How to land your ideal charity job: live Q&A highlights

Third Sector Promotion Harris Hill

Key take-aways from our exclusive live chat with Harris Hill about how to find your perfect charity role and stand out to recruiters.

How can you tell if a charity’s workplace culture is right for you? Can you cross-skill from the commercial sector to the third sector? And what’s the best way to work with recruiters? All this and more were discussed in the recent Third Sector Jobs Live Q&A, in partnership with Harris Hill.

Sharing some of their extensive charity recruitment knowledge and expertise were:

  • Hayley Wilson, senior consultant, Harris Hill
  • Natalie Lawford, senior consultant,Harris Hill
  • Gabriella Lee, sales director at Third Sector Jobs

The panellists were on hand for an hour on the Jobs in Charity LinkedIn group to answer jobseekers’ burning career questions and help them get the edge when applying for charity jobs.

Read on for a summary of the take-aways from the live Q&A.

How can I tell before I join as an employee whether the culture of a charity is right for me?

HW: Firstly, very often you will get a sense of this from your interview, so don’t be afraid to ask those questions at interview. Secondly, the charity sector is small and very open to networking, so see if you’re able to get in touch with someone who has worked at the charity before or is currently working there, for more insight.

GL: Make sure you do your research before applying to any role. Look on Glassdoor for reviews, look online, reach out to any employees and ask lots of questions in the interview! I would also suggest reading some of the ‘Day in the Life’ pieces on the Third Sector Wonderful Workplaces hub. This will give you a real insight into what it is like to work at different charities and different functions within the charity.

Read the interview with Faye Marshall, director of permanent recruitment and deputy CEO, Harris Hill, about what makes a wonderful workplace in the charity sector.

What’s the best way to work with a recruiter if you’re not sure exactly what role you’re looking for?

HW: At Harris Hill we work consultatively with all of our candidates and as far as possible we will meet with new candidates, discuss your CV and experience, and also really find out what you’re looking for next. We will be able to advise on what we think might suit you and perhaps suggest something you’ve not thought of before, so getting in touch and making an appointment is the first step.

What would you advise someone who wants to go from industry into the third sector?

NL: Be clear on what path you want to take. I would suggest researching what area is of interest to you so you can be confident when talking to potential employers.

GL: Make sure you read the job description extremely carefully. What qualities / experience are they looking for? What transferable skills can you take into this role? For example, I was previously in law and now I am in sales! I used the ability to form a logical argument/debate as my way into the corporate world.

HW: Transitioning into the charity sector from the private sector is hard! My advice is to write your CV for the job you want, not the jobs you’ve had, so make sure it’s concise and only include relevant and transferable experience to the job your applying for. Highlight your relevant achievements, removing any jargon that would leave someone outside the sector asking, "what’s that?"

Unfortunately, as it is a competitive sector to break into with lots of applications to sift through, the best thing you can do is make it as easy as possible for the recruiter or hiring manager to see your skills and the benefit you can bring to the organisation.

We see more and more people from the commercial sector transitioning across to the charity sector, bringing with them a commercial approach that is hugely beneficial to charities that face day-to-day funding challenges.

With years of communications experience in the private sector, can I cross skill into the charity sector? I’m finding it difficult to break in with limited charity experience.

GL: Of course you can! I would suggest starting to look at some of the larger charities such as Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation, as they are running more like corporate organisations and highly value skills from other sectors.

HW: Effective communications for charities and non-profit organisations is an essential requirement in the current challenging sector. Knowing how to communicate your message and your goals can be the difference in generating new donors and broadening your income sources.

We see more and more people from the commercial sector transitioning across to the charity sector, bringing with them a commercial approach that is hugely beneficial to charities that face day-to-day funding challenges. My advice is to keep applying for roles as well as volunteering with an organisation in your spare time. This will broaden your awareness of how charities operate and give you an insight into how your experience and knowledge can benefit an organisation.

Browse the latest charity jobs from Harris Hill

I have been out of the charity sector for eight years. I am an experienced project manager with a wealth of transferable skills and experience. How can I progress myself to get back into the charity sector?

GL: Potentially take a step down to ease yourself back into the sector. Things have changed a lot over the past 10 years, especially with the rise of digital. This would show how eager you are to get back into the sector and a willingness to learn.

NL: As you’ve been out of the sector for a long time, trying to get back into this competitive area is tough. Unlike fundraising where there is a shortage of candidates, there is no shortage of project managers with more recent sector experience. I would advise you to consider roles that are slightly more junior - this way a potential employer would see you as real value for money and you get the chance to get some recent experience and brush up on your skills. Another option you could consider is volunteering - that’s always a good way to get back in to a charity role.

The benefits to candidates at all levels of using recruitment agencies is that we can help you to make sure your CV and supporting statements are representing you in the best way possible and we can advise on which roles to focus on and which perhaps aren’t suitable.

When do charities use agencies to recruit? Is it usually for more senior positions? Would you encourage graduates to use recruitment agencies?

HW: Whether a charity uses an agency can depend on many things.Sometimes they will try to recruit themselves in the first instance then talk to agencies if they’re not satisfied with the response. Many of our clients come to us straight away as they know we will be able to find them quality candidates in a reasonable time frame, as we don’t rely on advertising alone.

The benefits to candidates at all levels of using recruitment agencies is that we can help you to make sure your CV and supporting statements are representing you in the best way possible and we can advise on which roles to focus on and which perhaps aren’t suitable. We can make you aware of things you perhaps wouldn’t come across in your own searches. Typically, we have fewer jobs for graduates specifically, but we do have a number of junior roles and can advise graduates on where to look for more information on graduate schemes.

I have lots of volunteering experience. Where should I look for entry level third sector jobs?

NL: Harris Hill would love to help you on your job search and as soon as you’re registered with us we’ll be in touch with any entry level roles we think you’d be perfect for. We would also advise checking relevant job boards and ensuring your LinkedIn profile is active, up-to-date and marked as ‘open to hearing about new opportunities’. Connecting on LinkedIn with charities you feel passionate about and would like to work for also means you will be able to see as soon as a new vacancy comes up.

You mentioned you have volunteering experience which is great and will really set you apart from other candidates. We would definitely recommend going back to charities you’ve previously volunteered with, to see if they have any upcoming opportunities. You already have a connection there, so it’s definitely worth using it!

GL: If you look on Third Sector Jobs not only are you able to filter by salary but also sector, function and location. I would also suggest making sure you read the job adverts in full and potentially contacting the employer for a full job description if it is not attached to the job advert. This will ensure you are applying to the roles which are perfect for you!

I’m interested in going freelance. Do you have any advice or benchmarking information?

HW: Harris Hill publishes an annual salary survey which is a great guide for permanent salaries, which may be translatable to a point, but for more specific answers related to your experience I would recommend getting in touch with our temps team who will be able to give you a good idea of what is achievable and reasonable in this climate. They can be contacted at

Now that nearly all job applications are done online, it can be hard to follow up. Should I wait to hear or be more proactive?

GL: If it is a role you’re truly passionate about and believe you fit the bill I would always say follow up! As a recruiting manager myself I always feel that candidates’ having the right attitude is half the battle. I think a quick email or phone call shows you’re proactive and passionate, which is hard to come by these days! Remember, the employer is just as eager to find the perfect candidate as you are to find the perfect role!

NL: I would suggest waiting a week after the deadline and then constructing a polite email to follow up. That being said, you can’t always expect feedback after an application. Interview yes but not always after the initial application.

Are agency services free of charge to job applicants?

NL: Of course - no charge at all.

View the discussion in full here.

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