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Read more about working in Charities ↓

The Charity sector offers extremely rewarding work, and can provide staff with excellent training in a variety of skills. Roles in Charity are as varied as the charities they represent, and graduates can expect to be doing anything from fundraising and sales, to organising events and implementing projects.

Because these are charities, the salaries offered may be modest, but candidates should remember that the work can make a genuine difference - and they will get to see it first-hand. Salaries at some of the bigger charities can also be quite competitive.

How to Get a Job in Charity

Charities are often small, tightly-run ships where the employees work in small teams to achieve big goals. Candidates need to be versatile, and ready to take on different tasks and work hard in areas they may not feel comfortable.

Candidates should display the following:

1. Volunteer work

Non-profit organisations want applicants who are interested in the work they do, not the financial rewards, and volunteering is the best way for a candidate to prove to an employer that they are right for the job. Giving up their own time to help with a particular cause shows passion and commitment, and will help give a candidate a deeper understanding of the work involved.

There are often opportunities for students to get involved in volunteering while at university, whether it be through a company like Enactus or with the university itself.

2. Organisational skills

Workers in the Charity sector need to have exceptional organisational skills, as much of the work revolves around organising awareness and attracting donations, and they often need to push these two streams on several fronts at the same time.

Candidates must be on the ball and meticulous in their approach. They should provide examples of their organisational skills, such as juggling university work and extracurricular activities with a part-time job.

3. Business skills

While these organisations are charities, they still run like businesses. Candidates need to be prepared to take on many different responsibilities as part of a small team, and must be comfortable with sales, organising marketing and arranging events and fundraisers, all while keeping track of their office duties. Graduates should showcase any relevant skills such as sales, customer service or office work.

4. Innovation

Charities are now going beyond the usual revenue streams of donations and monthly subscriptions, turning to new media and digital streams to raise awareness and increase funds. Candidates should show an innovative approach to fundraising and a proactive attitude. Graduates should provide examples of fundraisers and events they helped organise while at university.

Charities Case Studies

Lisa Mackenzie Daniel Hunt
We need individuals who are bright, able to make sense of complex tasks and communicate clearly. We're recruiting individuals with the potential to become future leaders at Cancer Research UK

The Employer - Lisa Mackenzie (Resouring Advisor - Cancer Research UK)

Lisa Mackenzie

Name: Lisa Mackenzie
Job Title: Resourcing Advisor - Cancer Research UK
University: University of the West of England
Course: Business Administration with Marketing

What competencies do you like to see in candidates?

As with any large organisation, there are some key competencies we look for, including strong problem solving abilities, excellent communication skills and the ability to build stakeholder relationships. We need individuals who are bright, able to make sense of complex tasks and communicate clearly. Ultimately, we're recruiting individuals with the skills and potential to become future leaders at Cancer Research UK, so we look for people who are ambitious and brave, as well as those who are passionate about our work and the cause. As a progressive organisation we also look for candidates with the skills to quickly adapt to a fast-moving environment. Our graduates will need to be able to pick things up quickly from day one in order to deliver demanding assignments.

Can you talk us through the application process?

The first stage is to complete an online application form, applications for next year are open until 4th of January 2015 and Graduates can apply via our website. Here we're looking for applicants to demonstrate their interest in working for Cancer Research UK specifically, and show passion for the cause. It's also important to give examples of any experience gained outside of academic studies. It could be through a voluntary role, a paid position or relevant hobbies and interests. In a competitive graduate market, it's important to stand out.

Once shortlisted, we'll call the applicant to discuss the graduate scheme and make sure it matches up with their hopes and expectations. It's a great opportunity for those applying to ask more questions about the scheme and to bring their application to life. At this stage we want to understand more about individual's motivations for working at Cancer Research UK and hear more about the different examples given in their application form.

The final stage of the interview process is the 'assessment centre', which will take place in April and May. Applicants who are invited to attend can expect to take part in a day of exercises including a group task, a presentation and an interview. During the group task we'll ask applicants to work as a team on a specific problem or issue. Attending an assessment centre can be a daunting experience, but here are my three top tips for success:

  1. Be yourself - we want to see the real you.
  2. Be as relaxed as possible - if you're calm you'll be much more authentic on the day.
  3. Take some time before the session to relax and get prepared. Prepare for the day by reading over your application form and reading as much about the role and Cancer Research UK as possible.

We make final offers to successful graduates around mid-May and the scheme begins in September.

What is the most common mistake you see in an application, which leads to candidates being rejected?

When reading through applications, it's really clear when a candidate has given their application some time and thought. A common mistake is not utilising the full word-count that we offer for each answer, it's important to make the most of it! We receive applications in the thousands, the majority from very highly educated and intelligent individuals, but that's not all it takes to get through in a competitive graduate market. Rather than making statements, we need some context so bring to life each point using examples. I've always found the 'STAR' framework really useful when structuring answers, it's about thinking through the whole situation and not just one part, it's not just explaining the final outcome but showing how that result was achieved. By applying this framework, candidates are encouraged to explain the entire story - the Situation they were in, the Task they were faced with, the Action(s) they took and the end Result.

It's also key for graduates to research the organisation they are applying to and consider what motivates them to want to work there. What is it about Cancer Research UK? What do you know about it? What do you hope to get from it? What can you bring to the charity? It's clear when a candidate is just applying for any graduate programme but if they can give good answers to those key questions then it shows they've really thought about it.

What is the main piece of advice you would give a graduate entering the Charity sector?

Regardless of where you are applying, give 100 per cent to your application. We look for people who are highly motivated by the cause, but it's equally important to show business acumen and the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment.

