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Because I am feeling particularly generous today, I thought I would post some of the job sites I use when I’m searching for international development jobs.

My favourites

In Canada

Others I peruse from time to time

Organizations I often check for updates (these link straight to the “careers” page)

I also often check country offices (for example, UNDP Tanzania Country Office or OXFAM Tanzania Country Office) for updates. Sometimes they have more job listings you won’t find anywhere else, in the place you want to work.

I also just recently joined a job sharing google group that a few of my former classmates from the University of Ottawa created. Feel free to join! It’s open to all.
Other links you might like
And, although I have come to realize people are generally not so good about sharing job resources, please let me know if there are any other job sites you use. Remember, all of us have different backgrounds and experience and probably aren’t trying to get the same jobs. And if you are and are more qualified, you should get it.  I have no qualms about that!

Given that I am leaving in a week, I am beginning to think about packing.  This seems to be when the reality of leaving for 9 months is really starting to sink in.

George Butler did a fantastic image of all the things he packed when he drove from London to Libreville. It gives you an idea of the magnitude of stuff that is swirling in my head that I think I need to take. Unfortunately, I don’t have a car to shove all my things into — only two suitcases and a carry on.

Photo Credit: George Butler, 2010

Despite feeling anxious about packing, I think I have all my bases covered. I have found that Chris Blattman’s what to pack for field work (and part II)  was very helpful (don’t forget to read the comments!). The New York Times has a neat slide show on packing (a carry on) effectively. And this site ensured I didn’t forget anything.

My friend Caitlin in Malawi also provided some helpful hints. She said not to bring a mosquito net because they are fairly easy to find in the capital and tend to be very cheap.  Brand name goods can be found, but are very expensive (I found that was similar in Accra where Listerine was nearly $25). She stressed bringing a ton of deodorant unless you are OK with using this. She also recommended to bring lots of clothes for every occasion, because you never know what you will be invited to.  Someone else had mentioned that sometimes it is difficult to find dental floss.

Anyway, wish me luck! I hope this helps anyone else who is packing. If anyone reads this (I think there are at least two of you. HI Mom!), please throw some other suggestions my way.

For all who are curious, I will be sure to update this on the things I wish I would have brought once I am there.

I really want this blog to be able to help people before they go on a trip similar to mine. If you are going to Tanzania (or Kenya, or maybe other surrounding regions), then you are probably hoping to learn Swahili. It really helped me get my job and is a really fun language to learn. I am not an expert… I am actually terrible at learning other languages — it takes me a lot of time and effort to really retain anything. However, I have gathered a lot of material that has helped me out. So, if you are learning a language, specifically Swahili, here is cheap guide to getting started.

To begin, I always found myself saying “without being immersed, it is impossible for me to really learn a language”. While this is true to some extent, I really do think that you can learn a language like Swahili in Ottawa, where there are very few speakers. I found this post really helped me understand that you can immerse yourself no matter where you are. I try whenever I can to listen to music or newscasts in Swahili at work, just to get a better ear for the language. And when I walk to work, I try to memorize new words or point out things around me in Swahili. The key is just to take the moments where you aren’t really busy, and using that as a chance to immerse yourself.

I learned quickly that learning a language properly can be really expensive, and not all language programs are the best way to conquer a language. I have gotten Pimsleur’s Teach Yourself Swahili and Rosetta Stone, and although that helped me with vocabulary, it didn’t help me with forming new sentences or really learn what I was saying (i.e. grammar).  What I did find is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get really great resources. Particularly, FSI Swahili tapes and booklet (which is completely free online!) is the best resource I have found. This might be old, but it is really amazing at helping you build vocabulary and participating in conversations, and also has a great book that maps it all out for you. No worries if you are not learning Swahili, there are also other languages on this site as well.

I strongly recommend (I know this is obvious) getting a tutor or a friend to help you out, because it is a great way to get a regular space for learning and make sure you are saying things properly or what words are commonly used. A Swahili teacher really helped me here in Ottawa (if you are in Ottawa, please ask me and I can recommend a tutor). There are also a lot of communities in town that you can reach out to, I found that people are usually pretty excited that you are learning. If you are learning other languages, I hear that the Ottawa-Carleton School Board of Ottawa gives free lessons on Saturday. There are also sites where you can chat with people online from countries that speak your language, such as My Happy Plantet.

I hope this has helped. Here are a few (free!) links on Swahili that I found useful (I have repeated a few of the above):

For a Swahili dictionary, try my favorite African Languages or Kamusi Project.

For grammar, try Mwana Simba (HT Charles Ruthari).

For chatting in Swahili or any other language, try My Happy Planet or My Language Exchange.

For lessons, try the Foreign Service Institute or Kiswahili Web at UPenn.

For music, try Bongo Radio.

For books, try Children’s Library.

For videos, try KIKO (HT Charles Ruthari).

For news, try BBC in Swahili or HabariLeo.

Anyway, I am all ears on how people learn languages or different links that help you learn. Please be sure to share!

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, 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!

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