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Programme Manager: Inspire Me

UCL Careers2 July 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Nicola Harwood, Programme Manager at the Prince’s Trust, talks to us about how she got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the Third Sector.

“I have worked at the Trust for 3 years now, starting off supporting schools with excluded young people, and now managing a programme working with unemployed young people. I have always worked in the charity sector as I love having a job that makes a difference (as clichéd as it sounds). Seeing the difference our programmes make to young people every day makes it all worthwhile and I am not sure I could work in any other way. The best bit is seeing someone who’s struggled finding work and who’s struggled with things in the personal life, suddenly have that light bulb moment where it all comes together and they start to make positive steps forward in their life. The biggest challenge is that sometimes it’s hard to switch off. The job is so varied I can be writing a business plan for next year one minute, and supporting a young person with their personal issues the next. I love how varied it is, but sometimes it can be hard to balance my time between the two given they are both crucial parts of my role.

My advice to anyone who’s wanting to get into working in the third sector would be to volunteer. I have complimented my career with a whole  host of volunteering opportunities starting when I was at university and continuing it throughout my career. This has not only given me more experience with working with vulnerable people, but it’s also strengthened my applications for jobs. Also make sure you have some real office experience too. My first job after graduating involved a lot of photocopying like everyone’s but it also gave me vital office experience and skills, which alongside my volunteering really helped secure that first real job.”

To find out more about Charity roles, visit Careers Tagged. For Volunteering opportunities, visit the Volunteering Services Unit at UCLU


Fundraising and Marketing Graduate Trainee: Inspire Me

UCL Careers3 February 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series,Tara Protheroe, Graduate Trainee (Fundraising & Marketing) at Cancer Research UK, talks to us about how she decided to undertake a career in the Charity sector.

Firstly, here’s a little contextual info about me. I’m 23, I went to the University of York, and I graduated in 2012 with a 2:1 in English Literature. Finding my first job was initially challenging; although I had a CV full of skills, university positions and part-time jobs, I lacked a professional internship or in-office work experience.  Tara Protheroe


So, how did I get into my role?

I’d always thought I’d like to get into marketing and applied to multiple jobs in my 3rd year with little success. My lack of office experience was holding me back, so I started looking for internships.


I didn’t actively seek a charity role, but came across Cancer Research UK and was impressed by the variety of internships available.


I secured a role in Innovation Marketing, working on the Dryathlon campaign. After 3 months at CRUK I knew I wanted to stay; the work was stimulating and I was truly passionate about the cause. There weren’t any permanent roles available so I (successfully) applied for the graduate scheme.

What are the best things about working in my role?

I’d say the best thing about the CRUK Grad Scheme is the variety and the quality of the work we’re given.


We stay in each department for six months and work on an independent project. Where we go is partly dependent on business need, but there’s a lot of scope for us to choose roles based on our preferences. The responsibility we’re afforded is also a real benefit.


The organisational culture is fantastic. We’re frequently reminded of our core purpose in our daily work and surroundings.

What are the biggest challenges I face in my work?

Changing projects every six months makes the work more interesting, but also allows you less time to settle in and excel. Similarly, the responsibility and autonomy I am provided with makes it imperative that I motivate and organise myself effectively, which can be tough.


The size of the organisation can also be a challenge; there are so many different departments it can be difficult to keep track of and work effectively with all of your stakeholders.


What top tips would you pass on to a student interested in this type of work?

Start early! Think about what you want out of a career in your first year and try to gain relevant experience. But if you haven’t, don’t despair, there’s still plenty you can do.

If you want to work for a charity, think of the type of role you’re interested in – marketing, finance, etc., and look for work experience in those areas. You don’t have to have charity experience to work for a charity; it’s the transferable skills that are important.

If you’re working full time or an internship isn’t possible, there are still ways you can volunteer your time and gain skills in the process. If you’re interested in events, consider organising a fundraising event yourself, such as Relay for Life. If media or communications are your thing, write a blog, or approach a smaller charity and see if you can help them with their publications in your spare time.

The most important factor for any role, but particularly this sector, is passion. Would I have got the job had I not done an internship? I don’t believe I would – without it I wouldn’t have had the requisite passion, knowledge and confidence to impress at interview.

If you’re interested in a career in the Charity sector, visit Careers Tagged and find over 400 resources to get you started.

Research Officer: Inspire Me

UCL Careers15 January 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Joni Browne, Research Officer at the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) part of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)  talks to us about how she got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the Research sector.

How did you get into your role?Joni Browne

After five years of frenzied trial and error in other roles, I worked out that I needed a job which was varied, required a mix of interpersonal, academic and analytical skills, and had a structured career path. Research was particularly appealing because it has the power to influence and shape an organisation’s policies and strategies. I got my foot in the door by applying for a graduate role at a market research agency called IFF Research where I quickly gained exposure to different research methodologies across a variety of sectors. I then moved into health-related researcher/analyst roles in the NHS, Ipsos MORI and Capita. Last year I took up my current position as a Research Officer at the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR), where I spend most of my time evaluating volunteering programmes for voluntary organisations.

What are the best things about working in your role?

If variety is the spice of life, then research is Spiceworld. I’m involved in qualitative and quantitative research, so tasks I might carry out include designing questionnaires, conducting interviews, analysing data and presenting findings. There are periods where I might be out doing fieldwork, talking to volunteers or staff at voluntary organisations, and then other times I might be by myself agonising over some data, what they mean and how to best explain them in a report. No two projects are ever the same, and each comes with its own challenges so it’s always stimulating and I’m always learning.

