One of the biggest myths surrounding humanitarian workers is that they are not employable outside the humanitarian sector. This couldn’t be further from the truth, because every aid worker shows a remarkable range of skills that make them prime candidates in every sector.
In my coaching sessions, I often encounter the uncertainty that humanitarian aid workers feel when it comes to the question of whether they possess any skills that could be used in other industries.
My response is always the same: “Of course! You have demonstrated so many skills that the business world is looking for that you don’t need to worry about it.” Usually, I am met with disbelief.
Therefore, in this article, I will introduce the transferable skills that you, as a humanitarian aid worker, demonstrate every day, often without even realizing it.
As a humanitarian aid worker, you may have spent years navigating the complexities of crisis zones, supporting vulnerable communities, and working tirelessly to make a positive impact in the world. It’s easy to underestimate the wealth of skills you’ve acquired along the way. Skills that not only set you apart in the humanitarian field but can also pave the way for a successful career in other industries.
So, if you’ve ever wondered whether your expertise is transferable, wonder no more. This article is dedicated to unveiling the hidden talents within you and showcasing how they can be leveraged in various professional settings.
I’ll start with perhaps the most crucial transferable skill of today:
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 1 – Dealing With Uncertainty
If you know anything about humanitarian aid, it’s probably how to deal with uncertainty.
As a member of aid organizations, you are accustomed to working and living in places where things can change from one moment to the next.
You continually face new challenges and must make decisions, often without having all the necessary information.
Isn’t that true?
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 2 – Intercultural Competence
Many humanitarian aid worker skills are transferable, which is why they can successfully transition into other sectors such as social entrepreneurship, political advocacy, or the private sector.
Now we focus on intercultural competence.
Humanitarian aid is inherently an intercultural activity.
To be successful and effective in humanitarian work, one must develop the skills to work across cultures and build relationships with local communities and organizations.
These skills include understanding how people in different cultures think and communicate, managing one’s own emotions, intercultural sensitivity, tolerance for uncertainty, flexibility, openness, and acceptance of ambiguity – all of these skills are crucial for many of the tasks that humanitarian aid workers must fulfill every day.
Mutual understanding and respectful cooperation are not only the keys to success in complex aid projects for the benefit of people in need.
We live in a globalized world, and it is said that globalization is one of the reasons for most of today’s crises.
So, we are all interconnected and must know how to interact with each other to bring about positive change for our world. This knowledge is what a humanitarian aid worker like you brings.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 3 – Decision-Making
What is one of the most frequently sought-after skills of individuals working in large companies or institutions? The ability to make decisions.
With your experience in humanitarian aid, you possess invaluable skills that can be highly transferable to other sectors. And effective decision-making is one of the most critical of these skills.
In challenging situations, you have repeatedly demonstrated your ability to make decisions, even under time pressure, with unclear information, and limited resources.
Many people would shy away from such responsibility, but such indecision could cost lives.
However, you have shown courage that sets you apart from most people and proven that you possess this valuable transferable skill as well.
So, if you have worked in humanitarian aid in the past, the chances of successfully transitioning to another sector are better than you might think.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 4 – Negotiating
Colleagues in humanitarian aid are often uncertain about whether they can apply their experiences and skills in other industries. They can, of course! See, for example, the transferable skill of negotiation.
Negotiation is the ability to identify conflicts, de-escalate situations, and find solutions where all parties win. It is a skill that you constantly demonstrate as a humanitarian aid worker.
In difficult situations, you have proven that diplomacy and negotiation skills are transferable, and you can truly excel in them.
With courage and determination, you have negotiated through a variety of challenges, where one wrong step could have serious consequences not only for the affected people and places but also for you and your colleagues as aid workers.
You have managed to motivate reluctant colleagues to join in, initiate helpful collaborations with other organizations, negotiate agreements with corrupt security forces, enforce better delivery terms with greedy traders, or persuade disgruntled beneficiaries of your plans.
An experienced colleague once jokingly told me, “If you can negotiate in humanitarian aid, you can negotiate anything.” And she’s right!
The process of negotiation is universal, and this transferable skill will lead you to success outside of humanitarian aid in other fields.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 5 – Courage
Without courage, one cannot be a humanitarian worker.
Fearful people do not venture into war zones, think nothing of living in remote areas somewhere in Africa in a mud hut, and do not take the risk of negotiating with aggressive rebels at checkpoints.
As a humanitarian worker, you show courage every day, overcoming your own fears.
A person with courage does not run away from challenges or difficult situations. She is willing to confront them, even when she is afraid.
