You’re studying for a Masters or a PhD. But what does it take to get a job in international development? And how are geographers uniquely placed for a career in the NGO sector? The Society’s Developing Areas Research Group (DARG) held an event last month to find out.
1) A postgraduate degree can be a pathway to more than academia
“High-level research and professional skills are increasingly sought by a range of employers in international development,” according to DARG Chair Dr Glyn Williams. “There are interesting and varied careers out there as a result.”
2) Geographical expertise can prove essential
“You should consider the importance of regional and local knowledge if you want to work in international development,” says PhD student and DARG postgraduate representative Marcia Vera. “This means you may need to learn local languages; study local history, culture and politics; and be prepared to spend long periods in the field.”
3) Don’t undervalue your skill-set, repackage it
As a geographer, you’ll be equipped with a great range of skills. Glyn urges you to tell potential employers how these skills could be applied to specific workplaces. “Think about how your degree has developed your skills in project management, communicating with diverse audiences, problem solving and much more besides. Be prepared to demonstrate this with examples.”
4) And don’t forget to show that you care
What do you care about? This is a question Jessica Hope, a PhD student and DARG postgraduate representative, will be keeping sight of. “As you amass more skills, more degrees and more experiences, it’s easy to forget to mention why you got involved in the first place,” she says. “Don’t forget to mention what initially motivated you to get involved in international development.”
5) Take up internships and work placements where possible.
Jessica adds: “Don’t forget the importance of developing a wide range of skills and experiences. For example, internships and work experience can help make the jump from academic study to project work far easier. You then need to know the sector: what organisations do, how they do it and how you can fit into that picture.”
6) Be prepared for a rapidly changing career
Having listened to a number of industry experts, event attendees were left with the sense that a flexible career most likely awaits them. Glyn commented: “Seeking out and taking up opportunities, as well as a willingness to switch direction quickly, was mentioned repeatedly in the workshops. Flexibility has, for many of the speakers, been essential in gaining the experience that ultimately enabled them to become established within their fields.”
7) Have an idea of where you’re going
Glyn concludes that, above all else, you need a plan. He says: “You need to be able to tell a coherent story of how your ‘portfolio’ of skills and experiences is helping you progress and improve along your career path.”
The ‘Careers in the Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) Sector’ event took place at the Society on Friday 9 May and was organised by postgraduate members of the Developing Areas Research Group.
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