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Humanitarian aid workers manage projects around the world helping people affected by disasters, conflicts, and poverty. Job descriptions for aid workers vary widely depending on the organisation, programme, and exact job requirements. Fully understanding the job description for roles in the humanitarian sector is key to building a successful career as an aid worker.
We’ve put together this full guide to take you step-by-step through the job description for a humanitarian aid worker. For each section we go over why aid agencies include this in their job descriptions, examples of what to expect in aid worker job adverts and the important information you should look out for to help you secure a job in humanitarian aid.
The job description for a humanitarian aid worker usually opens with an overview of the organisation. There are a wide range of international and local organisations that provide humanitarian aid. Opening the job description like this helps to attract candidates that align with the organisations aims.
Humanitarian aid agencies can roughly be divided into three main groups – international NGOs, local NGOs, and international organisations and donors. You can usually tell the type of aid agency from the organisations overview provided in the job description.
Examples of international NGOs include:
- Médecins San Frontières
- Save the Children
- International Rescue Committee
- CARE International
- Médecins du Monde
- International Medical Corps
- Solidarités International
There are dozens of large and medium sized humanitarian organisations, as well as hundreds of small ones. The size and scale of an aid agency is often detailed in the job description for a humanitarian role.
As well as the more famous international humanitarian agencies, there are literally thousands of local NGOs that do frontline humanitarian work in their country. These often recruit local nationals. Many of their job description will be similar to that of international aid agencies, although there may be more variation between local NGOs. Still, generally they will provide a short overview of the organisation and their work at the top of the job description.
The third main type of humanitarian agencies are international organisations and donors. Examples of these include:
- United Nations
- European Union
- World Bank
- African Union
- National Governments
- Humanitarian Donors
There is a huge range of international organisations and donors. Many of these aid organisations provide funding to international and local NGOs. They also run humanitarian and development projects themselves.
Like many humanitarian agencies, international organisations and aid donors will usually give a short overview of their organisation, its history, aims and values at the top of the job description. Make sure this aligns with your expectations when applying for a role in the aid sector.
When applying for jobs in humanitarian aid and reviewing job descriptions, be sure to take notes of the information the NGO gives about themselves. This can be really useful during interviews as it is important to describe how your previous skills and experience, as well as future career aims, align with the organisation.
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The next part of the humanitarian aid worker job description will focus on the specific mission that the role is being recruited for. Humanitarian missions are country programmes ran by aid NGOs. They often focus on specific crises or location as well as a type of humanitarian aid.
When applying for a humanitarian job and reviewing the job description, be sure to get a full understanding of the mission, where it is and how the response is being managed. Like with the organisational overview, be sure to make notes on this to help you later at the interview stage.
Sometimes job descriptions in the aid sector will detail the specific project, as well as the mission that the role is attached to. This will often state the aims of the project as well as how the role fits within it.
There are many different types of humanitarian mission and projects. Most focus on a specific type of aid work in-line with the UN clusters. Some of the main area’s humanitarian missions can focus on, and are often detailed in the job descriptions are:
When looking over the job description and applying for a role in the aid sector, make sure the type of mission and project aligns with your previous experience and that it is an area of humanitarian work you are interested in doing.
An important part of the job description for a humanitarian aid worker is the tasks and responsibilities. The responsibilities of the role are determined by exactly what type of job it is.
Humanitarian jobs can be roughly divided between technical and support roles. Technical positions provide advice on areas of aid work such as health projects, nutrition, education, shelter and protection. These projects need specific experts to be implemented successfully. Support roles, as the name suggests, support the implementation of aid projects. These jobs include logistics, finance, HR and grant management positions.
As well as technical and support roles, there are also management and coordination positions within the aid sector. These senior jobs oversee humanitarian missions and have overall responsibility for aid delivery.
The job descriptions for all types of humanitarian jobs are often similar. The bulk of the job description is given over to telling the candidate the exact tasks the role is responsible for.
The job description for a humanitarian aid worker position often breaks down the tasks the role undertakes into different categories. It can also give a percentage allocation to each category giving the candidate an idea of how much of their time should be allocated to each group of tasks.
Like with the mission and project overview, and the organisational overview, when reviewing job descriptions for roles in humanitarian aid, make sure most of the tasks and responsibilities listed match your previous experience. However, also look for jobs that give you some areas of growth, so don’t expect to have done all the listed responsibilities in your previous positions.
Skills and Experience
Another crucial part of the humanitarian aid worker job description covers the skills and experiences needed for the role.
The specific skills and experiences needed to do the job will dependant on the type of role within the aid sector. More junior positions will look for less experience, including accepting work not directly related to humanitarian aid. For senior roles, several years of experience managing aid projects will be needed.
The job description for a position within the humanitarian sector will often give extensive details of exactly what skills and experience the aid organisation is looking for. This can include the number of years in a similar role, specific types of aid projects previously worked on and any specific knowledge needed to succeed in the job.
When looking over job descriptions for humanitarian aid worker positions you should generally aim to apply for jobs where your current skills and experience match what is required. However, do not assume everything listed in the job description is required exactly.
Often the skills and experiences aid organisations list on their job descriptions are more of a wish-list than an exact requirement. However, do make sure that you have the core skills and experience needed for the role, just don’t worry if you don’t have everything.
It’s important not to apply for roles where the skills and experience listed on the job description far exceed your current level. As you should ideally be writing applications tailed to the position you are applying for, sending applications for jobs that are too senior will just mean you won’t reach the interview stage and your time would be better sent applying for roles closer to your level.
With that said, you need to send a lot of applications to secure a job in the humanitarian aid sector as roles are competitive, so as long you meet the general skills and experiences listed in the job description, fire off an application.