Successful applicants will be joining us at a really exciting time as we begin to make our new strategy a reality and aim to ensure that three in four people will survive cancer within the next 20 years. We have brand beliefs - 'stronger', 'bolder', 'sharper' - and we need individuals who strive to have those qualities as they'll be playing a vital part in helping us reach our goal.

What's the main challenge graduates face when they start?

Some of our graduates have found the transition from an academic environment to a professional environment a challenge. They go from working with their peers, to being in a position where they have to engage and influence people from a variety of disciplines and professional levels, including heads and directors. Learning the structure of an organisation as diverse as Cancer Research UK can be really challenging initially but it's a great opportunity to liaise with stakeholders at all levels across the breadth of the organisation. There's also a strong support system in place including a line manager, past graduates, a mentor, as well as HR and the graduate development advisor - so plenty of knowledgeable individuals on hand for advice!

Graduate placements are driven by business need at the time, so one challenge is not knowing where your next placement will be until a couple of weeks prior to joining a new team. Some might find this a challenge, however our graduates thrive on the variety of opportunity they are offered.

Where do you see company in two years' time?

As an organisation there is so much we will be looking to achieve over the next two years. Reflecting on the last two years gives an idea of how ambitious we are as an organisation. Just a few of the charity's achievements include: investing in TRACERx, a groundbreaking study of lung cancer that will unlock the secrets of how tumours develop and evolve; launching our first ever Citizen Science project, which saw us produce a game that harnesses the power of its players to analyse cells; launching a refreshed brand; being part of the development of the Francis Crick Institute; successfully launching the Stand Up To Cancer campaign; setting the standard for plain cigarette packaging; and increasing our fundraising income by over 6% to £490 million!

There's a lot going on here! And that's what makes it one of the most exciting and motivating places to work. Whatever area of work, we're always looking for opportunities and as an organisation we're constantly driving for improvement.

As previously mentioned, we've recently launched a new strategy and our goal is to accelerate progress and see three in four people survive cancer within the next 20 years. In two years' time I'd like to think we'll be even closer to that ambition, having pushed the boundaries of success to eventually make this a reality.

If you weren't a Resourcing Advisor, what would you be?

There are plenty of opportunities at Cancer Research UK and I can certainly see myself continuing to progress and develop here. We're very supportive of progression within and across departments, so who knows!

Longer term, and if I were to ever have a career change, I'd think of a way to combine my passions and interests with the desire to run my own business. Having said that, one of the main things I enjoy about my role is building strong professional relationships and providing advice and guidance to others, so it'd be great if I could somehow throw that in too!

The Employee - Daniel Hunt (Graduate Trainee (Policy, Information and Communications) - Cancer Research UK)

Daniel Hunt

Name: Daniel Hunt
Job Title: Graduate Trainee (Policy, Information and Communications)
University: University of Durham
Course: Geography

How did you find your graduate job in the Charity sector?

I researched for graduate schemes for charities in my final year of University, and was particularly interested in the Cancer Research UK programme. I worked through the interview process of an application form and online tests, before a telephone and face-to-face interview, and was fortunate to be offered a position at the end of this process.

I work on the Policy Information and Communications stream of Cancer Research UK's graduate scheme, and there are also streams for Fundraising and Marketing, Scientific Strategy and Funding, Finance and Technology.

Why do you think you were successful at Next?

It's hard to answer without sounding headstrong! I hope that it was because of my proactive and positive approach to my work, and demonstrating a willingness to get involved. At University, I worked for a young carer's organisation and volunteered at a local homeless charity in between terms, which really got me interested in public health and the ability of interested people to bring about meaningful change.

What do you actually do?

The graduate scheme offers four sets of six-month placements. I have worked on evaluating our health campaigns and running an online insight community to test how effective our communications are. I have also worked in policy and public affairs, which involves engaging parliamentarians in the life-saving work of the charity. I am currently helping to produce a paper which will form part of our prevention strategy, outlining our future research interests - in areas such as tobacco, obesity and alcohol - to help people reduce their risk of preventable cancers. In between placements we take part in various development activities aimed at developing core skills and greater self-awareness. For instance, recently we undertook presentation skills training and started action learning sets. Post-scheme there are various talent programmes we can look to join as well as online career support in the form of our Career Development Zone.

What skills do you need?

Having strong written and verbal communication is important, as is being able to multi-task and prioritise your workload. I really like that a lot of my work is quite academic - I feel I learn something new every day - so a willingness to learn and develop is also important.

What is the best thing about your job?

I love that the work we do engages people with the charity cross a number of different audiences. From supporting and engaging patients, to providing health information to the public or policy recommendations to MPs and peers, we are working towards the common goal that we will bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

What is the worst thing about your job?

That's a tough one! I really enjoy my work, so I would say that one challenge is that in the second year we need to begin thinking about transitioning off the scheme into substantive roles. Whilst researching and applying for roles takes time, we receive plenty of support internally from our mentors and HR, as well as career workshops - focused on CV writing and interview skills - and in the form of career coaching from a qualified coach. Over the ten years of the scheme, the majority of trainees have been successful in finding internal roles with the charity, which is good to know!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope I'll still be working in the voluntary sector, and ideally still at Cancer Research UK. In particular, I've really enjoyed working on policy and political campaigns on behalf of the organisation, so I hope I'll still be doing something similar.

What advice would you give to graduates applying to Cancer Research UK?

I would say it is really important to consider why you want to work for Cancer Research UK, as well as in the charity sector. I found it really useful to read the core documents that the charity produce, namely our annual report and research strategy, as it helped give me a good understanding of the aims and ambitions of Cancer Research UK. In addition, having a good understanding of our current and former political campaigns and how we provide health information through the media is also useful. Finally, having a good understanding of your strengths will allow you to feel confident with what you can bring to the role.

If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with Cancer Research UK, please take a look at their company profile.