Many of us didn’t consider ourselves particularly brave, but we often surprised ourselves when we didn’t shy away from dangerous situations. We faced risks because we had a mission and wanted to help other people.
This courage to face difficult situations will help you in any job, no matter where.
You just need to remember that you have it.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 6 – Project Management
As a humanitarian aid worker, you have repeatedly demonstrated valuable skills in project management and team leadership.
You are accustomed to working in high-pressure environments and have proven that you know how to manage limited resources.
You have shown that you can plan, manage, and execute projects on time and within budget while anticipating and overcoming risks.
Moreover, you have proven that you are comfortable with teamwork and can lead a team.
You have demonstrated that you have the experience and skills to lead projects, work under pressure, and deliver results.
This makes you an effective project manager should you ever leave your job in humanitarian aid.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 7 – Relationship Management
This humanitarian aid worker skill is often overlooked but is one of the most important transferable skills of all: the ability to manage relationships.
As a humanitarian worker, you are constantly building and maintaining relationships – with recipients of your aid, implementing partners, local authorities, suppliers, security forces, local administrations, other NGOs, and your donors. Sometimes these relationships are straightforward, but most of them are challenging.
Different expectations, cultures, languages, customs… there is so much to navigate!
But despite overwhelming challenges like these, you have successfully managed diverse relationships!
You have appeared authentic and built trust, skillfully balanced the necessary boundaries between closeness and distance, clearly defined and communicated frameworks for action, acted diplomatically, mediated between different interests, and created win-win situations.
Through this relationship work, you have succeeded in achieving your goals.
All of these are incredibly important skills that you can use in any other job.
Whether it’s building relationships with business partners, colleagues, or customers, you have shown under the most challenging conditions that you can build, maintain, and leverage such relationships for the benefit of the project’s goal.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 8 – Leadership
One of the most important skills that humanitarian aid workers need is taking on leadership responsibility.
In a crisis, humanitarian aid workers are often leaders, regardless of whether they consider themselves managers or leaders.
They make decisions under pressure and must guide team members through complex situations with limited resources to achieve results for the benefit of the needy people on the ground.
Leading and developing people with different experiences, skills, motivations, and expectations into an effective team is not an easy task.
Many of us were never prepared for this role and courageously took the plunge.
In the field, I have repeatedly witnessed how colleagues embraced this challenge and exceeded their own expectations.
Willingness to reflect and show humility, taking on responsibility, having the courage to make decisions, and the ability to convey a shared vision – these are all qualities of effective leaders.
Successful leaders can effectively communicate their ideas and inspire their teams.
The best leaders are those who care for their team members and support them in unlocking their potential.
Leadership is not a position but a skill that can be learned, developed, and improved, regardless of one’s background.
All of this is an essential transferable skill needed in any profession and position.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 9 – Problem-Solving
As a humanitarian aid worker, you have repeatedly demonstrated that you are innovative and resourceful when it comes to solving problems.
In crisis situations, projects rarely go according to plan. You don’t respond to new challenges with paralysis; instead, you embrace the new situation, quickly assess it, collaborate with colleagues, and then make a decision.
You know how to prioritize, delegate tasks, and work hard to implement a solution.
Being able to react flexibly, adapt, and remain calm in crisis situations are all essential qualities for work in many fields.
Your experience in humanitarian aid has prepared you well for work in many positions.
Your ability to adapt to new situations, act quickly, and communicate effectively will help you succeed in any profession.
Transferable Skills of Aid Workers 10 – Celebrating Life
No one can celebrate like humanitarian workers, trust me, because I was one of them.
Every day, humanitarian aid workers are placed in situations where we are confronted with the worst and do our best to help those who need it most.
However, we must not forget that we are human beings with feelings, needs, and desires. A lot of pressure builds up, and how better to relieve all that stress than at a party?
But there’s something else: these parties are a way to remember that we are not just humanitarian workers – we are people who love life.
We are people who understand how to celebrate even the little things, no matter how challenging the working environment may be. So, yes, we humanitarian workers know how to party.
Because we are social and love good company. We enjoy being with people who make us laugh and help us feel something other than sorrow or fear.
And that’s what these parties are all about: experiencing joy and celebrating life in a community.
This rejuvenates you, giving you the energy to give your best the next day, or the day after that, depending on how strong the hangover was.
I hope you have rediscovered some typical humanitarian aid worker skills you possess as well and can use them when applying for your next job. Good luck!
If you want to discuss this further or need help with your next job application, let me know, I´m here to help you.