The next part of the humanitarian aid worker job description usually covers the qualifications needed for the job.
Most positions within the aid sector require a degree. Often job descriptions for humanitarian roles ask for a relevant master’s degree. Some may accept a relevant undergraduate degree. However, the exact qualifications the job description asks for depends on the position.
For technical roles, such as managing humanitarian health, nutrition, shelter or protection projects, the job description will ask for a relevant master’s degree. This is because you need the level of knowledge and technical skills a formal qualification at master’s level will provide to successfully manage aid project such as these.
For support roles in humanitarian aid, such as in logistics, finance, HR or grant management, the job description will likely ask for master’s degree related to the area of work. Job descriptions for support roles in the aid sector may also ask for diplomas or other industry relevant qualifications. Examples of these may be accountancy or supply chain management certificates that attest to your practical understanding of the field.
For management roles in humanitarian aid, NGOs and international organisations are often more interested in your previous work experience than your qualifications. However, having a relevant degree or short course qualifications in humanitarian action can help your career progression, no matter how senior you are.
Like with the skills and experience section of the job description, the qualifications listed by an aid agency for a role are often a wish-list rather than a formal requirement. However, if you want to build a career in humanitarian response, doing a masters and completing relevant diplomas and short courses will help you secure jobs more easily.
over the world, having staff that can speak different languages can be a huge asset to an aid agency.
Most job descriptions advertising roles for humanitarian aid workers will include a section on languages.
Almost all jobs in the aid sector will require a working knowledge of English. For humanitarian organisations all over the world, this is usually the working language. With staff from many different countries, English becomes the language spoken daily.
In addition to English, most job descriptions for positions in the aid sector list languages in two main ways. The first way is to include a second mandatory language. This means for the role you must be able to speak a language to working level in addition to English.
Humanitarian aid worker roles that state on the job description that an additional language is mandatory do so because it is not possible to do the job without speaking that language. This is often because key parts of the role, such as local contacts, donor reports or partner organisations only work in that language.
If a job description lists a mandatory language requirement, don’t apply to the position if you don’t speak the language. The NGO will definitely require you to speak it to high level and if you don’t you won’t get a job.
The second way job descriptions in the aid sector list languages is as desirable.
For job postings that list additional language requirements as desirable, the role is definitely open to people who do not speak that language. Aid agencies include this because there would be some advantage to speaking the local language. However, it is not a high priority for them to recruit a staff member who does, and they will prioritise applicants with the right skills and experiences for the job.
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Competencies are the ability to apply previous experience and knowledge to the key tasks of a job. Humanitarian job descriptions often include a list of competencies needed to be successful in the role.
Many aid agencies use competencies to create a profile of the person they are seeking for the role. Another reason humanitarian organisations include competencies in their job descriptions is to help recruit from a wider pool of candidates. Although meeting the required experience and qualifications is important, aid NGOs can also recruit based on competencies.
Each humanitarian agency has its own set of competencies and competencies will differ between jobs. However, some common competencies often included in aid worker job descriptions are:
- Taking initiative
- Attention to detail
- Problem solving
- Result orientation
Competencies can be a key part of the job description for a humanitarian aid worker. Most NGOs use what is known and ‘competency-based interviews’. This is where the interview questions are based around the core competencies for the role and candidates must give examples from their previous experience to show they have the required competency.
Be sure to make note of the competencies included in the job description for a humanitarian role and use these as a part of your interview prep.
Another important part of the job description for a humanitarian aid worker is the organisational values. Most aid agencies include a part of the job description where they list the core values the organisation aims to work to.
By including the values of an organisation, the humanitarian agency is aiming to align its recruitment to their beliefs. NGOs link their values often with their history and the work they do, and it is important that they hire humanitarians that believe and can work to their values.
All aid agencies have different values, but some examples are:
- Social Justice
The organisational values of an aid agency are also key to differentiating their humanitarian action and work from the wider aid sector. Essentially, it’s part of what makes an NGO unique.
Be sure to make notes on the values a humanitarian organisations lists in their job descriptions. There are likely to be questions at the interview about these. Even if you’re not asked, including answers that link your experience to the values of the NGO is a great way to ace a job interview in the aid sector.
If a humanitarian agency doesn’t include their core values in the job description, they are often listed on their website. Be sure to hunt for these before your interview!
Salary and Conditions
The final part of a job description in the aid sector usually details the salary and conditions for the role. Some humanitarian agencies will simply list what the job is paid. This will often be as a band, giving the lowest and highest amounts. The actual salary paid is determined by the successful candidate’s experience.
Another way salaries in the humanitarian sector are given on job descriptions are as the rating for the job on the organisations salary grid. For example, you may see something like ‘this job is paid at salary band D6’. Some humanitarian agencies publish their salary grid on their websites. A quick Google search should bring it up. Sadly, most don’t so you will need to discuss the salary at the interview stage.
Jobs in the aid sector that are deployed abroad can also receive a per diem on top of their salary. Few NGOs list this in their job descriptions, but some do. Also ask about this at the interview stage if it is not included in the job description. The same goes for hardship pay or expat allowances, which some aid agencies add on-top of salaries for international positions.
It is also possible that some job descriptions in the aid sector include the percentage contribution the humanitarian organisation will make towards your pension.
Most job descriptions for humanitarian aid workers also list the conditions of the job. These differ between NGOs and some give more details than others.
Conditions included in the job description for aid worker positions can include details of the living arrangements, security situation, holiday and R&R policy and working from home arrangements. The conditions on the job description also usually include how long the contract for the job is. Most positions in the aid sector are on fixed-term contracts so be sure to look at how long job you are applying for is.
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