Emerging Practitioner: Build your Humanitarian career  Online course

International Development Interview Preparation Tips

Monday, Sep 04, 2017
by Humanitarian Institute


You’ve navigated the application process - sent an amazing resume and cover letter that stood out and impressed the selection committee - and now you’ve been contacted to arrange an interview time. Cool!

Although every organisation; public, private and civil, will have their own recruitment procedures, it’s likely that you will face more than one interview. The first will be over the phone or Skype, and depending on deployment location, and your location and that of the organisation; the second could be face-to-face (the organisation will fly you in) or via phone / Skype again.

We’ve compiled some tips to maximise your preparation so you can enter the interview process calm, committed and confident.


Before we start rolling a word on your state of mind. You must enter the interview as though the job is yours - you’ve made it this far! Be confident, yet humble, in your skills and accept that you already have the competence to excel in the position. Your challenge is to professionally demonstrate how you are the best candidate to deliver sustainable results.

Remember it’s the only time a group of people will sit down with you to talk about how great you are. Ok, mildly joking, mildly being serious. Yes, you are supposed to talk about how you’re amazing, but it needs to relate to what the humanitarian organisation wants - the process of gaining a job isn’t about “me,” it’s really about “we”.

You’ve progressed to the interview because you’ve satisfied requirements. Now you’ve got an interview - it’s about the them!


1. Know Who You’re Talking To

Find out as much as you can about the organisation, and interview panel, before the interview. Check out:

The organisation’s site. You probably looked at this when you made your application. Now is the time to read everything and learn the relevant bits to the job. Read the mission and values and start to think about how you can weave these into your interview examples.If they are a registered charity they will produce an annual report, if it’s not on their web site, phone and ask for a copy.Most organisations produce blogs, news or newsletters; find them online and learn! This can tell you a lot about how they project themselves and the type of language they use. Mirroring can be a helpful tool.

Google them! Are there any publications or sites that have articles about the organisation or key staff? If you know the names of the interviewers Google them too!

LinkedIn stalk, in a good way.Facebook. Check out the organisations page; like it and stay up-to-date with posts.Twitter. This will often present a different voice and image.Program / project evaluations. Search online for examples of evaluations or research into the development activities the organisation has undertaken. Transparent, accountable organisation’s don’t hide these documents. They celebrate them.

Understanding the organisations allows you to understand the reason you were asked a certain question. 

All the questions are really about the organisation itself.

2. Practice

Practice your answers. Sounds simple, so simple most people don't do it! A friend or trusted colleague can help with this, and hold you accountable.

List the common and technical questions on paper and write your responses.Practice aloud saying the question and giving your answer - your answers must include examples.Use the STAR model – Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a short story to describe the situation, what the task was, what you did and what the result was. In an interview you must give details of outcomes and success. This is your evidence base.Remember to smile and pause before answering a question – video recording yourself will give you some insight into facial expression and body movement. This is not hard - every laptop has a camera now!

Everyone loves talking and hearing about themselves, so it should come as no surprise that employers are often disappointed when an interviewee fails to relate their answers back to the organisation. Turn all answers back into how this supports the organisations aims - it’s not all about you, remember!


3. Nervous?

Most people feel nervous before an interview… this is normal and a good thing… it means you care!

But when you’re nervous you may rush, mumble or go brain-dead. Common techniques to control nerves are visualisations and positive affirmations - but the best is breathing! No joke.

Take two deep breaths before you start, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. This breathing technique will encourage you to slow down when you start to speak.


4. Skype and Telephone Interviews

More often than not you will be undertaking one or more interview using technology. Remote management plays a significant role in many humanitarian jobs so best get used to professionally meeting people online.

Thus all of the advice offered here applies to Skype and telephone interviews. It’s advisable that you prepare exactly the same as a face to face meeting, this will help with your mental preparation and presentation.

Your voice needs to be calm and strong. Even though it’s a phone or online interview you still need to smile - the interviewer will hear this in your voice. Success elements include:

Have private space for the interview - you'd be surprised!Have a notepadHave your information – application / resume / job advert in front of you.Sit straight in the chair.Be online 15 minutes prior to the scheduled interview time (Skype); for a phone call get into the private space with plenty of time to spare to get comfortable and organised - this is an advantage of phone / online interviews!

