Ethical Careers: how to get that foot in the door
Written by the recent graduates who have done so
It became increasingly obvious to me that I needed to get some onthe-ground experience (and because I haven’t got the travel bug out of my system yet!). It took a while to make the decision to leave such a great job but I realised I’d regret it if I didn’t and went to Ecuador, using the contacts I’d made in my job to do an internship with the government out there and go and meet loads of people working on the issues at national and local level in Ecuador.
Why Student Hubs? What?
Studied Geography at Trinity Hall, Cambridge from 2006-2009, worked at UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) from August 2009-December 2011, spent 6 months in Ecuador in 2012, started working as Cambridge Hub Manager in August 2012. At the broadest level, my aim is the standard cliché “to make a difference”, and in particular to help inspire action to lead more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.
While at uni, I found out that UNEP-WCMC existed and that it was based in Cambridge. I pestered them for work experience until eventually I did a 2-week stint with them in the Christmas holidays of my 3rd year. A job was opening up the following year at entry-level so I applied and got it. My job at UNEP-WCMC was a fantastic first job out of university, and gave me insight into processes at an international level, top-down efforts to tackle climate change, conservation efforts in developing countries, and how complicated it is to try to tackle the issue of deforestation.
From my experiences in Ecuador, I learnt a lot about the issues broadly and about myself and my own strengths. I realised I wanted to focus my efforts on helping efforts closer to home, working more with people day-to-day instead of doing research, helping increase collaboration and connections between people who care about social and environmental issues, and focusing more on engaging with people who are not necessarily interested in these issues yet, hopefully to get them interested!
The internship whilst at uni helped me get a foot in the door and secure the job at WCMC. Since then, I made the change because I find myself almost constantly reflecting about how I personally can make the maximum difference, and try to act accordingly to ensure I am. There are obviously lots of other factors to consider as well such as salary, job security, location, what makes sense etc when you want to make a change BUT making the leap into the unknown (quitting my job and going to Ecuador) was scary but has resulted in me gaining more knowledge, skills, connections, confidence and also in getting a job that I love even more than the first one!
1) Don’t shy away from doing things that you think you’ll only dream of because of unknowns and worries that might never emerge. You’re more likely to regret not making the change and thinking “what if?”. 2) Make the most of the contacts and connections you make at every stage of your career. 3) Use your time at uni to do loads of ‘extracurricular’ stuff, to try new things out, meet new people, and get more on your CV. I did well in my degree but it’s the extracurricular things (most notably, Green Officer in college, and then Environmental Officer for CUSU running the “Go Greener” campaign, as well as travel, part-time jobs and practical conservation experience I gained in holidays) that I have spoken more about in interviews that proves my commitment and shows my personality, which I think has ultimately got me the jobs I’ve been lucky enough to land myself with so far.
-IntoUniversity, London (Jan 2012 - current) -Futerra - A communications agency internship in London - I got into this due to my interest in ethical fashion at university. (September November 2011) -Sputnik - A PR firm internship, London (September 2011) -Card Aid - Shop Manager, London (September - December 2010) -EF - Activity Leader for several summers whilst at university -Senior Ambassador - Durham University Summer Schools - summers whilst at university
I’m currently working for an education charity which I have been doing for a year. This involves working with underprivileged children aged 7-19 on various education programmes to help them with their school work and inspire them to achieve. I’m specifically responsible for a mentoring scheme for my centre - pairing our students with undergraduate student mentors, and year 13s with mentors working for corporate firms to aid them in the transition to university. My job involves a lot of organising events/programmes, and delivering them to schools and groups of students. After leaving university I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and had various internships - managing a shop for CardAid (a charity Christmas card charity), working in PR, and for a communications company. At university I worked with children a lot in the holidays and always really enjoyed it - in the end I decided I loved the variety and people side of the role which led me into my current role.
I studied Anthropology at university and have always wanted to do a job that is more worthwhile. As mentioned, it was working with EF and students through Durham University that I realised I enjoyed this kind of work. Working for a charity is particularly enjoyable because you work in the kind of environment where you are really valued as a person and for the work you contribute - you aren’t just a cog in a machine so to speak. The people are great, and you have a good work life balance, another aspect that was very important to me when choosing my job. I also know that I wouldn’t enjoy a job where the main aim is to make money for the company.
