How do I get a graduate job in a charity?
Get ready to make a difference. Find out about salaries, work experience and how to search for work in the charity sector, along with alternative ways to bring about positive change.
Raising funds, awareness, standards, hackles… charities and not-for-profit organisations often grab media attention. However, what you may not find out from the news is how organisations within the charity and not-for-profit sector differ, how the sector is structured and how you could secure yourself a paid position.
Competition for jobs can be stiff – after all, who doesn’t want to change the world? Use our advice to keep one step ahead of the competition and find paid work in the sector.
What is the charity and not-for-profit sector?
It’s tricky to define the charity and not-for-profit sector in a way that reflects its diversity. Not all voluntary organisations are run by volunteers, for example, and many charities are also registered companies operating on large budgets. In its broadest sense, the sector includes small community groups, housing associations, social enterprises, environmental groups, universities, colleges, museums, schools, places of worship, trade unions, NGOs and sports clubs.
However, not all organisations above will be charities: for example, some housing associations are for-profit organisations, and some museums are run by local authorities. You may also be surprised to learn that independent schools are charities. If you have strong beliefs about working in a charity or not-for-profit, look carefully about how potential employers acquire money and how they use it.
Why should I join?
This sector is all about making change. If you want to know that your work makes a difference, you’ll enjoy a role in this sector. It’s also diverse, with a wide variety of jobs on offer.
Plus, as well as contributing your skills, you could experience greater job satisfaction than people working in the private or public sector because you’ll have the chance to do work in tune with your values. In addition, the not-for-profit sector offers comparatively flexible working conditions, with many employers offering part-time working and job-sharing. This means you can balance the competing elements of work, family, leisure and community commitments.
What will I be doing?
Anything and everything. Smaller organisations are likely to want to recruit generalists – people who can turn their hands to a number of jobs – while larger organisations will have the resources to employ people to do more specialist tasks.
What could I earn?
Salaries tend to be lower in the not-for-profit sector, reflecting the need to use funds for the benefit of the community. But that doesn't mean you'll be working for free: larger charities in particular often offer more generous salaries to attract the best candidates.
How can I find a job in the charity sector?
Small employers don’t have high recruitment budgets. Look on industry-specific job sites such as Charity Job , in the national press and on the websites of industry publications such as Third Sector. A few charities and not-for-profit organisations run graduate schemes. On these, you’ll get the chance to work in a number of different teams or departments, and build a range of skills.
However, small employers don’t have high recruitment budgets, so they often use low-cost or free advertising when it comes to job adverts. You might start your job search by looking at local job sites and community social media groups, and signing up to charities’ newsletters. Councils for voluntary service are umbrella organisations that support charities within their area, and they may advertise jobs within the groups they work with. Register for news updates from organisations that interest you and follow them on social media.
Since smaller charities may not be recruiting specifically for graduates, there’s little point in searching for jobs with the word ‘graduate’ in them. Instead, look for entry-level roles, such as assistant or co-ordinator ones, and browse charities’ websites to see what job titles they use for jobs that sound graduate level. At the same time, look at the skills and qualities they’re looking for and think about how you could demonstrate or acquire them.
Specialist and general recruitment agencies may also be able to help. Most specialist agencies are based in London but some hold information about charities all over the country. Other more general recruitment agencies may put candidates forward for work with not-for-profit organisations, particularly if you’re able to do short-term contracts or temporary work.
Whatever kind of organisation you'd like to work for, it's always helpful to get your name known: consider volunteering or doing temporary work for an organisation, or simply get in touch and ask how and where they advertise.
Where else could I work?
If you're committed to making a difference, you could also consider working for a political party, a pressure group or an environmental organisation. Like charities, these organisations try to change things for the better. As in the charity sector, competition for jobs can be stiff and there are few graduate scheme-style jobs available.
Don’t forget that the public sector – local authorities, public health organisations and the Civil Service – also work to bring about change. These organisations tend to be larger and advertise roles more widely.
How else can I make a difference?
Working for a charity isn't the only way to start changing the world. You could consider combining paid work in another sector with voluntary work, or explore corporate social responsibility and employee volunteering schemes run by commercial organisations. Experience in the voluntary sector is sure to help you if you do decide to apply to work for a charity.