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Vedika, 19, from the Family Planning Association of India, speaking at Youth For Change

Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Changing your career to international development

The international development sector in the UK offers a fantastic opportunity to be a part of real and lasting change.

Whether it’s fighting poverty and inequality, tackling the climate emergency or campaigning for stronger human rights, this sector offers ample opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world. 

Although many NGOs are recruiting more from the locations they work in across the globe, there are still lots of openings within the UK’s international development and humanitarian sector.  

If you are thinking of changing your career to move into international development, here are some tips. 

Moving across charity areas 

Having prior experience at a charity outside of international development may help you get noticed when applying for jobs. Working for other charities shows your dedication to good causes and a lot of charities, regardless of their focus, function very similarly.  

When applying, remember to:  

  • Focus on the role. Always give an example of your experience of a listed duty. If you can, keep the example within the confines of working for a charity.  
  • Demonstrate knowledge. Although you might be new to the sector, do your research on the ins and outs of what the charity does and how they operate within the sector. This will show your potential new organisation that you know about them and how they fit in to the wider international development sector.  
  • Highlight your charitable work. Volunteering is always a plus, as is fundraising. Explaining why you chose to work in the not-for-profit sector, and the impact that your work has made on your charity and its stakeholders, is essential.  
  • Keep you LinkedIn and CV up to date. This may seem obvious, but always remember in the digital age you’re in the shop window. If you’ve made your CV accessible on jobs boards at any point, then they can be accessed. And if your LinkedIn is out of date, the recruiter may question the legitimacy of the claims on your CV.  

Moving from the public sector 

Working within governmental departments, advisory boards, civil service and other public sector roles can be hugely beneficial experience when applying for jobs in international development. The advocacy work of NGOs, along with the relationships with government you often have to cultivate, makes public sector experience a real bonus when you’re applying.  

When applying, remember to: 

  • Emphasise your expertise. If you have intimate knowledge of how departments operate, and how best to approach government, then make sure that comes across when applying.  
  • We’re all on the same side. Don’t be combative when talking about previous roles. Highlight how you would want to change the work you have done in the past. Make an argument about why the international development sector is the right place for you to make positive change. 
  • Highlight any charity work you might have done. This could be in your spare time, or within your current or a previous role. Any experience working with charities in a professional capacity is obviously important to show, but giving up your spare time might just be the edge you need.  
  • Show your passion. If moving into international development is a career change you want to make, then make sure you demonstrate why you think it’s important, what it is that you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it.  

Moving from the private sector 

There is nothing that says you can’t work for an NGO if you’ve spent your career in the private sector. The experience and skills acquired outside of the charity sector can prove invaluable for organisations.  

However, there are a few things you can do to make your CV more “charity friendly”. 


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“Charitify” your CV. When demonstrating the impact you’ve had in your career, there are small changes you should make to your CV. For example, don’t focus on monetary value, demonstrate personal impact. Or talk about collaboration with supporters or patrons instead of customers. There are lots of subtle changes you can make.  

  • Tailor your skills and experience. Work out everything that you’ve done that transfers to the international development role you want, and put them front and centre. If your day-to-day is very different to what you’re applying for, then what skills have you acquired that will be invaluable in your new role?  
  • Focus on the role, not the NGO. Yes, it’s great to show that you know all about an organisation, but it’s more important to get across how suitable you are for a role.  
  • Include any charitable work that you’ve done. This can be volunteering, fundraising, adhoc work, memberships or internships. Whatever you’ve done for the charity sector, let your potential employer know what impact you had, and why you’re proud of it. 
  • Make your CV accessible. There is always a temptation when attempting to keep your CV to a couple of pages to make the text smaller, to squeeze paragraphs together and to write in summary. This is a mistake. Charities take accessibility very seriously, so make sure anyone and everyone can access and read your CV. 

Extra-curricular activities to help your application 

Breaking into the international development sector can be tough. As mentioned, there is more of a push to localise recruitment to areas outside the UK where NGOs operate, and there are not as many roles available as there once were.  

You may find that one of the following activities can help bolster your CV and convince your potential employer that you’re the right person for the job.  

  • Volunteering. Not only is volunteering great for your CV, it’s also incredibly rewarding. There are so many NGOs offering opportunities to get involved. So, whether your collecting donations, cheering on some fundraisers, providing the public with information, canvassing or setting up local groups, there is absolutely loads you can do. 
  • Fundraising. Take on a challenge for your charity of choice. Again, there is so much you can do to raise funds, and every pound you raise helps your NGO of choice do something amazing.  
  • Become a trustee or a board member. Though time consuming, becoming deeply involved with a charity is a hugely rewarding endeavour. You get to shape what the charity does, who they help and guide them to achieving their goals.  
  • Embrace your inner activist. If you have an issue you feel strongly about, then fight for it. Protest, collect signatures, encourage other people to join and organise rallies. This level of passion and understanding shows just how dedicated you can be to helping others.  
  • Follow the sector. By keeping up to date with all the latest goings on in the international development sector you’ll start to see trends and opportunities that others might not see. This can give you an edge when applying for a role. You can do this by subscribing to Bond’s newsletter or following us on Twitter.