Emerging Practitioner: Build your Humanitarian career  Online course

How To Build Your Humanitarian Career Profile

Monday, May 08, 2017
by Humanitarian Institute


Move beyond just sending resumes to advertised jobs.

Get on the front foot. There's always more you can do to improve the odds.

The sector is notoriously difficult to break in to. As such it's important that you diversify your job search strategy to extend your networks, skill-level and understanding of the space. 

If you have a niche skillset and the passion and drive, some extra steps can help you stand out from the job-seeking crowd. Do 1 of the following... do them all - its your choice.

Humanitarian profiling is usually something associated with Bono, Angelina and Bob Geldof (arghh... the celebrities are coming!). Now and into the future, every one of us is responsible for profiling ourselves both offline and online. It is a competitive employment landscape. Sticking to the traditional job search methods will only get you so far.

To get noticed, you have to stop viewing yourself as an employee who needs a job because you ‘want to give back’. You must adopt the mindset of a marketing department which has a meaningful value proposition (you!) for a defined audience (an Aid agency!).

The humanitarian sector is shifting. Are you prepared to keep up?

Why build a personal brand?

Creating a strong personal brand establishes you as a natural leader and opens doors. Because, love it or hate it, the reality is that the humanitarian sector can be a tough nut to crack.

Competence in a technical discipline is not enough - indeed that's the minimum to keep your head above water!

To stay in demand over time, you must do something remarkable.

How do you build a personal brand?

Start by determining what you want to achieve long term:

What’s your preferred balance of humanitarian operations, management and programming?Do you want to become a technical lead, a generalist, or move into organisational leadership?

This will influence what you apply yourself towards, and what you want to discuss and become a thought leader in. Also, it’s important to find a way to explain why you’re good at what you do to non-technical people, especially when you’re liaising with HR.

What type of organisation do you want to work for? A big NGO? A social enterprise? Yourself?

This will help determine how to talk about your personality. Should you emphasize contextual awareness, or how innovative you are or how good you are at self-management?

Use your name!

Use it for everything. This is a simple way to make yourself recognisable across the web. For example, stay active on LinkedIn. It’s a great way to prove you know how to engage like a humanitarian professional. You can upload content you’ve created, or some projects you’re working on. Contribute to open and closed forums. This is stuff you can talk about at interviews.Pick a speciality

Why pick a speciality? Any competent humanitarian can project manage - it won’t make you special and it won’t define you.

  • Health
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Logistics and procurement
  • Financial management
  • Micro-grids
  • App money transfers

Keep in mind when you pick a speciality, that in-demand skills are always changing. It could be better to pick a field and always stay ahead of the newest developments used to implement solutions. Some humanitarians even specialise in niche skillsets, like business supply chains or micro-finance, that are only in demand by a few Aid agencies.

Write a blog

No matter what your skill-set is, it’s a VERY good idea to develop a blog to represent your way of working, what your focus is. Make sure to post regularly if you can, and keep the content high quality. Don’t post for the sake of posting!

We live in a content dominated world. Stop consuming and start creating!

Answer questions on Reddit and Quora

Yes, that’s right. You’re good enough now that you can help others. This is a great way to establish authority. Hello from the other side…

If you’re brave enough it’s worth a shot.

Attend Meetups and other networking events

Meetups can be centred around movements, current events, unique skills, or one innovative approach to social change or another. This is a great opportunity to become known to other humanitarians, and develop friendships and networks.

And participate in conferences. They’re a good way to become known to professional Aid Workers and make relationships with those  you could work with in the future.

There are always conferences on.

Talk at Meetups and other networking events

Yes, that’s correct. Don’t just turn up and network - become a speaker. You can do lightning talks (5 minute presentations) on a project you’ve been working on, and when you feel ready, start to facilitate longer sessions.

Run a website

Great way to present your projects and speciality. If you’re looking for your first job, present a progression in your abilities. If you’re further along in your career, choose your best work that you’re allowed to show to the public.

Get a headshot

Get a nice one. That’s ‘you’. Just like your blog, it should match the representation of yourself you’ve created.


There are lots of humanitarians on Twitter - they share stories, information and opportunities. It’s a great way to connect. It’s also a place where you can be dynamic and show your personality more.

Check out: #globaldev #humanitarian #socent as your starting points.

Top Humanitarian Twitter Accounts to follow:

Humanitarian Institute: @HumInst
Brendan McDonald: @7piliers
Jennifer Lentfer: @intldogooder

Create a narrative

There are at least four narratives about your career you can use when describing who you are in your website and LinkedIn, and when you are talking to your interviewer about why you want the job:

Maturation and quest: The way you have developed as a professional that makes you the right person.Metamorphosis and discovery: The unique skillsets you have that makes you best suited for the role.

Building a personal brand relies on developing trustworthiness and creating an engaging narrative. Remember always:

Set ever higher standards for your work.Underpromise and overdeliver - it's ALWAYS better to underpromise by a little.

Many will read this, then put it in the 'too hard basket'.

Some may put some thought into it.

A few will write out a plan.

Even less will put plans into actions.

It may feel icky to begin with, but the essence of profiling is establishing relationships that can lead to interesting opportunities. The best don't sit idly by. So don't be lazy. Out-compete and out-think your competition and build the humanitarian career you want.

When building a successful humanitarian career… opportunities don’t happen, you create them.



Why are our world’s biggest challenges getting worse?

What if…
Talent was mobilised to work on humanity’s greatest threats?
People mastered the skills required to create sustainable change?
You could direct your passion and skills toward positive global development?
What if…
We gave you the skills to meet your humanitarian potential?
We raised your hidden talents and untapped knowledge?
We were deliberate about preparing you for the rigours of development work?
We facilitated your journey into a humanitarian career?
What if…


© 2020 Humanitarian Institute. All rights reserved.