Career Options in International NGOs: How can you make an impact?

Dr Saumya Arora About Dr Saumya Arora

Dr. Saumya Arora is a development professional with cross-disciplinary experience in project management, resource mobilization, donor relationship management, community mobilization and project execution at the field level. She is currently working towards building fundraising and resource mobilization capacity of community-based organizations, apart from developing functional linkages with donors across the world.

Recent trends show that an increasing number of people are getting interested to work in the development sector. International NGOs offer the best opportunities for such people. NGO domain is a very vast and varied one, and one needs to find out which cause he/she relates with, which domain in particular would one want to work in, before exploring this arena to work.

Undoubtedly, the international NGOs offer a huge scope for learning and gaining experience in the sector. Also, if someone wants to study further, they offer vast experience of working in dynamic and challenging environments, and enable one to witness global challenges with a hands-on experience. So, if you are interested in working for the challenges in human development on a global level, a career option in an international NGO is the best choice for you. How to find a place in such an organization is explained here:

  1. Know yourself:

The first step is to assess yourself. Undertake a personal assessment, introspect and write about what you feel about yourself in terms of your career and other priorities. List down your priorities, your skills, educational background and experience. If you are willing to learn and grow in this sector, are flexible and keen to understand the limits of a career in development sector like limits in pay, long working hours, challenging yet exciting roles, etc.; then you are good to go. Other various challenges you need to be prepared for are work and situation related stress, lot of travel, different language and socio-cultural context, long working hours, dynamic environments, etc.

  1. Learn, learn and learn:

The next step is to educate yourself further. In the development sector, learning never stops. Try to learn about the various aspects of the field, the realities and challenges, the potential solutions to the global problems, various models being applied and tested across the world. One practical way to learn about these would be to volunteer in a development organization. You may find a local organization of your choice for volunteering experience, which would open your eyes to the functioning of an NGO plus the myriad challenges it caters to.

  1. Bring a skill to the table:

You would like to build on the skills and expertise you already have. NGOs are looking for professional and managerial skills, apart from many other technical skills. Bringing a different professional skill to the table will be helpful for the NGO, and would result in a win-win situation. For example, if you have a background in marketing and communication, you may be an asset to a development organization in their marketing and fundraising efforts. Try to strike a balance between what skills you have and what are the skill gaps the NGO needs to fill. Connecting the dots must not be difficult then.

  1. Identify a cause and a domain of your interest:

Search about the domains NGOs work in, identify the domain you are most interested in. For example, NGOs work for different causes like child education, vocational training and livelihoods, health, women empowerment, water and sanitation, environment and many more. Large organizations have well-defined departments like finance, human resource, etc, but most of the small NGOs do not have these departments and many-a-times the well-defined boundaries between the roles are missing. Identify which cause you are most interested to work towards, and match your own skills and experience with the functions of the NGO.

  1. Look for NGOs and volunteering opportunities:

Search the NGOs working in the domain of your interest, short-list them, and talk to some people working in this domain. Try to find out someone from these shortlisted NGOs and then make an informed decision. Volunteering experience in an NGO can also be very beneficial for making contacts, understanding the NGO world, and learning about the functioning of an NGO. In addition, most of the NGOs look for previous experience with NGOs and volunteering experience of candidates while recruiting.

  1. Be flexible:

It might be helpful to know what qualities NGOs look for in a potential candidate. Some of them are commitment, prior experience in NGOs, decision making skills, flexibility, willingness to travel, language skills, social and cultural openness and flexibility, and so on. It is understandable that field visits and challenges will excite you if you are willing to work with an NGO, but initially even if you don’t get an opportunity to visit field and are stuck in office work instead, make sure you make the best use of your time at the office. This can be a great opportunity for you to make contacts, understanding the administration of a development organization, and many other things.

  1. Work on your cover letter and resume:

Develop skills and enrich your resume by adding volunteering experience and other NGO experience. Remember that working on a cover letter is equally important. So, make you resume and cover letter richer. Search websites for opportunities in NGOs, like,, or look for local openings. You are ready to launch yourself in this world of development, the world of endless opportunities towards human development, the world of NGOs.

To learn about the latest jobs in international NGOs, click on the ‘next’ below.


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Heritage Lottery Fund: Inviting Applicants for Heritage Grants Programme

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U.S. Embassy in Israel: American Center Jerusalem Grants Program

U.S. Department of Justice, NIJ: Research on Reducing Violence in Communities

U.S. Department of Justice, BJA: National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)