Getting into International Development

Clara Hawkshaw graduated from Exeter in 2009, with a BA in International Relations. She’s currently Awards (Grants) Capacity Building Manager with Save the Children International.

Clara Hawkshaw – Exeter alumn, and Awards (Grants) Capacity Building Manager with Save the Children International

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

After I left Exeter I struggled to get a job in an NGO, and after four unpaid part-time internships and too many job applications to count I started my first paid job as a Personal Assistant in an investment bank. That experience opened doors to work as a PA; first into a social housing association, and then into the humanitarian sector. Since joining Save the Children in 2013 I’ve worked in many different countries including Sierra Leone for the Ebola Response in 2014-2015. I’m currently coordinating capacity building activities for our grant management teams in the Country Offices around the world.

The best thing about my job is working with our teams in the Country Offices and Field Offices and knowing that my contribution is working towards implementing life-saving programmes to children who need it most.

“I genuinely think that International Development is one of the most competitive sectors, and there isn’t any clear guidance in how to get in to it…there aren’t any graduate schemes or obvious routes to take…but so long as you keep sight of the end goal and be a bit creative with building up your skills and experience elsewhere then you’ll get there in the end.”

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

I started my career as a PA which taught me to be very organised – this is important as there are a lot of competing priorities in the sector and often there aren’t enough staff to deal with them all. Empathy and passion which I’ve learnt in my volunteering and field experiences keeps my spirit high in the face of adversity. Likewise, you need a lot of resilience – both in applying for jobs in the beginning, but also for the long working days and travel which come with the job. Project management is very important but it is more than studying for a project management qualification – you need a level of general creativity in how to make things work efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

International Development is a very competitive sector, and there’s no blueprint for how to get into it! If you ask any humanitarian worker they’ll all say they had a different route to their current job. You may be told that you need a Masters degree and that you need to do unpaid internships. If you are in a position to do both of these things then you’ll be able to get in quicker, but there are definitely other ways to get in so try not to feel discouraged. There are now lots of ways that you can study for a Masters part-time whilst working which is how I got my MSc in Development Studies.

What are your plans for the future?      

To continue to work in the humanitarian sector. I’m looking to leave the Head Office life and move back overseas to a humanitarian emergency, where I can really use the remote management and project management skills which I’ve perfected in London to build up the capacity of the teams who are implementing our programmes.

Do you have any tips or advice for beginning a career or working in your industry/sector?          

Don’t give up! I genuinely think that International Development is one of the most competitive sectors, and there isn’t any clear guidance in how to get in to it. Unlike other professional sectors there aren’t any graduate schemes or obvious routes to take. If you don’t have the financial opportunity to study a full-time Masters or do a full-time unpaid internship then it will be a harder journey, but so long as you keep sight of the end goal and be a bit creative with building up your skills and experience elsewhere then you’ll get there in the end. Also don’t underestimate the power of local volunteering – not just for your CV but mostly to keep your passion ignited.

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