After university I wanted to try a few different roles and thought about doing something that was more creative. Working for a PR company and for Futerra, however, made me realise I am not suited to a job sat behind a computer - my current role I am particularly suited to because it involves both office work and working with children in our centre, in schools, and taking students to various sites around London. In addition, many of my previous roles demonstrated my ability and enjoyment in organising things - travelling and my involvement in societies at university also contributed to this.
A top tip for me is to discover not the line of work you want to do but the type of work - i.e. are you happy working in an office, are you a people person, etc.? Understanding yourself as a person and what motivates you is very important - for example do you thrive in a competitive environment, or do you shrink away from it? Get as much experience in different areas you are interested in as possible - even if you donâ€™t enjoy them, they are useful in showing you what you donâ€™t want to go into!
Pursuing a career focused on pragmatic solutions to the world’s environmental, social and economic challenges, through linking conservation to human well-being, poverty alleviation and economic development.
Ethiopia Sustainable Tourism Alliance (just about to start! Feb 2013) - Student intern and then Assistant Programme Officer at United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge (August 2011-Present) - Student volunteer at Education Partnerships Africa (EPA; formerly Kenya Education Partnerships, KEP), Cambridge (September 2008-August 2011) - Ecological Projects Officer at Middlemarch Environmental, Coventry (June-October 2007) - Group leader/activity instructor at PGL Travel, Nord - Pas-De-Calais, France (January-June 2007)
I’ve always been into outdoor pursuits, and before I started university I knew I wanted to travel, so I decided to take a gap year and get some experience living and working in a different country and trying to improve my language skills, which is when I started at PGL. On arriving back on the UK, I filled the remaining months with an ecological consultancy job at home, which I loved because I got to put some of my scientific skills into practice and gain some UK-based field experience. As a student, I signed up to a student-run charity as a Project Worker, raising money for schools in rural Kenya and spending a summer out there implementing a resource investment programme. I then stayed involved in the charity throughout my time at university, helping with recruiting and developing some of the core programmes. At this point, I knew that I wanted to be involved in development work, but my degree was science focused. This was when I discovered, through my Zoology Conservation course, the links between conservation and development, and how important the environment is for poverty alleviation and human well-being. To supplement my science qualifications, I then decided to compete an additional year in the Management Studies Tripos, to gain some wide skills. After discussing my interests with one of my Zoology supervisors, he pointed me in the direction of UNEP-WCMC, where I was lucky enough to get myself an intern position for one afternoon a week during my final year carrying out data entry and statistical analysis in the Science Unit at UNEP-WCMC. During this time, I managed to impress them enough to be offered a job when I graduated! Having worked at the Cambridge office for 18 months I began to get a little restless, and felt the need for some travel and on-the-ground experience, when I stumbled across an ecotourism opportunity based out in Ethiopia, which seemed to suit my skill set. I took my chances and applied, and now I’m heading out there for 5 months beginning
in early February to work with the local community in a small village in the Southern Rift Valley. UNEP-WCMC have been very supportive in allowing me extended leave, since the field and management experience will contribute enormously to my skill set back in the office.
I would say my career path has progressed mainly through a combination of luck, ambition and determination. Taking chances, and taking any interesting opportunity that comes, is a great way to get exciting, interesting and relevant experience. It is possible to get a job that you enjoy, if you’re driven enough to pursue it (and don’t mind volunteering, putting in some leg work, and not being quite as rich as all of your banker friend’s in London!). It’ll be worth it in the end!
1) Take a gamble. If you don’t try you’ll never know! And it’s never too late to make a change and try something new. If you’re not happy where things are going, now is the time to make a change while you’re still young – a couple of years may seem like a long time now, but it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things – you’ll be a long time working! 2) Talk to people – Supervisors and lecturers are fountains of knowledge and contacts, and will often be happy to put you in touch with someone or give you some practical advice where they can. ‘Who you know’ alone won’t always cut it, but it definitely helps for identifying opportunities and clarifying your options.
