Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

5 Tips for Networking in the Human Rights Field


It’s generally known that a huge part of getting a job in human rights, policy, or international development is networking. Networking is also good for connecting with other individuals and organizations doing similar work who may be interested in partnering or collaborating with you. Especially in the field of human rights where collaboration among agencies and organizations is increasingly encouraged, networking can help jump start a career, connect you to others with similar passions and interests, and create a mutually beneficial relationship between professionals and/or organizations. However, networking can be tricky to navigate; you want to make a genuine connection but you also want the meeting to be beneficial and useful for both people involved. Here are some tips for effective networking for genuine connections that are also professionally beneficial.

  • Finding a balance in conversation

Talking about yourself can be difficult and feel awkward, but in networking, it’s absolutely necessary that you let the other person know why they are an important connection for you and why you’re an important connection for them. Don’t brag, but do highlight some of the major achievements you’ve had in your academics and/or job. Tell them how you got interested in your field and the steps you took to get where you are. It’s important to establish credibility by showing that you share interests and that you know what you’re talking about and won’t be wasting their time. Be sure, though, that when you talk about your achievements and work you’re truthful and humble, giving credit to anyone who was involved along the way.

It’s also important that you ask questions about the other person. Show genuine interest in their work, their interests, and their backstory. Ask them questions that show that you want to learn from them and can benefit from hearing about their experience. If you’re not great at asking questions, you can simply ask them questions they ask you or questions that you would want to be asked yourself. Give them the chance to highlight their achievements and listen actively to engage with them and show you’re really listening and interested.

When you’re meeting other professionals in your field, it can be easy to do all the talking or even let them do all the talking; it often feels awkward for the first few minutes, but it’s important that you show the person that you know your field and that you also express interest in their work. A key part of effective networking is finding a balance in conversation between sharing your work and interests and asking the other person about their experience.

  • Don’t go empty-handed, literally or figuratively.

Anytime you’re going to potentially be networking, make sure you have business cards on hand. If you’re looking for jobs, take business cards and resumes, just in case. Even if that person doesn’t have a direct connection to a job, they may be able to pass your information on to someone else. Plus, coming armed with your contact cards shows that you’re professional and think ahead.

Additionally, doing your research on the person you’re meeting, the organization they work for, etc. can help in being able to relate your own work to what they’re doing. It can also help you come up with specific questions ahead of time so you know where you want to direct the conversation. You don’t need to know everything about the other person, but it’s always good to know some basics about their workplace and some of their major accomplishments. In general, this information is easy to find on the internet with a simple search or by looking through the organization’s website, including their staff bios and news articles, if possible.

By going to a networking meeting with business cards, resumes, and some general information about the person you’re meeting, you can eliminate some of the awkwardness, guide the conversation, and show that you prepare well and think ahead.

  • Take advantage of opportunities that can lead to networking.

Go to events; volunteer for community outreach opportunities; invite your professors and coworkers to coffee to find out about their experiences and insights. College, grad school, and entry-level jobs offer some of the best opportunities to network with other professionals, build your contacts, and learn from others in the field. Human rights organizations usually hold fundraisers, awareness events, and several other events that can be great chances to connect with people in the field, talk about your work, and learn about their experiences. Generally, these events are ideal places to exchange contact information to set up a one-on-one meeting later on (in other words, take business cards!).

Going to events for your organization or in your city can also show other professionals that you’re passionate about your work, that you want to learn more and connect with others, and that you’re willing to get involved. One of the best ways to network is to show up and be seen. Others will begin to know who you are and what you do, connecting you to more opportunities to work with the human rights issues that you’re passionate about and connecting you to more professionals in the field that can help you along the way.

Additionally, time spent traveling for work can be a great opportunity to network with other professionals in the field. If you’re attending a conference, make the effort to introduce yourself to people and find out about the work they’re doing. If you’re visiting a site, ask your employer and coworkers if they recommend meeting with anyone while you’re there, outside of that city’s office. Take advantage of opportunities outside of the office to talk to others about the work they’re doing, highlight your achievements, and make a name for yourself in your field.

  • Use social media wisely and to your advantage.

Social media can be an extremely useful tool in networking, whether it’s through LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or even Twitter. Follow accounts that are related to your work, and use these sites to keep up with some of the big organizations in human rights issues. LinkedIn can be confusing to use, but one of the best ways to use it in networking is to see who your contacts’ contacts are. You can easily see who your friends and coworkers are connected to and use that information to ask them to introduce you to someone else in the field and make that networking connection.

Twitter and Instagram can also be useful for connecting to professionals and organizations in your field—simply follow their accounts, if they have them. These platforms can also be a way for people you’re networking with to get a sense of what you’re interested in, so make sure that you post interesting, relevant, and edited posts. These sites can help build a repertoire and create a “brand” for yourself, which is useful in networking, especially when you’re applying for jobs. Social media can be a good way to find out who your friends and coworkers are connected to, to show off your interests and skills, and to follow along with other professionals in your field that could be potential networks.

  • Be helpful to others, rather than competitive.

Because of limited job opportunities and the difficulty of breaking into human rights careers, professionals in this field can tend towards competitiveness. However, an overlooked aspect of networking could be offering help from your own knowledge and experience, instead of holding back. This will help make you a valuable asset to those in your network, and it can lead to natural connections outside of your circle through recommendations.

Human rights is a field that tries to encourage collaboration and cooperation because they often lead to improved programming, research, and policies. By showing that you are willing to help coworkers and people in your network, you can gain a reputation for professionalism, expertise, and character, which are all useful in expanding your network, especially during job searches.

Networking has been established as an important piece in human rights careers. By networking, you can learn from others in your field, establish a good reputation for yourself, and get connected to multiple people and organizations that can help start or boost your career. Use social media wisely; don’t give into competition; make the most of opportunities; always be prepared, and learn how to find a balance between showcasing your work and learning about the other person. With networking skills, you will gain important and helpful contacts in human rights organizations and have opportunities to learn from experienced professionals.

About the author


Allison Reefer

Allison Reefer is a young professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She works with a refugee resettlement agency to help refugees and immigrants in the city, and she volunteers with a local shelter for human trafficking victims. She obtained her Master in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Writing from Geneva College, focusing most of her academic work on human trafficking and migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to write, read, sing and play bass guitar, practice Russian, and explore her city.