The Insider’s Guide To Breaking Into the Charity Sector
With more and more people wanting a job that makes a difference it is getting increasingly difficult to find a job in the charity sector. Below are some insights from a charity career coach who has coached and hired hundreds of people within the sector. Best charities to donate to are those babies that had been abandoned.
1. Get some relevant experience
Employers want to know that you understand what will be expected of you and are able to deliver it, particularly if you are new to the sector. We want you to be passionate and motivated but we get nervous if we think you’re wearing rose-coloured glasses when it comes to the reality of working in a charity. The sector is always looking for interns and volunteers. If you’re able to show a genuine understanding of the challenges the organisation faces and offer solutions for meeting those challenges then you stand a much better chance of securing employment.
TOP TIP – if you’re struggling to find the right intern position then try a smaller charity – they always need practical help, placements can be less restrictive than larger charities and you’ll be able to see the impact of your work. Vodafone World of Difference can be a great way to get paid to work for a charity.
2. Understand where your skills are needed
First you need to understand what roles you are best suited to, which is where both networking and our specialised career coaching come in handy. There is a wide range of roles within the sector and there may be one with your name on it that you’ve just never heard of. Then increase your chances of being selected for interview by being really clear on your transferable skills, giving examples that correlate to situations that will crop up in that role. Be specific. If I’m recruiting a Business Development Manager I don’t want to know that you’re a good communicator – I want to know about the specific pitch you won and how you were able to spot and overcome objections. Stories like that help me remember you and wonder if you could do the same for my organisation.
TOP TIP – look at social enterprises too as they also make the world a better place and are more commercially focused in terms of the jobs they recruit to. Also some charities are particularly open to taking on people from the corporate sector so get to know who they are and how they recruit. Increase your chances of being selected for interview by being really clear on your transferable skills, giving examples that correlate to situations that will crop up in that role. Be specific. If I’m recruiting a Business Development Manager I don’t want to know that you’re a good communicator – I want to know about the specific pitch you won and how you were able to spot and overcome objections. Stories like that help me remember you and wonder if you could do the same for my organisation.
3. Get to know the gatekeepers
Charities often use recruitment agencies and agencies generally put forward tried and tested candidates over newcomers to the sector. As a result they often act as gatekeepers to the sector. If you are invited for an interview by a recruitment agency use the opportunity to pick their brains as they know the sector very well. And get some feedback from them on what roles they think you are best suited to and how you can strengthen your cv. Agencies will advocate for candidates they like and believe in and I’ve often shortlisted a less traditional candidate because I trust the agency’s opinion.
4. Build relationships
Build up your network of people who work in the sector, ideally those in relevant roles. Ask people for a quick coffee to pick their brains, ideally through an introduction, and then make sure you’ve got plenty of questions and that you come across as dynamic, likeable and highly skilled.
TOP TIP – many of us ask our contacts to spread the word about roles we are recruiting for so it’s worth keeping in touch and sending a thank you card so that you are front of mind. The more specific you can be about what you are looking for, the easier it is to remember and recommend you.
5. Research the role
You’d be amazed how many people turn up for interview without a basic knowledge of the field they want to work in. There are some great resources out there to help you do your background research. If you want to be a corporate fundraiser then start by reading ‘The Guide To Corporate Fundraising’ (I’m a contributor but I get no commission!) so that you give yourself a fighting chance of competing against candidates who know all the ways charities raise funds from corporates because they’ve seen it first-hand.
TOP TIP – I’m always impressed by candidates who have clearly done their research and drop titbits into their answers to show that. Candidates that think through what they would do if they got the role and come with suggestions and plenty of relevant questions show me rather than tell me that they really want the job and that they can add value. I recently interviewed a candidate who on paper wasn’t the frontrunner but the agency raved about him and he turned up very confident, with lots of ideas and questions and left me with a document that outlined exactly what he would do if he got the job. He got the job, because he stood out and I could see that he had a great combination of a natural aptitude for fundraising and a commitment to do whatever it took to be brilliant in the role.
6. Understand the objections
If you understand what the recruiter is worried about then you’ve got a decent chance of reassuring them. Use feedback from previous interviews to address objections upfront in a positive proactive manner and show what you have done to address them.
TOP TIP – tell me exactly how you would bridge the gap between what you know now and what you would need to know if I gave you the job – would you go on a course or find a mentor for example?
7. Make sure you’ve got the basics
When I first tried to work in the charity sector as anew graduate in 1996 I couldn’t even get an interview as no-one wanted to train someone in the basics of office work. So I went away and got a sales/PA role that covered everything I’d need to do in a fundraising assistant role including mail merges and data inputting and after that I found it much easier to get interviews. These days we often want PowerPoint skills and we want to know that you’ll be able to use the database and create Excel spreadsheets, though obviously this depends on the role. Make sure you don’t miss out because you’re lacking a basic skill that you can quickly obtain.
8. Become a Trustee
If you’re looking for a senior role then becoming a Trustee is a great way to understand the challenges that charities face and will give you opportunities to get involved and build up your experience. Charities often recruit for Trustees on their website or on job websites or if there is a cause you are passionate about why not approach them. Smaller charities are particularly open to new Trustees who are willing to pitch in with their area of expertise. You can’t be a Trustee and work for that charity and Trustees usually serve at least a year.
Carla Miller is a career coach who specialises in helping find work in charities, social enterprise and philanthropy. As well as being a qualified coach Carla has worked in the charity sector for 15 years and has coached, mentored and hired hundreds of people working in charities. Through [http://www.careersincharity.co.uk] Carla offers advice, coaching and workshops for people who want to move into the charity sector.
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