Careers In Development Consulting

Description of the Field

Development consulting firms provide technical expertise and knowledge to governments, development institutions, and private sector firms. According to James Fay, Ph.D., in Guide to Careers in World Affairs, "Over 4,000 international consulting firms are registered with The World Bank. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) maintains records on 1,000 U.S. consulting firms." Typically, firms are for-profit organizations that supply expertise, support, and advice to international agencies and private industry as these organizations plan to design and implement projects in emerging economies. The field is generally divided into two broad areas: social services and technical services. Social services may include consulting on healthcare and education projects while technical services may include providing technological solutions to infrastructure building, engineering, urban and rural planning, and agricultural design.

An array of companies provide development consulting services and work on large development projects conducted by agencies such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank, and USAID. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) offer small-scale development consulting; some larger international consulting firms, such as Booz Allen and Deloitte, dedicate entire divisions to development consulting.

Often organizations seeking development consultation will request proposals from several firms. Proposals outline the strategy, budgeting, and solutions for the particular project. Proposals chosen will result in a contract.

With increasing globalization and the shifting focus toward doing business in developing countries, this field shows much future promise for growth.

On the Job

Consulting consists largely of problem solving, research, data analysis, and creating strategies for the client. The work is extremely hands-on and fast-paced. Furthermore, jobs in the development field often will require travel. Development consulting is client-centered and involves much face-time with people. Learning to develop formal relationships with people and becoming comfortable negotiating and collaborating with people are critical aspects of the job, even for those researching and analyzing data. In addition to strong analytical, research, project management, and quantitative skills, it is important to most employers that their consultants be strong oral and written communicators.

Career Paths

Research positions, administrative and associate project management, and procurement specialization are jobs that may often be offered to entry level employees. Also, international development consulting firms prioritize employee development, and make an excellent entry point for those seeking to build their experience in international development work.

After a couple of years, larger organizations allow employees to move into higher management positions.

After 7 to 10 years of experience, as well as a Master’s degree, officer level positions in finance, evaluations, and project management positions become a realistic option.

Generally speaking, specialist and management positions require a Ph.D. an MBA or a Master’s degree in International Affairs (MIA) or Public Affairs (MPA) and years of experience in the field.  Specialist positions will generally be focused in a particular field and on a particular region or country.


In recent years development consulting has evolved to include many opportunities. With recent technological developments, developing nations need experts to take on new projects. With that, comes the demand for development consulting.

However, generally speaking, additional hiring in development consulting firms often depends on anticipated contracts so it is difficult to design a recruiting timeline.

Qualifications Necessary to Enter the Field

Key skills for a career in development consulting include analytical skills, strong writing ability, foreign language proficiency, background in business, economics, and management and experience working and studying international affairs in a specific region of the world.

With projects becoming more technical in nature, a background in computer systems, engineering, coding, GIS mapping, and statistics is attractive to employers. Here is a sample of how data is being used in the field

Furthermore, given the international nature of the work, cultural awareness and previous foreign exposure through study abroad or travel are important qualities for job seekers.

If firms are focused on specific areas, technical experience in that area, such as agriculture, architecture, public health, urban planning or hydrology will be benefit your job search. Those skills will really set you apart as a candidate. Working in another area of consulting while pursuing an advanced degree or regional specialization may provide another route to an eventual career in development consulting.

Several large and small private sector consulting firms offer internships for students between their third and fourth years of college. Internships with consulting firms often provide formal training and develop your skill set to make you competitive in the work industry. If you excel at your internship position, the firm may offer you full employment upon your graduation.

Sample Group of Employers

Abt Associates -


Booz Allen Hamilton -

CARANA Corporation - 

Dexis -


Associates International -

Crown Agents USA -​


Development Finance International -

Deloitte -

Democracy International -

Devtech Systems, Inc. -

Dexis Consulting Group -

Economic Consulting Associates -

Encompass, LLC - 


IDInsight -


International Development Group -

The Louis Berger Group -

Lloyds TSB Bank -

Management Systems International Inc. -

The Mitchell Group -

Panagora Group -

Palladium Group -

Sibley and Associates LLC -

Social Impact -

Tetra Tech, Inc. -

The United Nations -


Selected U.Va. Organizations/CIOS

For a full list of organizations at UVA, please see:

            The Adam Smith Society


            FGC Consulting


            Virginia Consulting Group

Sample UVA Career Programs

Deloitte Consulting Federal Strategy and Operations/ Human Capital Information Session