By Nsim Team
Becoming an international aid worker is something that many good, benevolent and caring people want to do. This, combined with the fact that most international aid agencies prefer to hire local workers whenever possible, make paid jobs in international aid highly competitive.
After all, people don’t get to become doctors, lawyers and architects just because they want to; they have to study and work for many years to develop the right skills. Working in international aid is no different.
Don’t be intimidated though, a career in this field is absolutely attainable! Those that become successful in this field are able to do so because they have more than a heart that’s in the right place; they have specialized skills, education and experience in a certain area.
If you want to become an international aid worker, you will need to share some attributes with those who are currently successful in the field. These attributes include:
• An awareness of what you’re getting yourself into
• Patience and determination
• Awareness of a niche you want to focus in
• Hard skills directly relevant to the job
• An advanced education
• Related work experience
• Plenty of volunteer experience
• A network of in-field professionals
The job of an international aid worker is difficult to describe, as international aid is quite a broad field. In general however, international aid workers are responsible for providing everyday, and emergency, services that improve the lives of animals, people and communities in the developing world.
Work in this broad field involves projects related to governance, healthcare, education, gender equality, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human and animal rights, forced migration, security, conflict and the environment.
Emergency assistance, such as help with natural disasters and troop reinforcements during periods of political unrest is also a form of international aid fieldwork.
As an international aid worker, you could be responsible for focusing on the administrative aspects of international aid, or you could be deployed in the country receiving the aid for fieldwork.
If you are an academic, then you are in luck. A master’s degree (or a specialized or professional degree such as engineering or nursing) is considered a ‘must have’ in order to work for a non-profit international aid organization.
There are some exceptions to this of course, such as if you have extensive (several years worth) of related experience.
Your master’s degree doesn’t have to be completely focused around a humanitarian or developmental crisis, like food security. It should however, work on something applicable, either through a course of study or dissertation.
For example, a master’s degree in Human Rights might seem applicable to the naked eye, just by virtue of its general topic area, but it’s the subsequent dissertation in a focused area that will make you an exact match for certain job postings.
Although it is a good start, having the right personality for the job is not enough. People in developing countries need workers with hard skills. As an international worker, you will be there to fill a gap in skills that local people do not have.
To find out exactly what skills you’ll need, it’s best to browse job postings for international aid workers. You will quickly see that many jobs require expertise in certain areas, such as medicine, nursing, nutrition, agricultural engineering, project management, and other areas.
Regardless of what area of expertise you have, you will need to be sure that your skills are an exact match for the job posting. Because of the nature of international aid projects, aid organizations tend not to just send people out on deployment missions who aren’t a perfect fit in every way. They will often wait to fill a position until they have a perfect match for the job.
For example, if the job posting says the employer is looking for a candidate who had, "fluency in French", then they want applicants who can do the job interview entirely in French, not someone who has had a few years of French classes.
As an international aid worker, you would likely be employed by a charity or non-governmental organization (NGO), as these types of organizations employ the vast majority of international aid workers. These organizations may range in size, structure, region of focus, area of focus, and capacity to employ paid staff.
You may be able to find some jobs with other non-profit and not-for-profit organizations, such as governmental agencies, although these jobs are much more rare.
Depending on the current needs of the employer, and your area of specialty, you can find many different types of jobs with organizations that hire aid workers.
For example, some organizations have jobs for domestic, head-office based positions in administrative areas such as finance and project management. Others may have jobs for fieldwork in different areas of specialization, such as nutrition, engineering, medicine and other areas. Some organizations may be hiring for both types of job.
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