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Aid Work: What Recruiters Really Look For
Submitted by Piero Calvi on November 7, 2006 - 10:47pm.
Some home truths
Many candidates interested in working in international development and emergency aid are convinced that finding a job in this sector is just a matter of knowing the right people inside organisations and getting recommendations from them. This is absolutely not the case. Many others think that if they get the right kind of education - a master's degree in a relevant subject, for instance - they they automatically qualify for a job as aid worker. This is not true either.
It's difficult to board a moving train, but once you're on, you can move easily from one car to another. That's what it's like in relief and development. The key can be summarised in one word: experience.
The extraordinary importance recruiters inside international organisations give to experience is also the reason why good education is not a guarantee of employment in the sector. It is not an exaggeration to say that, when considering a CV, a recruiter looks first a foremost (and almost exclusively) for experience: how long the candidate has been in the field, regardless of the specific positions. Then, and only then the recruiter considers what the candidate has been doing, what kind of organisations s/he has been working for, the job titles and so on. By and large, these two criteria "make or break" the success of an application. Education, especially for low to mid-level positions in the field, is much less important.
It is not difficult to see why recruiters are so obsessed with experience. Recruiting an international aid worker is a lengthy and expensive process, often carried out by organisations that are constantly "budget challenged". The last thing a recruiter wants to do is to go through the recruitment process and send the successful candidate to the field, just to have him/her returning home after a few weeks with some sort of psychological crisis, problems adapting to the new environment, or simply seriously frustrated.
Let's face it - aid work is not for everybody, and you need more than strong motivation and good qualifications. The recruitment officer has only one way to make sure that you are "the right stuff" and that is the fact that you have done this before, that you "survived" and that you had a good enough experience that you want to do this again.
Nonetheless, you must keep in mind that organisations do not succeed in meeting all their personnel needs and a large job market is there, constantly creating hundreds of vacancies. With solid motivation, you should not be discouraged: building the necessary experience is not impossible.
In a future article I intend to review the many possibilities offered in the field of unpaid voluntary work, which are an excellent way to prepare for future employment in this sector. A period of overseas volunteering is a great stepping stone for accessing: (a) semi-professional positions, meaning paid volunteer work offered by a great many organizations; and (b) professional positions, which specifically require previous experience in developing countries.
About the Author
Piero Calvi-Parisetti works for the GIGnos Institute. He has written a comprehensive manual on job-hunting and working in relief and development. Written mainly with aspiring international aid workers in mind, it is called "Working in International Development and Emergency Aid". It costs USD 19.99 and is available at http://www.gignos.ch/aidworker. You can download the first part of the manual for free.
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