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Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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4.1 Tips on how to get your first job in the voluntary sector

Here are some useful tips from National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) (2015) on what to do or not to do when seeking a job in the voluntary sector.

How to get your first job in the voluntary sector

Given how tough the jobs market is right now, it is perhaps unsurprising that NCVO received hundreds of applications for two trainee positions recently.

In the process of sifting applications and doing interviews, I met many great candidates, often looking for their first break into the voluntary sector. Almost everyone told us how hard it is to find paid, entry-level roles in the sector – so here are a few tips for anyone in this position.

1 Before applying: Think beyond the “household name” charities

When people first think about working in the voluntary sector, it’s often the big charities which spring to mind. But most voluntary organisations are smaller, focused on their particular communities and keen to recruit great staff and volunteers.

2 Before applying: Get to know the sector

Most charities will be glad to tell you a bit about what they do, so check out their websites or give them a quick call. This should be exploratory, getting ideas about the types of organisation you might apply to and the work they do.

Remember that many charities rely on volunteers or will have very busy staff, so don’t take up too much of their time with questions or send them your CV without doing your homework first – see below.

To get an overview of the charity sector, you can look around NCVO’s website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] […] .

3 Applying: Do your homework – what does this charity need?

If you’re applying to work for an organisation, do your homework first.

You should know about the organisation’s work and aims, and anything else you can find out. You should think about what the organisation needs to do its work and how this particular role fits in. This will give you the basis for a much more compelling application.

4 Applying: Write about the charity in your covering letter or application

Based on your research, you should demonstrate your understanding of the organisation’s needs in your application.

For example, you might be applying for an admin role, but should still demonstrate that you know about the organisation’s overall aims…

E.g. ‘The ABC Charity already supports 220 local people to develop their skills, and aspires to reach 150 more people over the next year. The ABC Administrator must therefore support the organisation’s staff to work as efficiently as possible and have good systems in place to support expansion.’

5 Applying: Communicate what you have to offer, that will meet their needs

You can then go on to talk about your story and what you can contribute.

Always give examples of what you’ve done, to match what it is the charity needs from this role.

Beware a common pitfall: talking too much about your longer-term personal ambitions. While it’s great to know where you’re going in life, it can make employers nervous about your commitment. For example, if you’re applying for an entry-level job, say in a charity’s fundraising team, but saying that your long-term plans are to do research abroad.

6 Interviewing: Be positive about the charity and what they do

One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from other candidates is to demonstrate real knowledge and enthusiasm for the charity’s work. It really shows when someone has done their homework and cares about supporting the charity, not just their own personal goals.

7 Interviewing: Use examples, not assertions

Another common pitfall to watch out for is using assertions.

Interviewers often ask questions like, ‘How would you manage your time?’ This can make it sound like you should answer with an assertion ‘I would develop a to-do list and…’

Whereas, it’s usually better to give examples of what you’ve done before, as this will distinguish you from other candidates: ‘I’ve managed my time effectively, for example when I helped arrange a fundraising event at the local school. I developed a to-do list and…’

It also means you can demonstrate results: ‘Because of all the planning that went into the event, it ran like clockwork on the day and the Headteacher thanked me personally.’

8 Interviewing: Follow-up

The jury is out on whether it’s a good idea to send a follow-up letter or email, after an interview. Some people think this is a good opportunity to restate your interest and key points. My own view is that writing afterwards won’t affect your chances of getting the job – this is decided in the interview – but that it is good manners to thank your interviewers for their time and consideration.

You will now move on to thinking about reflective learning in the workplace.