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How to land a graduate job in the charity sector

Brianne Turk

Careers Commentator
Bouncing out of bed feeling passionate about your work is an attractive prospect. Unsurprisingly, many others think so too.

When it comes to offering graduate roles, the charity sector lags most other sectors. Many charities lack training programs and graduate schemes altogether, and positions are rarely classified as entry level roles. This means you could be interviewing alongside far more experienced candidates. There’s also the challenge of locating vacant positions in the first place, seeing as they’re not always widely advertised.  

But don’t let that deter you.

What works in your favour is that unlike other professions, charity work employment doesn’t usually require a specific degree or pathway. The roles on offer are so diverse (we’ve written about these here), that organisations interview people who come from all sorts of academic and work experience backgrounds. Qualifications and industry specific skills are highly regarded, but due to the ever changing nature of charity work — fluctuations in funding, instability of volunteers etc — recruiters place even greater value on a worker’s flexibility, adaptability, diversity of skills and their prior experience in the charity or not-for-profit sectors.

So if you find yourself interviewing for a charity fundraising position against someone with a few years experience in marketing, don’t lose hope! Your experience running benefit events at university, together with your capacity to adapt and problem solve when a spanner is thrown in the works, could be what lands you the role. Charity work might offer fewer graduate positions, but there are certainly plenty of unique ways for you to impress.

So where should you begin your search?

Look in all the normal places

When you start your charity employment search, look in all the usual places first. Browse job listings on websites such as seek and Prosple Australia, and be sure to check out ethicaljobs.com.au who specialise in jobs that aim to make the world a more equitable, just and sustainable place. You could also create a list of all the charities in your local area, and contact them directly for vacant positions.  

Other places to look include careers services, newspapers, community noticeboards and sector publications.

Consider alternative approaches

The problem with the charity sector is that sometimes you only hear about positions through word-of-mouth, so it’s a good idea to reach out to family and friends and see who knows what. They might be able to share some inside information, or even make an introduction for you. Joining forums or heading out to events is a great way to network with others and let them know you’re on the job hunt. Signing up to a recruitment agency that specialises in the not-for-profit sector is also a great idea.

The back door

Instead of waiting around for a full-time role, sometimes it’s better to show flexibility and find a back-door route.

Why not offer your skills as a volunteer and work your way up from there? Most charities take volunteers more readily than paid staff, so keep your foot in the door volunteering at a charity, while taking paid, part-time work elsewhere. Then when a paid position becomes available at the charity, you’ll not only hear about it first but you’ll already have had a chance to impress.

If you do take this route, don’t be afraid to be upfront with the organisation about why you’ve decided to volunteer. Let them know that you’re looking for valuable, skill-building experiences, and be transparent about the time frame you’re willing to volunteer for. This will give the organisation a clear idea of your goals, and allow them to assess your suitability for any positions that crop up. It will also hold you accountable to reassess your options when your time frame is up.

Other backdoor routes include accepting part time, contract or temporary work.

Speculative applications

It’s hard to make the most of opportunities that you don’t even hear about, so why not send off some speculative applications? Speculative applications involve actively seeking out employment opportunities with organisations who aren’t currently advertising vacant positions. As another way of getting your foot in the door, you could even ask for the chance to do some work shadowing or work experience if no paid positions are available.

Gain more experience

In the charity sector, work experience is considered more important or at the very least, just as important, as university qualifications, so if you’re finding it tough to land a job make it a priority to diversify your CV with a range of impressive skills and experiences. You could take on a volunteer research role for a political party, put on a fundraising event in your local community, or offer to run the publicity for a university theatre performance. While charity workers are hired for a specific strength, they’re often expected to lend a hand in other areas where needed, so building eclectic skills could give you an added advantage.    

Of course there’s also the option to put your charity dreams on hold for just a few years, and build your work experience by taking paid work in other sectors first. You might have a bit more luck when you have some workplace experience and professional credibility under your belt.

This too has its advantages.   

Happy hunting!