Top tips to gaining a career in the development sector

By · 11 April, 2014 · Features

This article was written by UNICEF Australia Communications Officer, Bohdana Szydlik, and originally appeared on the UNICEF Australia website on December 31, 2013.

It’s the question I get asked at every social event; “so… how did you get that job?” It’s a tricky one to answer because, as you might imagine, there’s no straightforward path so I asked my colleagues at UNICEF Australia to share their tips on gaining a career in the development sector.

Network, Network, Network!

Networking is key according to UNICEF Australia’s communications director Tim O’Connor. Go to UNAA Young Professionals events , join Young UN Women or attend events for not-for-profits in your city. Many organisations offer structured internship programs. Find one in your qualified area and use this to expand your network and experience in the sector. You also need to be prepared to give up your time and see what is involved day to day, discover if you really like the work and how you can add the most value. Small organisations are a great place to start because there is always a broad scope of experience to be gained.

Don’t be shy about contacting people working in the industry to arrange a time to meet and ask for advice. People are generally very generous and happy to provide guidance – but remember, they’re also often very busy!


“It’s not all about volunteering overseas” says Communications manager Kate Moore. Start small in your community by joining your local Girl Guides, holding a monthly craft meet-up or joining your local branch of Amnesty.

If you’re craving an international adventure do your research on what is considered good practice to make sure you have a valuable volunteer experience. For example volunteering in an orphanage will not be as beneficial as an Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development  (AYAD) or Australian Volunteers for International Development  (VIDA) role. AYAD and VIDA roles both give you an opportunity to gain overseas experience in your qualified area.

If you already have strong skills in a relevant area, look at RedR who provide skilled personnel during emergencies or UN Volunteers who deploy volunteers to a range of UN agencies.

 Take the jump!

Be flexible and open to adventuring through doors wherever and whenever they open, says advocacy manager Aivee Chew.  Some of the most exciting opportunities arise when you least expect it.  Try not to have a rigid five year plan – this sector will always throw up new adventures you hadn’t planned for. Start small and navigate to where you want to be.

If you’re looking to be involved in international programs expect to start in an entry level position says UNICEF Australia program manager, Felicity Wever.  You can expect the role to start with administration tasks but from there you can develop your skills and knowledge.


Above: UNICEF Australia marketing manager Steph Phillips visits UNICEF projects in Timor-Leste.

Love What You Do

Never stop learning is the advice given by UNICEF Australia’s marketing manager, Steph Phillips. You need to be passionate about what you do and be interested in the cause.  The sector is full of wonderful, interesting people so take the time to learn from them.

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