International development

Working in international development doesn't always mean working in the field. Discover the wide range of roles.


There is a large variety of work you can do in international development. Do your research and think about what you are interested in before you apply. Typical employers include development and emergency aid organisations, charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), varying in size, structure and location. Areas of work include: 

  • Development work - supporting people in the developing world through research, policy development and practical aid. You may be based in the UK with mainly administrative and back-office support roles, or you may have more of a field-based role working on projects abroad, with project management responsibilities and using more specific skills.  

  • Emergency planning - responding to emergencies, providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid, both internationally and nationally. As well as planning for emergencies, you need teams to put plans into action, such as Save the Children Emergency Response programs and the International Committee of the Red Cross. For information on the UK's approach to emergency management, see the government webpage: Emergency response and recovery.

Save the Children Emergency Response programs 

International Committee of the Red Cross 

Emergency response and recovery 

  • Human rights – working to effect social and economic change  in line with human rights, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development. For more information, refer to the resources within our Human Rights information page. 

Human Rights  

Some private-sector consultancies work alongside public organisations to support international development, such as Advocacy International and ITAD.  

Advocacy International 


What's it like? 

  Responsibilities include managing and evaluating projects, managing budgets, liaising with public bodies and NGOs, fundraising, conducting needs assessments and risk analysis, providing advice and consultancy to businesses, clinical skills, travelling abroad. 

Follow the links below for profiles of common occupations in this sector: 

Job profile: International aid/development worker   (Prospects) 

Job profile: Emergency planning/management officer   (Prospects) 

Keep up to date with news from the sector: 

Devex - a media platform with the latest news for global development and aid workers. 


Reliefweb - provides useful humanitarian information on global crises and disasters. The website also advertises jobs within the humanitarian/disaster/aid relief sector and details training opportunities. 


Work experience and building your skills  

 It can be difficult to get entry-level work in development or emergency planning as a new graduate. Don’t give up - remember that experience gained elsewhere will help build up your skillset so you can make stronger applications for your preferred jobs in the future.  

Multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, prefer to employ people with roughly 5 years experience. Instead of being put off by this, decide what you could be working on to build this experience in the next 5 years. Relevant work experience, paid or unpaid, during and after studying can be crucial and you can use a variety of approaches to get this. 

If you’re just starting out then doing some volunteering whilst you’re at Edinburgh is a good way to gain experience. You could get involved in a relevant student society or look out for any opportunities to work overseas, as some organisations may specify that you need experience in the field.  

Find a student society 

Go Abroad 

You can also consider different ways to gain experience – for example, if you want to work in Communications within the sector, you could consider building this experience within an organisation in the private or public sector and then transition to a similar post in development.  

Volunteering and internships can be a great way of gaining experience and showing commitment, such as: 

OECD internship - unpaid programme to give individuals an opportunity to improve their analytical and technical skills as well as experience work in a truly international environment. 

OECD internship 

Human Rights Watch internships and volunteering opportunities - Get an inside look into their organization to receive valuable training and an educational experience for your future. 

Human Rights Watch internships and volunteering opportunities 

Do your research about the sector: 

ELRHA (Enhancing Learning & Research for Humanitarian Assistance) - has information on humanitarian careers including how to get a job in the sector. 


Are there graduate opportunities available? 

Yes - most entrants to the sector start off by volunteering or undertaking internships and then progress to permanent positions; however, there are a few structured graduate programs and Young Professionals Programs, for example with larger NGOs, some development consultancies, development banks and in some UN organisations. 

Overseas Development Institute Fellowship Scheme (ODI) - a 2-year programme aimed at postgraduates who have studied economics, statistics or a related field.  

Overseas Development Institute Fellowship Scheme 

United Nations Junior Professional Officer Programme - must have at least a Master’s degree (or equivalent combination of a degree and work experience) 

United Nations Junior Professional Officer Programme  

OECD Young Associates Program - targeted at recent undergraduates who do not hold a Master's degree. It is a 2-year programme in which you are immersed in the world of policymaking, research and analysis.  

OECD Young Associates Program 

World Bank Young Professionals Program - Young Professionals are offered a five-year renewable term contract and spend 24 months in a structured development program. Aimed at postgraduates.  

World Bank Young Professionals Program  

United Nations Young Professionals Program - need to be a national of a participating country, hold at least a first-level university degree relevant for the exam subject you are applying for, be 32 years of age or under. No work experience is required. 

United Nations Young Professionals Program 

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).  

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office  

International development and emergency planning is a large and complicated sector so don’t feel you need to know exactly what you’re doing right away - if you need some more advice, book an appointment with us. 

Professional bodies 

Joining a professional body brings opportunities to network, access to information resources and regular updates about the sector. It shows your commitment to the profession and keenness to continue professional development after graduating. Emergency Planning Society - professional body for those with an involvement in emergency planning, crisis and disaster management.  

Emergency Planning Society (EPS) 

Development Studies Association (DSA) - works to connect and promote the development studies community in the UK and Ireland.  

Development Studies Association (DSA)  

Scotland's International Development Alliance - network of 89 international development organisations in Scotland. The website provides a searchable database of members, information, workshops and details of paid and voluntary opportunities.  

Scotland's International Development Alliance 

Where can I find vacancies? 

Most positions are gained by applying directly to advertised jobs or using personal networks – this doesn’t mean you need a pre-existing network, speak to the Careers Service if you’re looking for ideas on how to build this. You can search for job vacancies in a variety of ways: 


Job websites, such as Impactpool - a career website showing job vacancies in the European Union, United Nations and International Organizations. 


Networks, such as BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development) -a network of voluntary organisations working in international development and development education. The website advertises vacancies in the UK and overseas, including internships and volunteering opportunities, has a searchable member directory and also offers short courses. 


Databases, such as Idealist - a searchable database of opportunities in non-profit organisations around the world, including jobs, volunteer positions and paid internships. 


Directory of NGOs , such as WANGO (World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations) - an international organisation uniting NGOs world-wide. It has a searchable online directory of NGOs worldwide. 


Apply directly to organisations, such as RedR-UK - an international NGO that provides recruitment, training and support services for humanitarian professionals across the world.