International development and community health - three years Madagascar experience - read Geography at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and co-founded the Cambridge Hub.
-Madagascar volunteering (with Azafady) spring 2007 -Burkina Faso internship (with local NGO) summer 2008 -Zambia internship (with local NGO) summer 2009 -London / Madagascar internship (with Azafady) July 2010 - July 2011 -Madagascar job (with Azafady) Aug 2011 - Dec 2012 -London job (with Blue Ventures) Jan 2013 - present
Started by volunteering and doing short internships pre / during / post uni to gain some initial experience, then graduated and completed a 12 month voluntary internship with Azafady in London and Madagascar to really build my skills and experience, next was promoted to a paid specialist position in Madagascar developing their range of community health projects and after a further 18 months (so a total of two years living in Madagascar) left to move onto something new, and was offered a job based in London with Blue Ventures coordinating their Madagascar community health programme.
1) Develop your experience - use your spare time while at university to do things that will develop your skills and experience as this makes it so much easier when it comes to applying for things - for example, the huge number of travel grants available to Cambridge students enabled me to do internships in Burkina Faso and Zambia during my summer holidays, while my involvement in various student groups including CUID and the Cambridge Hub helped me to develop all sorts of useful skills that employers look for (communication, teamwork, leadership, proposal writing, etc.). 2) Know the organisation youâ€™re applying to - spending lots of time preparing a thorough and well thought through application for an organisation that you would really like to work for is going to be much more fruitful than firing off ten mediocre and hastily put together things to organisations that you donâ€™t really know - so read their website (all of it! several times!) and any documents available online like project reports, swat up on their donors and partners, check out their Charity Commission details, follow them on Facebook, look up their staff profiles on LinkedIn, basically find out everything you can about them and their work and their people, understand what makes them tick, take time to absorb all of this and suffuse it into your application, tailoring your CV (e.g. highlight important skills that they are looking for) and cover letter as closely as possible to the job description doing your research and clearly demonstrating how well suited you are to the role will give you the best chance of getting your dream position - for example, when I was writing to Blue Ventures I spent many many hours reading up on their work before even beginning to draft my cover letter.
3) Play the long game by properly investing in getting your foot in the door - the sad reality is that if you want to get into the international development sector you will most probably have to do a voluntary internship to begin with (start saving now!) so you should see it as an investment and get a good one that will take you far - for example, I did a brilliant 12 month internship with Azafady (http://azafady.org/getinvolved/pd-internship.htm) and it turned out to be just that important first big career step I hoped it would be - it was 5 months part-time in London followed by 7 months full-time in Madagascar, I got to work on a variety of projects from community health to sustainable livelihoods as well as a variety of tasks from fundraising to monitoring and evaluation, giving me a really solid foundation of professional skills and experience - yes, it was a voluntary thing, but I was able to work part-time in London and live very cheaply in Madagascar so all in all it definitely ended up being far less expensive than doing a masters and ultimately enabled me to successfully land two consecutive paid jobs (the first being a promotion with Azafady) doing what I love! 4) Network and use your contacts - set up a LinkedIn profile with some details about your experience and skills and career aspirations as this makes it easier for others to connect with and remember you - make the best of every networking opportunity, no matter how trivial it may seem or how unexpected it may be, you just never know what might come of it so be proactive - that professor or practitioner you get chatting with after that seminar or workshop you attend could be the key to your next job - for example, I organised my internships in Burkina Faso and Zambia with small NGOs by being proactive and using my contacts, and a casual conversation with a British girl I serendipitously stumbled upon in a remote village on the west coast of Madagascar set the processes in motion that ended up with me with my current job!
Iâ€™m currently studying for two masters degrees at Yale University: International Relations and Environmental Management, fully funded by the Clare Mellon Fellowship.