Things can still go wrong. So stay calm... we all remember this!


5. Speak Clearly and Confidently

When you speak, you want the interviewer to sit up and take notice. To do this it's very important that they hear every word. If some of your words are unclear, merge together, or are too fast they will soon lose interest. Especially relevant for many Antipodes who speak quickly - you will be interviewing with people from diverse cultural and linguistic background, so be aware of pace, intonation and pronunciation.

Use pauses to control your pace. The pause also gives you time to think and you will be less likely to lose track of what you're saying or for your mind to go blank.

6. Got a Face-to-Face Interview?

It takes 1/10th of a second for someone to assess you when you meet for the first time. They will form an opinion about you based on your appearance, body language, manner and how you are dressed.Make a confident entrance! You never know who is covering reception. You don’t know the importance of the person escorting you to the interview. Never assume they are low rank and not involved in the recruitment process.When entering the interview room, smile and pause very briefly in the doorway, measure up the room and who is there – this slight pause confidently announces your arrival.Do not slouch; sit upright and alert.Use confident body language all the way through the interview.

The interview is a two way process. You are there to check them out, and they are there to check you out. Do not view it as an ‘interview’ but rather as an opportunity to meet and get to know someone. You might take your resume, and feel free to make notes on your notepad - which has your pre-thought questions to ask them.


7. What to Wear? Even on the Phone or Over Skype!

Prepare as you would for a date. Plan your clothes days before. They need to be clean and pressed. Get a haircut or manicure. Shower and wear your best underwear - nothing better for your confidence.

You have to look professional. These rules apply for a phone or Skype interview as well - don’t roll out of bed and interview in your PJ’s! If you want the job, then make the effort.

Granted, the international development sector can be relaxed in its attitude to office attire and jeans and oxfords may rule in the office - but not in multilateral/ bilateral / finance agencies.

A general rule is to dress up rather than down – aim for smart or smart casual. If in doubt, dress conservatively rather than make a fashion statement.

8. Question Time!
The research you’ve done as part of your prep should inform the questions you ask during the job interview. Yes, you should be asking questions during the interview because this shows your interest in the job, your ability to research and your ability to ask questions where needed. But remember, you should be asking questions that build on information that’s publicly available. Therefore, asking how long a company has existed is NOT a great question because a couple of clicks can get you that info pretty quickly. A good question is how an organisation plans to continue to build upon its recent successes.


9. After The Interview

Always send an email to the interviewer(s) thanking them for their time and confirm (or decline) your interest in the job. Sometimes it's the simple things that can make a difference - politeness can go a long way.

There’s more to interviewing well than just having good answers and questions, however. An estimated three-quarters of interviews fail within the first 3 minutes. Good preparation goes a long way to overcoming nerves and ensuring you present yourself in the best light. This is your shot! Work hard to maximise it.


Something Extra: 25 Common Interview Questions

  1. Why should I offer this job to you?
  2. Why did you choose this career?
  3. Why do you want this job?
  4. Why are you leaving your current job?
  5. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past 3 years?
  6. Why do you want to work in international development?
  7. Why do you want to work for our organisation?
  8. Where do you see yourself in 5 year’s time?
  9. What above all the other applicants can you bring to this job?
  10. How do you deal with criticism and can you give examples?
  11. What support do you expect from your manager?
  12. How do you deal with donors?
  13. What do you do to ensure accountability towards the donor and beneficiaries?
  14. Why have you had so many short-term contracts?
  15. How did you integrate SPHERE, ICRC code and HAP etc. in your work?
  16. Explain what project cycle management / log frame is?
  17. How do you manage multiple organisations that have different priorities and need to work together?
  18. How do you measure the impact of a project, which tools do you use?
  19. How do you manage two field offices from a base?
  20. How do you make sure that expenses are booked correctly in general and toward the right donor account?
  21. How do you solve conflict?
  22. How do you deal with fraud and did you have ever an experience of fraud?
  23. How do you deal with different nationalities?
  24. How do you cope with difficult work and a difficult and remote environment, you are the only expat and are only working with locals?
  25. What measures do you take when your team has to go to a remote volatile area and how do you decide?

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…


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