The not-for-profit sector has always been an attractive option for experienced people who reach a stage in their careers where making a difference and feeling a sense of personal satisfaction become more important than status or financial reward. With their compelling causes and varied career paths, charities are now attracting a much wider range of applicants, including those looking for their first job. However, convincing a not-for-profit organisation you have the skills and motivation to help achieve their goals can be a challenge if you have limited relevant experience.

Here Garcia Williamson, former Head of Talent at Cancer Research UK, shares some thoughts on what you can do to stand out as the best candidate for that desired charity role:

Researching

My first piece of advice is to do your research into different types of charities. There are over 185,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone, varying in size and purpose so you will need to ensure you identify with their cause and feel personally motivated and passionate to play a part in their success.

Taking stock of your skills

Knowing what you have to offer as well as being able to articulate your passion for the cause is a key element in gaining access to that first step on the charity jobs ladder. Many of the larger charities operate like corporates and you will see they have the same roles that you would expect to see in a private or public sector organisation. So if you have experience in Finance, HR, IT, Marketing and Communications etc. this could be a good entry point. If you have an interest or a desire to work in a more charity specific role in Fundraising, Supporter Services, Policy, Strategy, Research or Advocacy roles, you will need to think about how your current skills and experiences match those required by these roles.

Considering the options

Entry-level roles are often found in Fundraising and Operational departments, providing a perfect charity career launch pad, whilst more seasoned professionals can expect to go in at a more senior or managerial level across the range of disciplines. If you have worked in a corporate or public sector role you may have to explain why you want to move from a potentially larger organisation with a big team, responsibilities and a financial package to match, to a smaller and often less well financially rewarding charity.

Getting noticed

You don’t need to have done voluntary work providing you can still show you have the skills required for the job. However it does tell a recruiter something about your values, and your fit with the charity culture, if your CV demonstrates that you have given your time and skills to help, and for free, at some point. Think back to school and university societies, supporting events, participating in charity fundraising activities, as well as any pro bono work, internships or more formal charity work experience that you may have overlooked or forgotten to include in your CV or cover letter.

If you haven’t done anything like this in the past, now would be a really good time to sign up to support an event or to do some fundraising. You may find yourself parking cars at a music festival, collecting at a major sporting event, serving hot drinks to celebrity charity runners, or using your time and skills to work with people, animals or a wide range of other causes. Whatever you do, you will be gaining valuable skills, feeling useful and it is all great fun and good for your networks. See the LSE Volunteer Centre for advice on volunteering or book an appointment if you’d like support with finding an opportunity. Alternatively you could consider an internship as a way of gaining third sector experience whilst testing out your enthusiasm for the sector. You can read more about how to find paid work experience on our blog.

Finding the right role

There are a range of websites where you can search for information and opportunities jobs in the charity sector:

Reviewing your progress

So you have done your research and know where your interests lie. You know what you have to offer and can match your skills and experiences to those required for the roles for which you want to apply. You’ve updated your CV to reflect your voluntary work or charity activities and have written your cover letter emphasising your motivation to join the specific charity.

After that it’s important to use your connections and networks to find out what it is really like to work for the organisation. Don’t forget to research any media and press releases to find out how the charity is doing and how it is viewed by the public.

If you go through all these steps then this will really help lay the foundation for a career in the charity sector. Remember though that it’s important to prepare and practise prior to your interview, act professionally and can talk enthusiastically about the charity. Your new career path is just beginning.

Good luck!