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Students' strategies for managing their job search: charity and not-for-profit

Boost your chances of getting a job with charities or not-for-profits

Our top tips on how to stand out from the crowd and kickstart your graduate career in charities and not-for-profits.

One of the best ways of making yourself attractive to employers is to benchmark yourself against your peers; by discovering what other students considering careers in charities and not-for-profits are doing, you can ensure that you stand out from the crowd.

We’ve delved into the results of the Graduate Survey 2018, the largest UK survey of students’ attitudes towards job hunting, to extract key information and advise you on what steps to take on your job hunt. The survey was conducted by Trendence UK, a partner of TARGETjobs’ owner, Group GTI. 73,517 students took part and, for this article, we are focusing on those who expressed an interest in working for charities or not-for-profits.

Five tips to get into the charity and not-for-profit sector

We’ve organised key stats, facts and figures from the Trendence UK Graduate Survey into one easily-understood infographic to summarise what students are doing to get ahead in the charity and not-for-profit sector, and how they feel about their future career.

Compare yourself with your peers considering careers in charities and not-for-profits

1. Think more widely about work experience with charities

Most students interested in the charity or not-for-profit sector have work experience of some kind – either related (66%) or unrelated (85%) to their course. Furthermore, just under half the students interested in this sector (47%), have worked, studied or volunteered abroad. Internships of more than two months, on the other hand, appear to be far less common – only 17% of penultimate-year students and 29% of final-year students interested in charities and not-for-profits have done one. However, it is worth noting that it is very unusual to get internships of that length of time in the charity sector.

So, get as much work experience as you can, at home or abroad. Formal internships are thin on the ground but can be found with big name charities and not-for-profits (eg the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and Macmillan Cancer Support). It’s worth investigating formal internship schemes as having one on your CV will certainly help you stand out to future employers and it is one of the best ways to learn how an organisation operates. However, bear in mind when you apply for an internship that charities are likely to favour candidates who demonstrate strong dedication to their cause, such as through having previously raised funds for them or volunteered with them. In fact, working as a volunteer is one of the most accessible and popular ways of gaining work experience within the charity sector.


2. Social media can you find opportunities in the voluntary sector

Though most students interested in charity or not-for-profit employers are active on social media – 93% use Facebook, 76% are on Instagram, 67% use Snapchat and 77% are active on YouTube – far fewer of these students use the same social media platforms professionally. Although 72% of students use LinkedIn in a manner related to their careers, only 24% use Facebook, Google+ or Twitter for careers purposes.

In order to keep up with everyone else, you can set up a LinkedIn account and have it looked over by your careers service or, if you know someone working in charity, get them to look over it – the more polished your account, the more it will impress your potential employer. Begin by making sure that it is tailored to the not-for-profit you want to catch the eye of, and that your key achievements and skills are put front and centre.

Don’t forget to curate your social media accounts, too, so nothing unsavoury comes up if recruiters type your name into a search engine. You should also consider using those same social media accounts (or set up a professional one) to find employment. Many charities advertise jobs, internships or volunteering opportunities through social media. These same social media accounts also allow you to network with industry professionals and start creating a good reputation for yourself within your sector of choice. Start by joining the conversation on social media platforms – posting about issues in your field, sharing relevant articles and establishing a dialogue with others in your industry.


3. Maximise your networking opportunities

Around half the students interested in the charity and not-for-profit prefer to engage with employers through campus marketing methods – 66% via the university careers service, 64% through stands at careers fairs, 57% via on-campus careers workshops, 55% through guest lecturers and 49% via employer presentations. On the other hand, connecting through joint research with their department (34%), talking to brand ambassadors (30%) or attending networking events such as dinner accounts (37%) appear to interest students less – you can use this to your advantage.

Make the most of any opportunities to connect with professionals in the charity or not-for-profit sectors. If, for example, your dissertation intersects with professionals in the not-for-profit sector – say, for instance, those working in the social health or mental health if you are studying a social sciences or psychology degree – reach out to professionals for help with research and build a relationship from there. If charities come to any careers events run by your careers service, make sure you attend.

Use these chances to start building relationships with industry professions so that they remember you when you apply for jobs with them. The connections you make may also have invaluable advice to share about how to get ahead in charities and not-for-profits. Make sure you make a first good impression by dressing professionally and have some talking points or questions ready such as ‘I am interested in X aspect of your organisation – could you tell me more about it?’. Don’t forget that sharing your knowledge and experience of charities and not-for-profits shows employers your enthusiasm for working in this field.


4. Research potential charities and not-for-profits

Many students consider the following factors when choosing potential charity and not-for-profit employers: 59% feel diversity and equal opportunities are a ‘very important’ factor, much higher than the average across all sectors, which is 47%; and 67% rate a ‘good work/life balance’ as a very ‘important factor’, again significantly higher than the average (58%). Furthermore, only 11% of students interested in the sector consider a high starting salary to be a ‘very important’ factor when choosing an employer, just half of the average across all sectors of 22%.

Spend some time deciding what is important to you in an employer and then research which charities would match these values best – do you prioritise training and development opportunities or friendly colleagues more highly? Is a high starting salary important to you? Knowing your values and priorities will help you find employment that suits you best far more easily. If, for instance, you value a high salary, you may want to see how you can incorporate your wish to do good outside work rather than making it your career – because the sector isn’t known for high starting salaries!

Once you have your list of priorities and if you are still interested in a charity career, start looking for voluntary organisations on our public service, charity and social work employer hub, then move on to charities’ websites and social media accounts.


5. Manage your expectations

A huge number of students interested in charities and not-for-profits worry about their future careers (70%, compared to the average across all sectors of 60%). So, manage your expectations about the possibility of finding work but don’t get dejected or give up! By acting on the information above, you can stack the odds in your favour. If you’re still worried about your future career, consider what else you can do increase your chances of finding work – maybe you could start with some part-time volunteering to build up your experience.