What are the skills and experience required to work for an international NGO?

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What are the skills and experience required to work for an international NGO?

International NGOs are looking for a wide range of skills and experience, depending on the roles and levels they are recruiting for. 

Many require a professional qualification such as a degree in law, environmental science, politics, medicine, nursing or nutrition.

On top of qualifications, most international NGOs require new staff to have had at least 2 years’ experience in their field – so that you are able to “hit the ground running” when you arrive.  And if you have skills in additional languages to offer that is a big advantage.

However, there are core skills and experience that all international NGOs are looking for:

Cultural awareness and sensitivity

  • Working for an international NGO you will need to demonstrate the ability to live and work with people from a range of different cultures and faiths
  • International organisations try to prioritise offering roles to people from the local community wherever possible, so you may find yourself managing large teams of skilled people but working through a translator
  • In some settings, being culturally aware and sensitive can make all the difference to whether your NGO is accepted, welcomed and kept safe in the host country

IT

As well as doing exciting, hands-on field work you will also be required to demonstrate IT skills and experience.  NGO work is made possible by funding provided by a wide range of donors, and donors require regular reports and updates.  Essential skills include:

  • Word documents for report writing
  • Excel for budget tracking and monitoring
  • Online data gathering tools (such as KoBo collect) for needs assessment surveys
  • Video conferencing (e.g. Zoom or Microsoft Teams) for meetings with HQ and donors

Leadership

NGOs are on the lookout for staff with leadership qualities to ensure their projects and people achieve maximum impact:

  • Decision making ability
  • Experience of leading teams
  • Ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Confident in representing the NGO at meetings/dealing with authorities

Media

NGOs need to communicate stories of impact in order to inspire their supporters and update their donors.  If you have skills or experience in dealing with the media don’t forget to include that in your applications:

  • Writing press releases
  • Giving radio interviews
  • Posting updates on social media

Self Awareness

Employees who are skilled in knowing their own strengths, weaknesses and preferred ways of working can make a huge difference to a positive team atmosphere:

  • Knowledge of your own preferred learning and management styles and how this impacts on others
  • Experience of managing your own physical and mental health  – knowing how to boost your resilience levels helps you to keep going when things get tough (for example, making time for physical exercise and keeping in touch with your wider support network of family and friends)

The good news is that you can build on these skills and experience at any stage of your career, helping to prepare you for the challenges that an NGO career is sure to provide! 

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