What Recruitment Officers Really Look for

When I was beginning my career at the Red Cross, I read this amazing article on what recruitment officers really look for and it as true today as it was in 2006. Now, since it Aidworkers network disappeared – if anyone knows why, please let me know – I am posting it again, so the article will live on.

What Recruitment Officers Really Look for

by Piero Calvi-Parisetti, 07/11/2006

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.

Experience rules

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 lor 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.

This may sound very frustrating to those who have not yet¬†boarded the train. How do I get the experience organisations¬†ask of me if I can’t get to work for the very organisations¬†which can provide me with that experience?

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.

If you’re after a field-based aid worker job, investing some¬†USD 5,000 of your own finances to cover the expenses for a¬†year of overseas volunteering is an incomparably better¬†choice than investing the same amount or more in a Master’s¬†degree course.

About the Author

Piero Calvi-Parisetti works for the GIGnos Institute.


Related: Want to build career in international development? Don’t reach for the UN

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