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Deciding to begin a career in a Non-governmental organisation can be daunting. Whilst it is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and socially useful careers to pursue, it comes with a wide array of challenges that must not be underestimated.

It is a fact that the number of NGOs around the world is very high and the variety of noble causes to make the central focus of your employment is virtually unlimited. However, being hired in an NGO can be difficult as their recruitment process requires you to have a wide set of skills which are usually very diverse yet specialised in any particular area. Having a well build set of skills is of major importance. Language skills, people skills and the ability of working in a team are generally what is required to land a job in a non-profit.

Let’s analyse them in more detail.

Language skills are certainly the top-quality recruiters look for in a newcomer to the field of NGOs. Being able to communicate fluently and get your message across in more than two languages is crucial when coordinating a project based abroad to understand clearly the end goal and the actual needs of the people whose lives you’re trying to better with your project.

People skills are what makes you stand out. Being able to adapt to a different culture, whether you’re based in Africa or in the Middle East, can make the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful one.

Whilst speaking to NGO employees and team leaders for non-profit organisations, I’ve found out that one of the most important, yet underrated, qualities of a great employee is the ability to feel comfortable working in a team and to thrive under pressure. Interacting with other NGO employees and having a natural propension for networking and working together can get you ahead in this field.

But of course, you first might need to set your priorities and to decide which kind of NGO suits you best. The attitude you face your work with is obviously an important trait, but whether your passion is helping children all around the world, provide clean, fresh water to third-world countries, or any other humanitarian cause, you should focus your efforts in something you’re truly passionate about.

But how can you know which cause to devote your time and, most of all, how do you build your set of skills in a way that perfectly goes along with the aim and mission of a non-profit organisation?

If you’re not sure about which kind of NGO to apply for or what kind of skills you need to develop, a great way to learn more about the world around you and about yourself as well is to volunteer. Spending your time without a monetary retribution is what will make you understand if this line of work suits you or not. It can also drastically improve your people skills and your capability of interacting with other cultures.

Finally, deadlines and unexpected issues while working on projects can become a pretty heavy burden for you and your mental health. A career in an NGO is riddled with difficulties that come from the pressure to meet challenges head-on and the consequent inability to have a critical and problem-solving oriented approach to the mission you’ve embarked upon. Staying committed and not setting up expectations that could be defined as unrealistic is a crucial step to not get discouraged when things go in an unexpected way.


Changing the world is hard work and with the right approach and mentality, an open mind, and the desire to help others it’s an achievable goal and something that will bring a sense of purpose in your life.


About the author: Nicola Clothier is CEO of Accurity GmbH, a Swiss-based employment service provider. Nicola has an Honours degree in English Literature from Stirling University and more than 20 years’ experience in Swiss employment, and personnel leasing up to executive level throughout Europe.