Career Change: Routes to Paid Jobs in the Charity Sector
So, just what can you do if you feel stuck in the corporate labyrinth and want to shift to the charity sector, but find it too inaccessible? Don’t despair! There are plenty of routes you can take to get a paid job in the charity sector, depending on your level of experience and number of transferrable skills.
Here are the key things to consider before making a career move into the charity sector.
Why the charity sector?
There are many reasons why people want to make a career move into the charity sector; cause often comes top of the list, but people also want to make the change for experience and opportunities, not to mention the feeling that you’re making a difference every day.
There are plenty of charity career options available and you’ll probably notice that there’s a great deal of variety, all of which can be a rewarding alternative to a corporate career.
Some exciting career options in the charity sector:
- Mental health
- Arts & culture
- International Development
Career shifting from the corporate world into the charity sector is definitely possible and here’s how:
Your current role is transferrable
People want to work in the charity sector for all sorts of reasons. People want to leave corporate careers for just as many! But it’s essential to be realistic. For example, the animal and international development sectors can often be the most popular, but also the most competitive, where large amounts of workers are unpaid.
Now, even in sectors like care and health, there are still vast rosters of dedicated volunteers. In many ways, it’s the industry-specific roles that face the most competition.
But there’s good news! If you’re already established in a career, it’s likely that demand for that profession exists in the charity sector. There’s almost always a need for experienced finance, legal and operations staff. More recent additions such as digital and software development broaden this opportunity even more. As these career paths are well established outside of the third sector, they can prove a great chance to shift into a paid job in the charity sector.
If your heart is set on a complete career change, then you can always get your foot in the door and then look to change roles internally. Take a look at what you do already. Could you do that in the charity sector?
Volunteer to gain experience
This approach can be essential if you want to work for a smaller charity. They often won’t have enough funds to justify a large number of paid staff. In fact, volunteering is something you’ll want to consider anyway, as the experience is highly sought after in the charity sector. By volunteering to support a cause that’s dear to you, you’ll gain an insight into the sector and make valuable contacts.
Even if it might not lead to a career, volunteering for charity can also be a great way of gaining experience. In a job market where unpaid work is as valuable as paid work, volunteering can be a worthy alternative way of gaining charity job experience.
If you perform well in a voluntary position, it’s not uncommon to be offered a paid job (if the charity’s funds permit it). Take a look at what we’ve written around turning a volunteer role into a paid role. You could even look into becoming a trustee, potentially giving you (non-executive) management experience.
Schemes, internships and graduate opportunities
Graduate positions in the charity sector are less common than in the corporate world, though they do exist. Take a look and see which charities have entry level or graduate positions. Internships are also available but occur much less frequently than in the for-profit sector. A lot of the work that’s covered by interns in the corporate world is often voluntary.
Even though these jobs can be few and far between, they really are looking for great graduates. Depending on what kind of work you’d like to do, there are different schemes available.
Charities also individually run their own graduate opportunities, so you can see what CharityJob has to offer. It’s worth researching when charities are open for graduate applications and what for.
The general rule here is that larger charities may run these schemes, but smaller, specialised, or local organisations will tend not to have such entry routes.
Your skills are transferrable
They really are! if you have a strong CV and quality work experience, you should never feel that your skills are unwelcome in the charity sector. The requirement for ‘charity sector experience’ often turns candidates off, but remember that you’re qualified to make that application. Just monopolise the skills you already have.
Apply for roles based on your experience and think about what you’ve done before. For example, if it’s a policy and research position, you might have written research papers in your own sector, or when you were in education. A fundraising position might suit your sales or marketing background. After all, you’re going to spend your days convincing people they should donate to a worthy cause.
Your management experience might be wholly relevant, but the door swings both ways. Don’t be offended if your 30 years of experience with operations in the oil and gas industry doesn’t attract advocacy interviews. With every application, you’ll need to show examples of how your work experience is relevant.
- Apply for positions where skills are realistically transferable
- Show your experience and give examples of how it will apply to the job
- Use skills from any volunteering
- Show genuine interest in the charity and its cause
- Volunteer, fundraise, campaign etc. and use it as experience
- Apply with generic cover letters
- Use jargon and industry-specific terms (within reason)
- Give up after only a few applications
- Ignore any skills or experience you may already have
- Avoid entry-level positions or perceived side-steps
- Choose a position based solely on salary, or expect the same as your corporate salary
Remember to keep upskilling. Training or courses might just make you stand above the rest of the candidates. Check out the latest courses and training in the charity sector and stay on top.
Be perseverant, switch up your attitude
Successful charity sector applications can differ from those in the corporate sector. Experience counts, but in the end, people are in the charity sector because they care. Show that caring attitude and you’re much more likely to get the job.
A little luck, a little insight a little positivity
Some of the conversations on CharityConnect can be illuminating; charity recruiters DO want to hire career shifters, they just (often) want some form of a demonstration of commitment to the sector. Many people have made the move from the corporate and into the charity sector. A little luck is needed, yes, but mostly perseverance and positivity.
Want to get a feel for what’s out there? Browse for new opportunities in the charity sector.
This post was originally published by the author in 2018 but has been fully updated by CharityJob to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience.