Guest Post – Postgrads In The Charity Sector

My colleague, Fiona Christie, has just completed a major research project on work in the charity sector, and I’m delighted she’s agreed to write a Guest Post about postgrads and their experience of this popular area of work. Details of the full report and a link to our download site are towards the end of the post.

Guest Post from Fiona Christie

A magic combination of a postgraduate qualification and volunteering experience hits the mark for individuals wanting to get into some of the most competitive and rewarding fields within the charity sector such as international development, environmental work and human rights. A postgraduate qualification also seems to be commonly held among individuals working in sought after policy and research roles within the charity sector.

These are conclusions I have made from having just completed an in depth piece of research into career pathways for graduates in the voluntary/community sector in which I interviewed over 50 representatives from a wide range of charities. I had not sought to test out the value of postgraduate qualifications for jobs in charities and very few of the HR staff I interviewed from charities mentioned a postgraduate qualification as an essential prerequisite. However, I was struck by the number of individuals working in very popular fields who had a postgraduate qualification and thought that having this had been critical in securing the post they were in. Typically these were individuals with Masters level qualifications in the Social Sciences (I did not encounter any PhD graduates within my research). However, the mix of academic backgrounds was varied and showed individuals with postgraduate qualifications often going into quite specialist and interesting fields. I also noticed considerably high levels of motivation in their work and loyalty to the aims of their employer.

Here are some examples of individuals included in my research to give you some idea: MA in Philosophy, now working as an education officer for a Bio-ethics charity; MA in International Development working as a community fundraiser for an international development charity; MSc in Computing working as a project manager for a Centre for Voluntary Organisations; MA in Politics, working as policy officer for a health charity; MA International Development working in research for an international development charity; MSc History, Science, Medicine and Technology working in business management for a cancer charity; MA in International Politics doing a research graduate internship in international development.

Some of the HR staff I interviewed acknowledged that for certain jobs e.g., a human rights campaigner, it was typical for successful candidates to have a relevant qualification e.g., MA in Human Rights. However, this was not specified as essential. In my view though, in an increasingly competitive market place for jobs it does look like Masters students are getting ahead of their peers who just have a first degree.

I found it was definitely the case that these successful individuals also tended to have done considerable volunteering. The Masters qualification on its own was not enough. Volunteering had many uses – it allowed access to networks in the field an individual was interested in, it gave volunteers valuable experience and it also demonstrated that they understood the volunteering ethos that is critical to charities. The only individuals who had not done considerable volunteering tended to be those coming with very specific skills such as in Computing, HR or other business functions.

If you want to catch a sneak preview of my research before it is officially published it is available as a download via our website.

There are numerous websites which you can use to get more information about charities

Remember you do have to be proactive when looking for a job with a charity or NGO – many may only advertise on their own website. So it does help if you know who or what field you would like to work for. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is planning on launching a career entry scheme for graduates seeking to go into the sector in the near future. Details are still pending but keep an eye on if you are interested.