VSO’s Global Xchange programme. It’s a six month volunteering programme which involves community development work in the UK and three months community development work in an exchange country. No previous experience of development is necessary, just the willingness to commit to the programme and get involved. One of my team volunteered on this programme and five years later is now working at VSO.

Starting at the bottom can lead to bigger and better things: The international development sector is a hard one to break into. Disheartening though it may be, it could work to your advantage to take on an entry-level administrative position. At VSO people who come in at this level and perform well often move into other better paid and more senior positions. I am sure this is quite similar to what happens in other organisations too. The other alternative is to build your career in a specific field and then move into the development sector at a later date. For example, I built my experience in marketing in various sectors (publishing, technology, financial services) before looking for a marketing job in the international development sector.

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