How to Get A Graduate Job in Charity

Charity begins at home, but should not end there - Thomas Fuller, British Clergyman and author 

Finding a job with a charity is the dream of a lot of graduates – both those who are looking for a socially conscious career, and those looking for a more flexible work-life balance than can usually be found in the private sector. To get into the not-for-profit sector, you’re likely to need some relevant experience. There’s then the challenge of finding a job to apply for, and the task of creating an excellent application. In this article we’ll look at all three in turn.

Amanda Neylon, Head of Digital at Macmillan Cancer Support, gives her tips on getting into the sector with Bright Network members at our annual Bright Network Festival

Why work in the charity/not-for-profit sector?

You probably know that it’s not about the money – salaries for charities tend to be lower than in the private sector. There are two main benefits to charity work. Firstly, if you work for a charity that you believe in you can feel that you’re making a positive difference to the world and secondly, charities often offer more flexibility in working hours and job sharing opportunities – great if you have important outside interests or family commitments.

What jobs are available for graduates?

Because the sector is so vast, charity jobs span almost everything, from finance to logistics or media. There are also specialist roles for those with the right degree, such as surveyors and engineers. If you’re not a specialist, your first graduate job will probably be some kind of assistant role – marketing assistant, fundraising assistant, operations assistant, etc. In smaller charities, your job title might be officer or manager from the get-go, and you may well have to pitch in wherever else you’re needed.

Is a charity job right for you?

The charity sector particularly attracts people who are committed and motivated, and whose values include making a difference in the world. Employers also look for:

  • Flexibility and innovation
  • Multitasking ability
  • Excellent interpersonal, communication and negotiation skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Teamworking ability
  • A lively and positive personality

Getting experience

There are several ways to get the type of experience for which employers might be looking.

For example, volunteering is a boost to your CV, and a great way to network. As a volunteer, you might find out about roles at the charity that might not be widely advertised.

Some larger charities offer internship and work experience placements. You’ll gain insights into the running of the charity, which you might not get as a regular volunteer.  Mostly these placements are unpaid, so you’ll need some other way to support yourself

Running your own fundraising event will give you valuable experience, especially if you want to go into event planning, fundraising or volunteer management. You’ll also demonstrate your drive, enthusiasm and commitment.

Finding a job

Many graduates get into the sector by applying directly for an entry-level role. Experience is an advantage, but not an absolute necessity. It’s more important that you come across as enthusiastic, competent and likeable. Charity-specific job websites such as charityjob.co.uk can be a good resource for finding these roles.

Small charities are unlikely to advertise widely. If you keep track of nearby charities, you can send out speculative letters expressing your interest in working for them. You can also check for jobs on their websites.

Some of the larger charities run paid graduate training programmes. There are also options like the Charityworks programme, which works with various different charities to train talented candidates. However, paid graduate schemes are much rarer in the not-for-profit sector than they are in the private sector.

Have a look at our Charity and Social Enterprise Graduate Opportunities 

Still at uni? Look at our Charity and Social Enterprise Internship Opportunities

Application tips

Research is key. You should be able to show that you understand the charity’s mission and how it operates. For example, if you’re applying to be a fundraising assistant you should be able to talk about the charity’s past and upcoming fundraising events, as well as fundraising events for comparable charities.

Top tips on firm research

Accept that you’ll need to work your way up in any organisation. Administrative work and data entry are the price you pay to get a foot in the door.

Also, try to apply for charities you genuinely believe in. It’s hard to fake enthusiasm in an interview, and harder to work in a role where you don’t feel motivated by what you’re doing.

It's also important that you show you can be flexible, enthusiastic and positive. What extra spark could you bring to the role? What skills would let you chip in and help in other areas? Charities can be very collaborative, so it’s good to show that you’re always willing to lend a hand. As always, play close attention to the person specification. What evidence do you have to show that you tick the boxes?

Next: Skills You Need to Succeed in the Charity Sector