How to Start a Humanitarian Career

Before you get international work, start locally.

Before you get international work, start locally.

You want a career assisting those in need, but first you need a bit of help finding out how to get started. Since there's not one specific path to becoming a humanitarian worker, you can start your career in a number of different ways. Having the right skills and training are essential when pursuing a career in humanitarianism.

Start volunteering at non-profits or development agencies in your area. Humanitarian agencies want to know that you have some experience working with people in need -- so the most accessible way to start doing that right now is to work in your community. Ask your friends and associates for recommendations on good organizations with which to volunteer, or do an online search for organizations that focus on similar issues to the ones you want to tackle in your career. They may not be exactly matched, but they'll help; for example, if your dream is to work with women in Somalia, you could start locally by volunteering at an organization focused on women and girls. Even if you only have a few hours a week to devote to a non-paid position, it can get your foot in the door and may eventually lead to a paid position.

Conduct informal interviews with other humanitarian workers you meet through your volunteer work to get information on the path they took to make it a full-time career. Talking to a variety of people will give you new insights and possibly open up new opportunities for the future. Let your interviewees know you're looking to make a career out of it -- those people could later alert you of job opportunities.

Get training that will be valuable to humanitarian organizations. Aid groups need workers trained in the medical, environmental, agricultural and engineering fields, but they also need people who are able to deal with policy issues and have backgrounds in international development, policy and business management. If you have a particular aid organization or type of humanitarian work in mind, check out the job listings for that organization or for that type of work. This can give you an idea of the types of people those groups are looking for and help you settle on the right type of academic training. During your training, pursue internships in your chosen field; like volunteering, these opportunities may lead to paid work.

Sign up for long-term volunteer work. Check out Americorps, the Peace Corps or Voluntary Service Overseas. These organizations often require you to have some type of training before you join their ranks, but after you've served with them, they often provide you with the connections you need to get full-time employment.

Tip

  • Volunteer whenever you travel. If you're already planning a trip to a developing country, you may be able to seek out aid organizations while in-country. In some cases, these organizations may take you on as a volunteer for as long as you have to give. You may get free room and board in exchange for working with the organization, but don't bank on it when planning your trip.
 

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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