Tips For Finding A Job With A Humanitarian Aid Organization

by Jon Thompson on June 23, 2011

Copyright: MSF Canada/Olivier Asselin

I’ll update this post with more thoughts but, for now, please ask questions in the comments section. Be sure to take a look at my Humanitarian Job Info page for links to organizations.

  • Don’t overlook the importance of an internship/volunteer position

    Internships and volunteer positions may not pay a lot but they are worth their weight in gold. Spending time inside an organization and getting to know the different units, people, acronyms puts in a great position to land a permanent gig. By being present you odds of permanent employment increase greatly. Be nice, work hard and engage everyone you see. Just because they are brusk doesn’t mean they don’t need your help, it probably just means there is some new emergency unfolding.
  • Look for the non-medical jobs

    For some reason everyone thinks you need to be a doctor to work in the aid business. The reality is that for every actor in front of the camera there are a dozen support team members working in the wings. The aid industry is full of unsung heroes who make a decent living drilling wells, mapping roads, managing finances, etc. HR recruits from people from every walk of life. If you have basic skill sets that are needed, speak French and have spent at least some time in a challenging location you are fair game.
  • The French/Spanish you studied in school counts

    It really does – use it. Put it on your resume, even if you don’t think you can still speak it, because when you land in that foreign country all alone at 3am you will suddenly realize you do speak French/Spanish.
  • You trip to Mexico for Spring Break doesn’t count

    Go spend some time volunteering with a small organization in Central America, etc to gain some valuable experience working on small scale projects in a challenging environment. Even a week working with kids at an orphanage will give you the dirt under your nails you need to land a job. HR recruiters will respect your experience and it will enable them to check the “Field Experience” box. Also, it will make you a little uncomfortable and give you a very small taste of the massive discomfort you will soon face on a longer, emergency mission.
  • Get your resume in the system and let the recruiters find you

    Apply, apply, apply and then apply again. Get your name out there, call HR and tell them you want a job and make friends of your recruiters. Remember, they need you as much as you need them. Help them help you. Fill out all the forms, use all the keywords you can (WATSAN, volunteer, Kenya, etc) and make sure you follow up with a phone call just to confirm that they received your information. Specifically ask for a recruiters first and last name and write it down, locate them on LinkedIn and ask them if they’d like to connect but be sure to spend time updating your profile. Lastly, if you wrote your own resume go talk to Beth Brown and ask her to work her magic on it.
  • Read the website

    Don’t waste a recruiters time if you didn’t bother reading the website. Learn everything you can about the mission of the organization where your are applying. Watch their videos, learn the acronyms, understand their structure, solicit outside opinions from people who have worked there and Google news about the org. Organizations are made up of real people who put their life on the line for projects they may, or may not, believe in. Regardless, the recruiters become friends with the field folks and take a personal interest in ensuring that they pair their friends with competent people. They are going to want to see that you did your homework and that you know the mission.
  • Small NGOs work in the same places as big NGOs

    Don’t get caught up with working for a big, name brand organization when you can go work in exactly the same place with a smaller org. The reality is that you will make friends with all the other agencies once you are in the field and, if you are good at your job, they will more than likely offer you a position. Field managers have a tremendous amount of flexibility and can hire on the spot.

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