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Choosing the right employer for your graduate career in the charity sector

Who you choose to work for will make a big difference: not only to your job itself but to the impact you work towards. Consider the different types of charities, roles and entry routes to help you make the best decision.
The huge range of roles available in the charity sector provides plenty of scope for putting your particular qualifications to use.

As your career progresses and you gain experience, it is relatively easy to transfer between charities when vacancies arise – especially for those focusing on similar causes. It is likely that you will work for various different employers during your career, but choosing the first can be daunting. Here are some considerations that will help to make the selection easier.

What type of charity should I work for?

Choosing an employer is an important decision for a career in any sector, and especially when it comes to picking the right charity. Since the drive to work for a humanitarian, heritage or environmental cause most likely stems from a desire to make a difference, you’ll want to align your hard work and commitment with a cause that perfectly suits your passion.

If it isn’t immediately clear, think carefully about what matters most to you. Would you rather your work made an impact abroad or closer to home? Do you want to

  • fight poverty?
  • campaign for rights?
  • provide education?
  • improve healthcare?
  • save the environment?
  • or embark on another worthwhile cause?

Many charities work across a number of areas, of course, but it’s worth having a personal objective in mind. You should consider the approach you prefer when it comes, for instance, to humanitarian aid – disaster relief or long-term development projects? This may not affect the day-to-day tasks of many roles within the charity, yet is vital to the impact you work towards.

What sort of jobs will be available in the charity?

The range of roles available within charities is wide and encompasses a lot of variety. In addition to project work and fundraising, opportunities can be found in areas such as retail, human resources, graphics design, communications, IT, marketing, finance and research. Administrative roles are considerably more numerous in larger organisations and an international charity will suit a desire to work overseas.

Using your specialist skills

The huge range of roles available in the charity sector also provides plenty of scope for putting your particular qualifications to use.

Third sector organisations are so diverse that you can work for them in just about any capacity – whether your background is in science, education, health, administration, publishing, property, law or another specialism.

  • Cancer Research UK, for example, runs a range of funding schemes that support scientists carrying out cancer research in different specialist fields and at different stages in their careers.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières, in addition to office roles, employs qualified doctors and midwives.
  • Engineers and technicians are also employed by many charities, such as Action Against Hunger.
  • Most charities will employ IT staff to keep their websites as functional and professional as possible.

Should I apply for a graduate scheme or a graduate job in the charity sector?

It’s worth giving some thought to whether you want to start off in a job or on a graduate scheme. Opting for a scheme may seem like a straightforward path but can actually prove pretty tricky when it comes to charity employers.

There are very few actual graduate schemes in the sector, although charities such as Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust do run programmes in numerous business areas, including research, finance and marketing. Charityworks is a charity than runs a graduate development programme for those wishing to pursue careers in the third sector; trainees receive a salary and undertake placements working for partner charities. There are also two-year long development programmes available with Teach First, teaching in schools in disadvantaged areas while gaining a PGCE qualification. A similar programme, Frontline, was inspired by Teach First and places graduates in frontline roles in children’s social work. Schemes of this nature can prove stimulating and structured career entry routes but they are by no means the only ways into a fulfilling and successful third sector career.

The career path you can expect to follow through the charity sector is much more varied and less formally structured than is found with many professions, so a place on a scheme is not required to progress from a graduate entry level job onto more advanced roles. Some of the most popular charity employers featured in the UK 300 do not run graduate programmes.

Some employers to consider for your graduate career in the charity sector

  • ActionAid
  • Action Against Hunger
  • Amnesty International
  • Barnardo’s
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Charityworks
  • City Year
  • Comic Relief
  • Crisis
  • Frontline
  • Médecins Sans Frontières
  • Oxfam
  • People and Planet
  • Save the Children
  • Stonewall
  • Teach First
  • Wellcome Trust
  • WWF