I had written something similar to some friends who are also looking for jobs/internships but I thought this would also be a good space to share what I have learned.

Internship/Job Searching

For searching for jobs, I found taking some time out of everyday was the best way to keep up-to-date on jobs.  For the IYIP website you should note that sometimes internships are posted on the website after the deadlines, so make sure you are looking at organizations that got  funding in previous years if they have 2010 internships.

I  found signing up to email alerts made it much easier to see the jobs that were coming up. A few that I used were Canadian Job Bank, Devex, Relief Web, and Idealist.

And of course, getting a network of friends and colleagues that are also looking for jobs on an email list where you share jobs is really helpful. There are plenty of jobs that you won’t be qualified for or can’t apply to for whatever reason, and people generally return the favor.


For CVs, I found that CANADEM had really amazing guidelines of what they are looking for in international development applicants. A lot of time they are just looking for certain words and if they don’t see them they throw your resume away.

Tips that I live by:

  • Keep it short and never over 3 pages (cut anything you don’t need, see above guidelines for tips on what to cut)
  • Showcase your experience off the bat and put your education last
  • A colleague of mine stressed that under responsibilities for each job you really need to show your achievements that are quantifiable (e.g. Developed a report on evaluating gender in development projects that was distributed to over 1,000 NGOs in Canada). I think this really sold me as a potential employee, as it showed that I could actually produce deliverables.
  • Make the countries you have experience in very visible (on the side so that an employer can easily skim and read them)
  • Knowing RBM really helps, and lots of employers look for it. Don’t know it? Learn online.

Cover letters

CANADEM advised me that a cover letter should never be over 200-250 words (including the address and date). They said that they are just trying to see if you can write, and that even putting bullets of your experiences/skills makes it easier to pull out key phrases.

Here are some key phrases that employers might look for (click APPLY NOW and scroll to the bottom). Again, most employers don’t have time to look over every cover letter so they are really just looking for certain words and experiences.

I would never claim to be an expert on cover letters but find here and here a few things that I found helpful.

The interview

I have also compiled a list of interview questions that I have frequently been asked. I find this useful to prepare before hand. I usually go through my resume to find experiences that I can include in each answer. My advice is to not write down and prepare answers because it is hard to stick to a script and you want to be as fluid as possible.

General Questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work for ____________ (organization)?
  3. Where do see yourself in the next 2 years? 5 years? 25 years?
  4. What are your weaknesses? (less often) Strengths?
  5. Explain a time when you have been flexible.
  6. Do you work better independently or on a team?
  7. What do you think the most important issue in international development is? How is that issue best addressed?
  8. How do you handle criticism or feedback? How would you react to a manager that wasn’t happy with your work?
  9. Explain a time when you had a problem with work (or sometimes they say colleague), how did you handle this?
  10. Let’s say one person gives you x task with z deadline,  and cannot meet the deadline. What do you do?  (Similar questions: How do you handle a heavy workload? How do you prioritize your work?)
  11. Explain how you would solve ________ problem? Always related to the job, it might be useful to think about what challenges the job might bring before hand. The most common one is how you handle short deadlines and heavy workloads.

Overseas Internship Questions:

  1. Why do you want to work abroad? What will you gain from an experience in the field?
  2. Explain a time when you were abroad and were dealing with stress. How did you handle it?
  3. How do you cope with being abroad for so long/culture shock?
  4. Most interns that do the best on the field are innovative, creative, and flexible. Explain a time or experience when you showed those qualities.
  5. How do you react to extreme poverty? Would you be able to work and live in an area with poverty around you?
  6. Can you work with little resources?

What I have learned in an interview is to talk to the point but make sure you thoroughly say all possible aspects of a situation without rambling.  Almost like you are making an argument in a debate, be logical about your response and have past experiences to back that up. For instance, “I cope with being abroad by x,y,z. An example of this is when…. “. Sometimes I will go through the job description and match my experience with skills they are looking for, and then I try to say those skills/experiences when I answer questions.  Just do this loosely, if you are anything like me, the more you prepare the more flustered you will be.

My experience is that most interviewers are just checking off boxes; the less you let them check off, the less likely they you will move on in the process (this is more likely for government/UN/large organization jobs).


Lastly, be prepared for some rejection and use it as a chance to improve. The one the thing I regret is not asking for more feedback when my application wasn’t selected or I wasn’t chosen after an interview.  I know some people who have sent emails saying that it was a pleasure meeting them and that they hope to work together in the future and have had the employer email them back and say they know of other potential jobs for them. Most people, at least, will give you some words of encouragement.

Other links

Here are some other links that you may find useful when you look for jobs:

  • Chris Blattman’s blog has plenty of advice for international job seekers and why you should work in aid.
  • My friend and former colleague had a good list with the qualities that make a good aid worker. It might help with some key phrases.
  • Charity Village has great career tools and some great courses to supplement your experience with online training.
  • Although this isn’t the best place for information, CIDA provides an outline of working in international development on their website. But, if you are looking for a job at CIDA, like most jobs, its more who you know rather than taking the time to keep applying for permanent jobs. You are better off networking with CIDA employees or doing temp work to get your name in. The best way in is to be a student and bridge in.
  • Don’t have experience? The easiest way to get it is by volunteering, and I have found in this field that its almost as good as having a job when you put those skills on your CV. Try www.onlinevolunteering.com, a UN site that posts online volunteer opportunities from international NGOs around the world.

I hope this helps.  Please feel free to comment with other suggestions you may have. Any and all feedback is welcome!