Entry points – a typology

Two factors above all others determine the range of possibilities you have to get into international cooperation: your target sector within IC and what career phase you are in.

Regardless of your situation, it is important to first analyse and clarify your motivation and goals, and only then to start researching thoroughly on the Internet, and through events and networking. It is advisable to broaden your view as far as possible by extending your research to include organisations based in Switzerland.

Below you will find an overview of the various entry points and the most important considerations.

Classical entry

Approximately 30 years old, a master’s degree and, possibly, initial work experience

Entry under these conditions offers the most possibilities for entrants to gradually fill their backpack with a range of experiences, starting with their education. What counts most is practical experience. Further training is less important for the time being.

Where do you collect relevant experience?

  • In the broader field of IC: short internships and voluntary work abroad. These do not have to be linked to a professional goal.
  • Engaging in social, environmental or political issues in your own country may give you experience that can be useful later in IC.
  • Experience in the job market, including outside of IC, is fundamentally important.
  • Internships in IC:  the range is broad with equally diverse conditions and compensation. Getting into IC can take several internships of increasing demands, and with different durations and focus.
  • Junior staff programmes and positions: these are oriented towards people who already have two to three years’ experience in IC, or in a professional field of relevance, or with similar demands, to IC. The age limit for junior professional officer positions is generally between 30 to 35 years.

Late graduates

Over 30 years old and completed a master’s degree, possibly as a second education; some years of work experience, although not yet much in the new field of education

Compared to younger master’s degree graduates, the conditions for entry are generally restricted.  You must compete with many younger applicants for coveted internship places. You have passed the age limit for many junior professional positions.

On the other hand, you may be able to use your broader life and professional experience to your advantage.  Collecting information, being proactive and networking are even more important for you than for younger entrants.

  • A possible entry strategy is to gain professional experience in fields related to IC, such as (foreign) policy, migration, and economic development or to specialise in a current theme in IC. International employment in the private sector is valuable experience.
  • Voluntary work can help in making useful contacts, and acquiring relevant knowledge and competencies that are important to IC.
    Read more about voluntary work and short-term missions
  • Junior professional positions: occasionally organisations advertise positions without age limits which suit entrants with several years of relevant professional experience.
  • It is generally possible to get into personnel development cooperation (PEZA) if you have several years of professional experience, even if it is not directly related to IC.
    Read more about PEZA
  • The entry requirements for humanitarian aid, and often also peacebuilding, are fundamentally different. There are few internships. However, professional and personal experiences that can be transferred to this field are in demand.
  • Further training after several years of professional experience can lead to a transition into IC.

Entry with a technical profession

Completion of studies at the bachelor’s degree level or vocational education with several years of solid experience

There are sectors in IC that do not require a master’s degree, such as personnel development cooperation and humanitarian aid. They are under-represented in the job market because employers recruit on a regular basis rather than advertising every position. There are positions in various professions, including health, training, agriculture, trade, technology, administration and logistics.

  • If you are young without much professional experience, you can look at one of the classical entry points, with one caveat: internships requiring a master’s degree can be eliminated. There are also very few traineeships in humanitarian aid because specialists must be available for immediate posting.
  • Professionals with several years’ solid professional experience can look for a direct way into personnel development cooperation or humanitarian aid. Your chances are better if you have previous experience in an international context.

It is worth completing specialist further training or a master’s degree after your initial professional experience if you want to work long-term in IC. Not having a master’s degree can eventually become an obstacle in your career.

Lateral entry

A degree and solid, long-term professional experience, but no IC experience

A lateral entry into IC is often driven by a desire for a career change because of the need for new challenges, changing values, questions of meaning and so on.

While late graduates can make up for one or other element in the classical entry, lateral entrants have to be able to transfer their previous work experience to the new field of IC for a chance to get in. This is often difficult because lateral entrants compete with many experienced IC professionals. The question is therefore: What can you bring that others do not have?

For example, solid specialist knowledge, preferably with international experience, or knowledge and experience that could be used to support the private sector could be attractive to employers.

A career change to IC often requires excellent skills and international experience, as in the case of changing to a senior management position in a UN organisation. Or you must anticipate a significant reduction in status and salary, as is the case in personnel development cooperation, where people without prior IC experience also have a good chance.

A career change to IC should always be thoroughly investigated. The actual possibilities depend on your individual professional experience and the direction you want to pursue. And remember, not every desire for a meaningful job has to lead to a career in IC. If the international dimension of the work in IC is your priority, then fields other than IC can be just as satisfying and promising.

This might also interest you:

Orientation map

Finding your place in international cooperation starts with knowing yourself: use these questions to reflect more deeply and find the information you need.

Discover IC Panorama

What does international cooperation mean? In the panorama of the IC working world you will find definitions, actors and career examples.

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Remain updated about the current trends in Swiss international cooperation thanks to cinfo’s newsletter.

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