Insight into international development

Key information

Many people working in this field have carved out their own careers, adapting and changing as development priorities change. There is no one set career pathway to work in international development, opportunities can based either overseas in a developing country or in the UK. There is a trend for UK based NGOs to deliver more work through partners in country, downsizing their UK based teams.

Most of the work is short term, and fixed term contracts (particularly for overseas work) are very common.  Disaster relief and humanitarian aid often calls for specific skills in areas such as health, engineering and logistics. In generalist roles (as opposed to specialists such as engineers) typical tasks may include project management, liaison with fundholders, bidding for funds, liaising with governments and partner organisations, advocacy and public relations, fundraising and planning.

Employers can be sustainable development non-governmental organisations (NGOs), emergency relief or humanitarian aid organisations, governments, or multilateral or international organisations. Many consultancy firms offer opportunities but these are mostly, although not exclusively, to experienced staff.

An in-depth understanding of and knowledge of the sector and its needs is vital for gaining entry. The sector is complex and the range of organisations extensive:

Getting in

Relevant previous experience is really the key to finding a first position in International Development. This could be through a combination of voluntary work and experience of developing countries. An undergraduate degree in a Social Sciences discipline can help and a specific International Development postgraduate course can be advantageous.


Gaining experience either in the UK or abroad will give you a valuable insight into the sector. You can develop skills such as; strategic thinking, project management, fundraising and public relations which will prove useful in future job applications.                      

Some organisations recruit relatively inexperienced graduates who can contribute. Birmingham undergraduates can apply for a Careers Network bursary funding to help with costs.

The International Citizen Service (ICS) offers 12 week volunteer placements, in more than 20 countries.

Training Schemes

Although rare, a few training schemes do exist - with some only available to graduates with a postgraduate qualification:

Recruitment agencies

Although often jobs are for experienced staff, these sites give a useful insight in the sector and the types of roles available in development. Use for research rather than expect to find many job vacancies you can apply for as a new graduate with little experience: Jobs in charities, Devnet, Bond, Devex, CharityJob

Graduate profiles

You can read about some of the career paths University of Birmingham Alumni have taken on the UoB website under ‘Alumni Profiles’ or use LinkedIn to search for graduates working in this sector.

Further Resources

Jobs aren’t always advertised and it can be very important to make connections through networking, use social media to connect with organisations that interest you.


Professional Services