6 Tips for Your First Job in the Charity Sector

4 minute read

Are you ready to spend every day making a difference in your job? Whether you’re a seasoned worker looking for a change or someone who’s a first-time job applicant, you want to ensure your application stands out. Here are six tips for your first job in the charity sector.


1. Use your volunteering experience

Charities don’t just hire anyone; they hire people who live and breathe helping others. Volunteering should be considered an extended part of your CV.

Don’t just say you’re a ‘passionate environmentalist’ or an ‘avid animal-lover’. Show it through examples of your volunteering efforts. Whether that’s spending your free time campaigning for recycled waste or devoting your Saturdays to helping at the animal shelter. It’s key to show that volunteering is part of your everyday life.

You might be passionate about one cause but decide to apply for a job in another. Don’t think that means your volunteering efforts don’t count, because they do. It shows that you’re an active and engaged member of the community, you’re willing to set aside time to help others and are committed to a cause.


2. Show your passion for the cause

Whether it’s an entry-level job or one a bit higher up, many job roles require a certain tick box of technical skills. When it comes to the charity sector, it’s still important to have these skills, but more emphasis is often placed on the makeup of the person.

In this industry, it’s all about who you are. You need patience, passion, kindness, empathy, motivation, organisational skills and the ability to deal with your emotions.

Just remember, many skills can be picked up on the job. In fact, some recruiters even prefer to hire people that they can train up themselves or that come from another sector.

Having an interest and understanding of the real issues facing the charity sector, an overview of the current climate and knowledge of work the charity is doing may be a deal breaker over someone who has every skill but none of the other elements.

Want to learn more about the sector? The NCVO is a good place to start.

6 Tips for Your First Job in the Charity Sector

3. Highlight your transferable skills

Even though you’re looking for your first job in the charity sector, this doesn’t mean you don’t have the skills needed to excel in a charity role. In fact, you probably already have many transferable skills that you’ve gained from previous work or voluntary experience.

Think about what you’ve done before, and how the skills gained from that experience could be transferred into the role you’re applying for. For example, if you have sales or marketing experience, this easily transfers into a fundraising role.


4. Plan ahead

When moving into a new industry, especially the not-for-profit world—do your research. Not everyone realises that the sector consists of more than just charities; there are social enterprises, community interest companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and voluntary groups. And within each of those, you have both large and small organisations.

When applying for an entry-level job, the size of the organisation can affect your career path. There are pros and cons to working for both.

Working for a smaller charity means you might have the opportunity to gain a broader set of skills. Fewer people in the team means you may have to work across different areas allowing you to grow and progress, gaining experience across the organisation.

This is ideal if you don’t know exactly which department you want to work in, as you’ll have the opportunity to try out the many areas that make the charity function.

On the other hand, being in a bigger charity will allow you to specialise in a particular area, whether that’s fundraising, logistics or communication. It might be better to know what area you want to work in before applying.

Maybe you need to learn another language for the role you’re applying for? You can brush up on your English skills with a course at Kaplan International English.

6 Tips for Your First Job in the Charity Sector

5. Be Flexible

The reality of working for a charity is that it’s not always a 9-to-5 job. Though many non-profits offer more flexibility than jobs in for-profit companies, you may be expected to work outside your normal hours from time to time.

Charities open their doors for long hours, whether it’s an animal shelter or support for the homeless. And it’s not uncommon to deal with unique situations every day. Oxfam, for example, supports many different people and regions, one day you could be building hospitals and the next delivering water in an emergency.

If this is your first job in the charity sector, part of the job (or training) might include some time in the field. So being flexible to different hours and changes of scenery is important. Take each day as it comes and illustrate what an adaptable worker you are and you’ll be successful in the charity sector.

6. Don’t overlook smaller charities

You’re looking to get a foot in the door at a charity, so don’t stress about finding your ideal job at the biggest charity. There are many small charities that do a huge amount of work and don’t have the same restrictions as, say, a bigger organisation like the United Nations.

Smaller charities allow you to refine and hone your skills, build your confidence and get stuck in as you navigate your new career. And with a more intimate team, you’ll be able to get right to work and start making a tangible difference.


Not sure where to start looking for your first job in the charity sector? There are plenty of options out there—check out our current non-profit job postings.


This post was originally published by the author in 2019 but has been fully updated by CharityJob to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience. 

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Sarah Gluckman

Sarah Gluckman is the Content Producer at Kaplan International English. Kaplan offers students the opportunity to live and learn English in 38 cities around the world.

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