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

5 Skills you Might Need in a Human Rights Job

Ever wondered what skills potential employers are looking for in their candidates? Depending on the position you are applying for, there are several skills you will need to demonstrate in your application to be considered for the role. Although many companies will ask for several years’ experience in the field, some of the requirements will be so-called transferable skills, which you can gain from any academic or voluntary engagements you might have. Building on these will ensure that your job options are open and varied!

Public speaking and presentation skills

Every organization has a spokesperson, even if that’s not their official job title! Although you might not get to speak in the media in the first entry-level job you get, public speaking skills will make you stand out among a pool of candidates and can highly improve your chances of getting selected. If you have never really stood on a stage as part of your school’s theatre play or fear speaking in front of large audiences, there are now plenty of workshops and courses you can attend that will give you the confidence you need to learn the art. Although you might not suddenly become a talented speaker, you will still have the chance to learn the tricks of the trade! However, communication skills required on the job go well beyond speaking in public. You might be meeting potential sponsors, recruiting volunteers, or presenting a new briefing to your colleagues – whatever the task, as long as it involves other people, it requires great communication skills! The trick is, be prepared, plan what a few things you are going to say, and adapt your presentation to your target audience!

Learn Public Speaking

Research and writing

You might be looking for a position as a researcher for NGOs, government agencies, or academia, in which case, research experience is the first skill you’ll have to demonstrate you possess. However, chances are that you’ll have to conduct short or longer research projects even if you work in other positions. As research often informs the operations of the organization, it is key to many roles in the sector and having experience with it will certainly aid your application. There are many different outcomes for your research; you could be writing educational materials for the public, internal staff briefings and full reports, or even social media posts and emails! Whatever you are drafting, excellent writing skills and a command of the languages of the organization are a must. It will help to learn more about different forms of publications and how to produce them; there are many online guides that will teach you exactly how to write them step by step.

Learn Research and Writing

Interpersonal skills

Applying for work in the human rights sector? Or even as a translator or a volunteer? Working with people who have been victims of abuses requires a deep sensitivity and understanding of how to be around people in the most varied circumstances, including deeply traumatic ones. In such cases, being a friendly face might not be enough. Although you should never try to act as a counsellor (unless you are qualified as one!) or provide legal advice, being able to connect with people is key. It is not easy to identify the particular features a person must have in order to demonstrate adequate interpersonal skills, but bearing in mind the context in which you’ll be working with should tell you that flexibility and adaptability are essential (and will certainly make your job easier!). In many countries, if you’re working with vulnerable individuals you’ll have to provide evidence of your criminal record and, most importantly, a willingness to keep confidentiality and safeguarding as priorities in your daily work. Reflecting on the ethical and moral dilemmas you might encounter in the field might also help you answer some tricky questions during your interview.

Learn Interpersonal Skills

Project management

Ever heard of the project management cycle? Perhaps you’ve taken a course in project management as part of your human rights degree or accessed a humanitarian training that involved managing “projects”. The truth is that most work in the field is now categorised into projects for both funding and evaluation purposes, so having some project management experience is a great advantage. There are now plenty of online courses that are free of charge, so if you want to start straight from the basic concepts, Coursera and edX are the first places you might want to look at. However, there are many other ways to gain skills without having to study more. Have you ever thought of starting your own student society or leading a campaign on campus? It doesn’t matter how small it is, any experience that shows your initiative and organisational skills is a great place to start. Remember that being a project manager does not simply mean proving your leadership skills; in fact, it is as much about thorough planning, attention to detail, and positive collaboration with your teammates than it is about ensuring the project’s smooth implementation.

Learn Project Management


Yes, every job has its downside: a lot of bureaucracy, paperwork and files! Having some admin experience is therefore essential not just for receptionists and PAs, but for whatever roles you may be applying for. Being able to manage time, priorities tasks, and multitask are skills that you will be thankful to have once in the job and they are often desired skills for entry positions. In some cases, you may be asked to prove your abilities at the interview stage by completing some tasks that will demonstrate how you deal with incoming workload under pressure and time constraints. Do not worry: these skills can be trained and any experience of office work, or even essay writing will help you develop these. Some jobs require knowledge of specific computer programmes; however, general IT skills are common requirements for most jobs in public and private organisations. Some companies might use their own softwares and programmes, which you will be trained to use on the job, but having a general practicality with different systems will help you get used to them faster.

Learn Administration

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.