Organisations Iâ€™ve worked/interned for, before, during, and after my time at Cambridge: - Futerra Sustainability Communications, intern for 1 month then researcher for 2 months during my gap year, then researcher for 2 months in summer after 1st year, then junior consultant for 6 months after graduation, London - The Royal Geographical Society, leading workshops on climate change for secondary school students, for 2 months in summer after 2nd year, London - Research Assistant, Cambridge University Geography Department, for 1 month after graduation - Green Alliance, an environmental think tank, policy intern for 3 months after graduation, London Also what became effectively a part-time volunteering commitment at the UK Youth Climate Coalition, first as a youth delegate to the UN climate talks in 2008, then as a member of the coordinating team, responsible for coalition coordination and government relations, until June 2011
Volunteering is a good way to build contacts, build reputation, and get a feel for new organisations, as well as a foot in the door.
Keen that my job involves working in nature conservation that has a real impact on the ground, through local and national organisations rather than a north teaches south philosophy. This is where I see real change happening, by building the capacity of biodiversity rich countries to manage their resources effectively for the benefit of people.
-Researcher, Centre for Conservation Ecology & Environmental Change, Bournemouth University (Oct 2009 - Oct 2011) -MSc Biodiversity Conservation, Bournemouth University (2007-2009 part time) -Country Co-ordinator, Frontier, Tanzania (2006) -Assistant Research Co-ordinator, Frontier, Tanzania (2005) -Research & Development Officer, Frontier UK (2004-2005)
No career development opportunities with Frontier and was not appreciated for the skills I brought to the role. I decided to do the masters to gain more theoretical knowledge of international conservation which I felt I needed to get a job in the UK. Doing a masters gave me the technical knowledge I needed to get my current job. My masters gave me the opportunity to get involved in a multinational project on dryland forest conservation and I was able to do a thesis that had practical relevance and was contributing towards real conservation on the ground. I was able to stay on as a researcher at my University following the masters which gave me vital project management skills and experience.
further. As having an undergraduate degree in architecture made it difficult for me to qualify for jobs in my chosen field, I decided to undertake a postgraduate degree in international development. It was important for me that I would use the postgraduate degree as a springboard to my future career and so I actively sought out future opportunities throughout the year. Despite having never previously travelled outside of Western Europe, I began an internship with a Georgian national NGO, CHCA, which focuses on humanitarian assistance for internally-displaced persons (IDPs), just one week after I had submitted my master’s dissertation. The vast number of networking opportunities in Georgia opened so many doors, which I am now continuing to profit from post-internship.
Following successful completion of the BA (Hons) in Architecture at the University of Manchester [2006-2009] and the MSc in International Development at the University of Bristol [2010-2011], I was Project Intern at Charity Humanitarian Centre Abkhazeti (CHCA), Georgia [2011-2012] and now Human Resources Manager at Georgia Internships, based in the UK [2012-present].
Although architecture had always been the subject that I wanted to study, during my undergraduate degree it became increasingly clear that this was not the profession that I wanted to go into - a re-think was needed. Once I completed the BA, I took the time, one year, to really consider what is important to me and to begin to develop a career in this direction. As I had always been an active volunteer, with charity work and development being true passions of mine, I explored this area
Georgia Internships, an initiative founded by myself and a close colleague, is an initiative that provides internship opportunities to talented and motivated individuals, with the aim of sustainably strengthening Georgian NGO capacity. I hope that this initiative will continue to develop and grow, facilitating experiences that will propel interested individuals’ careers in the international humanitarian/NGO sector, as well as supporting Georgian civil society.
1) Engaging with others and being willing to take a leap into the unknown. Regularly saying ‘yes’ and embracing experiences and opportunities have demonstrated my commitment, and as a consequence, helped me to reach where I am today. 2) Actively seeking and ‘creating’ opportunities that have assisted me in developing my ideas and passions. 3) Choosing to return to higher education, in the form of my master’s degree, was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. It is has given me the skills and the confidence to succeed, as well as giving others confidence in me.
1) Being overly focused on remuneration to begin with may mean missing out on the best opportunities - many of my family members thought that it was a bad idea to commit to an unpaid internship (especially as I did end up working harder than most of my colleagues who were paid!). However, the internship in Georgia was one of the best things that I could have done, as it gave me the chance to gain previously unparalleled experiences and importantly gave me the opportunity to demonstrate what I was capable of. This position has lead directly into numerous other jobs and projects, often purely based on the fact that I actually took a risk and went out and really â€˜did somethingâ€™. 2) Maximise the potential of networking and take advice from others with valuable experience - it has become very apparent to me that many people are willing and able to give worthwhile advice, however, until you ask for this advice and embrace it, its potential is wasted. 3) Do not feel as if you have to rush â€“ take the time to fully consider what it is that you really want to do and how you are going to get there. However, set this search realistic goals and time limits so as to remain focused and motivated.
