How to get in to the charity sector

I was recently asked to make a small contribution to Child.org‘s excellent Charity Apprentice programme by writing an article about how to get in to the charity sector. This course teaches young people both how charities work and how to do effective charity work. Applications for the January 2017 intake are now open so if you’re interested in the sector do check it out. You can find my article below.

I want a job in the charity sector. What should I do to get one?


What are you passionate about?

The charity sector is huge in the UK; there are around 180,000 registered charities and an estimated 800,000 paid workers. With this in mind it’s important to think about what your passions and interests are. What have you seen that makes you want to change, or feel better, about the world? Is it human rights for refugees or education or healthcare? Charities want people who believe in their cause and you’ll be much more motivated if you can align yourself with an organisation’s goals.

Network

Network. Both online and offline. Make sure you LinkedIn profile is up to date and ask for feedback from others on how well it reads. Don’t be afraid to contact people on LinkedIn who might currently do jobs that you’re interested in and ask them how they have managed their career. People are often flattered to hear compliments about their careers! Of course, many organisations will post recruitment opportunities on LinkedIn as well. Use Twitter to keep up to date with debates in the sector and to connect with active voices within it too.

If you can find face-to-face networking opportunities then take advantage of these too. Organisations such as the London Young Charity Professionals or the Young Funding Network can be great places to meet interesting people. Don’t feel that the only way to make an impression is being an extrovert; go with a friend and just try and start a few conversations or hear from the inspirational speakers. Sometimes these events are sponsored by charity recruitment consultants such as Harris Hill and they will send staff to meet the attendees.

Get experience

This won’t come as a surprise but getting relevant experience and building transferable skills is crucial to securing a job in the charity sector. Volunteering can be a fantastic way of doing this, along with internships or part time work if you’re studying.

Think strategically though. What do you want to achieve from this voluntary position? Do you want to gain a better understanding of a niche subject? Improve your team working skills? Practice making public talks? Get field experience if you wish to move in to development? Write down some practical steps, along with timelines to make sure that you achieve your goals. Don’t be surprised if you get asked all of the above questions at an interview. A good volunteer manager will want to get to know you and help you achieve your goals. Keep a diary of your successes so you can articulate them on your CV and in interviews. Be SMART. Also make sure to ask for a reference once you’ve finished your role.

What do charity employers want to know about me? How do I become the standout candidate?

Of course, recruitment can vary across the sector but sticking to the three A’s will put you in a good position:

Aptitude

This doesn’t necessarily mean the best degree or top A Level results (although that does help), but proving that you have the ability to do the job you’ve applied for. This will relate back to your experiences and skills that you may have built up through volunteering or other means. When making an application or in an interview be sure to properly articulate your achievements. Making fairly generic statements like, “proven ability to lead a team” doesn’t really mean much. However, if you were to write, “I led a team of social media volunteers at a fundraising event. Online donations went up 12% compared to the previous year and every volunteer said they would recommend the opportunity to a friend.” This highlights the tangible difference you made and proves to a potential employer what you can do.

Attitude

This is becoming more and more important for organisations. Does the person have the right attitude to be a success at our organisation? This goes beyond ‘hard-working’ but entails the ability to work in a team, use their initiative, be adaptable and meet deadlines. Showing that your values and beliefs align with the charity’s cause is also crucial when it comes to your attitude.

Even if you don’t have the most relevant CV or previous experience, convincing the recruiter that you have the best attitude will certainly open many doors for you.

Ambition

Following on from above, if you can prove that your ambition matches the role you’ve applied for and the charity it is part of willput you in a very good position. “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time and how will you get there?” is a clichéd question but it still gets asked often. When answering this, or similar questions, it’s important to show your ambition but be realistic too. Nobody expects you to be CEO within a year or be a £10 million fundraiser after 18 months. Instead try to talk about your professional development and how that might look. Is there a particular qualification that you would like to achieve or a tangible impact working through the charity that you wish to accomplish? If you can be specific that’s great, but remember to show that you can be flexible too.

Where should I look for jobs, and how should you go about it?

Both online and face-to-face networking can be a great way to hear about potential recruitment opportunities in the sector but there are several other key resources that I’d recommend.

 

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