Career Woman

Tips for working in aid and development: part 1


As the Grassroots Engagement Manager at RESULTS International (Australia), I meet a lot of people (especially women) who are eager to make a difference by working in aid and development. And you don’t have to go searching too hard to find out why change is necessary.

Even the least media-savvy among us will know there are some serious crises taking place around the world at the moment. In Syria (learn more here), Somalia, Ethiopia, Fiji thanks to Cyclone Winston’s aftermath… at times, it really can be overwhelming. It goes without saying the Australian Government’s first step needs to be reversing the $224m cut to aid scheduled for the 2016/2017 budget. This will set us on the path to repairing Australian aid.

Real change starts with every single one of us so if you’re keen on pursuing a career in the aid and development sector, keep in mind the traditional idea of being an aid worker based overseas somewhere sweaty and dangerous, is just one way you can make a difference.

Scientists, doctors, volunteers…they’re all part of the whole puzzle and here are my 6 top tips for those looking to enter into the aid and development sector.

1. Get some work experience under your belt

I know what you’re thinking: how can I get experience if nobody will employ me until I’ve got experience? Hear me out…

Work experience of some kind is the single most attractive thing you can have on your CV. I’ll never forget a very wise colleague explaining: “Work experience shows you’re willing to actually do the work. That you’re able to get through the times that are tough or boring. That you’re willing to see something through to the end.”

In other words, employers are looking for that continuous, long stint consisting of several years working somewhere. Whether it’s your part-time retail job that paid for your uni books, or a volunteering gig – find something you can stick to for a decent amount of time.

When volunteering, whether in Australia or overseas, find a position that feels kind of like a job. Look for a role where you get a title and something meaningful to do. Take on a leadership role, take on extra tasks or put your hand up to oversee a big project. Pitch your own project if it doesn’t exist yet! See something through from beginning to end and it’ll speak volumes to potential employers.

2. Obtain skills that’ll pay the bills

So, you’re somebody who wants to see the end of poverty in your lifetime. It’s probably even your passion. Great! That means you’re probably a very nice person. Reality is, to get a job in this sector, you need more than that: you need to be a very nice person with a skill. Preferably several skills.

Go out and get those skills and then ask yourself: is there something else that would make me more employable? Is it something I can teach you? Can I put my hand up for something new, or learn by observing someone else?

Oh and another thing: get over your hesitation to talk yourself up because you can bet someone else will be talking themselves up, and they’ll get the job. Get used to quantifying your skills. Have a read of this fabulous post on GetBullish about this very subject.

3. Develop good habits

Whatever you find yourself doing to notch up that work experience, treat it as a practice run for the amazing development sector job you will have one day. Get into good habits such as showing up on time, dressing smartly and treating your workmates professionally. These habits will hold you in good stead when it’s time to start looking for your dream job.

Like any job, this sector requires people to be resourceful, show initiative, work well with others, work to deadlines, plan work/projects and use software packages. Ensure you’ve got these skills in check.

Also, get into the habit of networking well. Sure, it can be daunting and awkward, but if you want to work in the sector, you need contacts. Look out for university career fairs, talks given by development professionals, or fundraisers run by aid and development sector organisations…they’re all golden opportunities!

I’ve got plenty more tips so look out for part 2 of my tips for those looking to work in the aid and development sector.

About Gina Olivieri

Gina Olivieri, is the Grassroots Engagement Manager at RESULTS International (Australia), celebrating 30 years in Australia in 2016. A 2006 trip to Melbourne for the Make Poverty History concert sparked Gina’s interest in issues of poverty and innovative ways to tackle them. Gina spent four years volunteering with youth advocacy organisation Oaktree in its HR and education teams while studying a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) in Western Australia. She began working in Grassroots Engagement for RESULTS in June 2013 and loves empowering individuals to use their citizenship and voice to make a real difference.

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