I studied civil engineering at university but quickly realised that Iâ€™m just as interested in the social barriers to development as the technical ones. This sparked my initial interest in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work - which almost invariably involves a combination of social and technical elements - and has taken me along the career path Iâ€™ve described below.
The first development organisation I was involved with was Engineers Without Borders (EWB) which I came across in my second year at university. They gave me a great insight into different areas that I could potentially work in and I made some good contacts through them which, in development, is really important. I worked on sanitation projects in Bhutan and DR Congo during summer holidays and then after graduating I volunteered for a year with various development organisations in London to gain experience from the UK/headquarter end of operations. Experience is vital for most development jobs and the combination of UK and overseas work got me to the interview stage for my current job.
-EWB Cambridge and UK (2006-2011; UK): various roles including treasurer and outreach coordinator for the Cambridge branch organising workshops and activities in schools -SNV Bhutan (2 months, 2009; Bhutan): intern with their WASH team as well as doing research on school sanitation for my Masters -Menelik Education (2 months, 2010; DR Congo): developing, fundraising for and coordinating the implementation of a school sanitation project in Kinshasa -Operation WellFound (6 months, 2010/11; UK): intern in the London office, mainly doing fundraising (applying to trusts and foundations as well as organising events) for small WASH projects -Health Poverty Action (6 months, 2011; UK): volunteering with the programmes team researching international best practice, editing reports and proposals and checking budgets for a range of large, mainly institutionally-funded community health projects -Azafady (2011-present; UK for 6 months then Madagascar): initially an intern in the project development department and now a WASH specialist within it, designing projects with local staff, writing proposals and reports, monitoring and evaluation of projects, capacity building.
Operation WellFound was a good starting point (and they took me on with little experience!) but the role was limited to fundraising and the organisation is tiny so after 6 months I was ready to move on. HPA provided a totally different experience, working as part of a much larger organisation with projects around the world. I learned a lot from being in a busy office surrounded by people doing the type of work I was interested in and the role exposed me to the requirements of institutional donors which is often a requirement (or at least a desirable skill) for development jobs. It was clear it was only ever going to be a voluntary role though so I continued applying for more structured internships/ any entry level jobs I could find until I came across Azafady who offered an internship working 6 months in their London office followed by 6 months in the project development team in their office in Madagascar, where all their operations are.
After volunteering with Azafady for a year on the project development internship, working on a range of projects from sustainable livelihoods to conservation to community health, I was offered a paid position in Madagascar, still in the project development department but with an increased focus on WASH projects.what sort of jobs to look for now.
3) Contacts are really important so put yourself in situations where you meet/ get introduced to people. So many jobs are never advertised and go to somebody already known to the organisation so make that person you! 4) Persevere. If there’s an organisation you really want to work for don’t be afraid of reapplying.
5) Always ask for feedback from interviews and, if you’re applying for an internship/ entry level position and you don’t get it, ask if they have any suggestions of where/ what to try next. Most people recruiting for these type of positions are very aware of the “need experience to get experience” problem. They’ll appreciate your dedication, are more likely to remember you in the future and may even have another position you’re more suited to.
2) Volunteering is often essential to get the experience you need initially but if you’re giving up your time for free, make sure you’re getting what you want and need out of it.
6) Read as much as possible about the organisation, their approach, their work and the job you’re applying for before any interview. And always have a couple of questions to ask at the end of the interview. It all sounds obvious but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do their research at this crucial stage.
1) Look at the job descriptions for jobs you’d like to be doing in the future to see what their requirements are – it’ll help you determine
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Published on Feb 27, 2013
Cambridge Hub explore obtaining a career in the Third Sector through multiple case studies written by recent graduates that have done so.