Working for the third sector can be rewarding but it’s often hard to get into. Whether you’ve recently graduated or left school and looking for your first full-time job, or you’re moving from another sector, have a look at our top tips to help you take your first steps towards a fulfilling charity career.
1. Research the third sector
Before you start applying for roles, do some online research into the different types of opportunities available. Try to get an idea of whether you’d prefer to work for a large or small charity, or school, university or local authority, for example. Are you interested in fundraising or campaigning jobs? Or are you a communications or HR professional from the private sector who would like to utilise your skills to make a difference in a charity?
Find out what skills you need for the types of roles you’re interested in and what kinds of projects you would be working on. Some employers’ websites and social media channels can be useful sources of information about the organisation’s culture, projects they’ve worked on and what’s involved in different employees’ roles.
The best way to find out what it’s like to work in the third sector is to gain work experience before you commit to a career path so that you can build a picture of your ideal role. Volunteering for different charities can be an excellent way to start.
2. Craft a strong CV and supporting statement
Your CV is often your best tool for capturing the attention of a recruiter, HR or hiring manager initially. A well written CV allows you to communicate your skills and experience, as well as get across your personality to some extent.
The purpose of a well crafted CV is to engage the recruiter and convince them to invite you to an interview. You normally only have a few seconds to persuade them, so make sure it’s clear, concise and free of typos and grammatical errors.
For charity roles, you’ll normally be asked to provide a ‘supporting statement’ with your CV, which has a similar purpose to a cover letter. It’s a chance to expand on the career overview presented in your CV, explaining why you’re right for the role. Before you start writing, think about why you’re interested in the particular role you’re applying for and how you meet the requirements. Reflect on what the organisation does and what the team culture is like. This will help you highlight your skills and abilities appropriately. Harris Hill has some helpful advice on how to write your supporting statement.
Make sure you address the correct recipient, which is usually the recruiter or HR manager, as this will make your letter more personable. If you don’t have a name, you can contact the charity to find out, although ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ is otherwise acceptable.
3. Check your social media
If a recruiter sees your CV on a job board such as Third Sector Jobs and wants to know more, they might look you up online. Try it yourself to see what they’re likely to find, and whether it’s the first impression you want to create. This doesn’t mean scrubbing your social media history, just be smart with your privacy settings to be clear what’s on public display. There’s nothing wrong with restricting access, and it’s better than having no trace of your existence online, which can strike recruiters as strange. At the very least, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and that it doesn’t conflict with any details on your CV.
Use Twitter to help you stay abreast of charity campaigns and initiatives. You can follow and engage with charities you like, share interesting articles and voice your views in an intelligent manner, without being overly controversial or political. If you want to express views that you wouldn’t want a recruiter to see then it’s best to have a separate personal account and name it something different from your real name.
4. Practise being interviewed
Don’t expect your first interview to necessarily land you the job, but you should certainly give it your best shot. Make sure you know your CV inside out and are prepared to explain any of the details if asked. Do your research about the organisation and practise interviewing with somebody more experienced as they can help you anticipate what questions you might be asked.
Practising being interviewed can also help build your confidence, which may be lacking if this is your first interview. Click here for tips on how to deal with job interview pressure.
Questions you may be asked range from ‘What charity initiatives have inspired you?’ to ‘Why do you think you’d be suited to this role?’ Practise answering these kinds of questions ahead of your interview and you should go in feeling well prepared and confident.
Have some questions of your own too - ask the interviewer about their biggest challenges, what they love about their role and what success looks like for the role you’re applying for.
Getting into the third sector can sometimes be tough but if you can demonstrate some relevant experience, transferable skills and bags of enthusiasm for the organisation you will have a high chance of succeeding.