I’m fortunate enough to work with extremely bright, thoughtful, supportive people that I like and learn from. We can debate serious matters such as research ethics one moment, and have in-depth discussions about ‘MasterChef’ or croissants the next – all with equal fervour. If I’m working on a stressful or difficult project, having good colleagues around takes the edge off it.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Job security can be an issue depending on how the research role is funded and whether it’s agency-side or client-side/in-house. Fixed-term rather than permanent contracts are the norm for some roles given that many organisations (especially in the voluntary sector) are seeing their research budgets squeezed. The hours of work can sometimes be unsociable if you have to travel for fieldwork. Finally, it’s worth noting that if you want to make millions, retire at 40 and sip piña coladas on your own private beach, research isn’t the area to get into. I don’t think the pay ever truly reflects the effort and range of skills required to do the job well.

What top tips would you pass on to a student interested in this type of work?

Social research and market research are highly competitive, but do not be deterred. I’d recommend the following:

  1. Try to get onto a graduate scheme. While some bigger organisations are better known and look good on your CV, a smaller organisation might give you more responsibility more quickly
  2. You might want to specialise in either qualitative or quantitative research but consider gaining skills in both to maximise your attractiveness to employers
  3. Try to take degree modules which have a research methods component for training in research techniques and an understanding of the theories behind them
  4. Strong IT skills (especially Microsoft Office) are essential, and if you can use software such as SPSS, even better
  5. Getting voluntary work experience as a researcher is one way to gain practical experience and get a taste of whether you might like to pursue it as a career
  6. It’s worth identifying organisations you would like to do research for, checking out their website and sending them your CV on spec. Other channels you might use to find graduate schemes and research jobs include CharityJob, Jobs.ac.uk, Guardian Jobs, and Milkround.

If you’re interested in a career in the Market Research sector, visit Careers Tagged.

Head of Child Safety Online: Inspire Me

UCL Careers14 October 2014

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Claire Lilley Head, Head of Child Safety Online, NSPCC talks to us about how she got his role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the Charity sector.

Background Claire-Lilley

I am Head of Online Safety at the NSPCC.  I started my working life as a secondary teacher (which I loved) but after 4 years decided I wanted to see what other jobs existed beyond the world of education.  I resigned from teaching with no job to go to, but knowing I could supply teach if necessary to make ends meet. I had to bite the bullet and take a big pay cut, but was lucky enough to get a job as a researcher for Which? Magazine which I did for 4 years, during which time I did a part time Masters in Public Policy and Management. This meant I could apply for a policy role at Which?, working on education and health policy (Which? is a consumer charity as well as a magazine).

However, I’d always felt passionate about working with or on behalf of vulnerable children, so after a couple of years started looking around for jobs in children’s charities. I didn’t have any experience of policy related to child protection, which was a real disadvantage, but at one interview was offered a maternity cover role.  It was a risk to leave a steady job at Which? for a short term contract at the NSPCC but it paid off because at the end of the maternity cover I was offered a full time job, and have been at the NSPCC in a variety of roles ever since.

What I do day to day

I love my job because it is so varied. My brief covers all aspects of child safety online including child abuse images, online grooming, cyberbullying, sexting and access to inappropriate content online.  I am responsible for the policy (the ‘what the NSPCC thinks’) on all these issues, as well as for coordinating the NSPCC’s programme of activities in relation to them – the projects we get involved in , the services we provide, the research we commission, the organisations we partner with, the way we work with ChildLine (our sister brand), the information we provide for parents and professionals working with children. The ultimate aim is to keep children safe when they are using the internet.

What I do day to day NSPCC

The sorts of things I have to do include: writing detailed policy briefings; advising our CEO and Trustees on our position on different issues; meeting with other charities to try to come up with innovative solutions; influencing technology companies; briefing MPs and civil servants; giving presentations at conferences, meeting with children, parents and professionals to get their views, commissioning research, giving media interviews and lots more! I learn something new every day, which I love, have a lot of autonomy to make decisions, and work with a really dedicated and supportive team of people.  And of course, the chance to make a difference to children’s lives is a big driver in my job satisfaction.

Change doesn’t happen quickly though, and sometimes it is frustrating that the things you know will help to make a difference take so long to get off the ground. A challenge in my job is staying focused on the activities that will have the biggest impact on children’s safety.  When you work for a big charity like the NSPCC, lots of people want to get your opinion about e.g. the latest app they have developed, and it can be easy to get distracted from your main goals or projects by all the interesting new things happening in the fast moving technology sector.

Top Tips

My tips for working in the public policy sector are to be flexible and take a few calculated risks at the early stages of your career. Try to get experience of the different elements which you’ll need later on as you move into more strategic positions – policy, research, public affairs, and if possible some service user experience.  Don’t intern for too long and don’t hold out for the ideal first job – it’s easier to get a job when you are in an organisation as lots of jobs are only advertised internally, so don’t think you’re too qualified to take a PA job at first! Consider a Masters degree as these are increasingly necessary, and try to identify an area of policy that you are passionate about and can develop a golden thread about throughout your career.  In my case it is children’s issues, but it might be animals, environmental, medical related, housing etc.

If you’re interested in a career in the Charity sector, visit Careers Tagged and find over 400 resources to get you started.

Insight from a student social entrepreneur

UCL Careers22 July 2014

This blog post originally appeared on the Develop your Career blog

Social enterprises are profit-driven businesses with social and environmental aims. Some of the best known social enterprises include household names like the Big Issue, Divine Chocolate and John Lewis. Have you ever had an idea for a business that could have a positive impact on your community or the wider world?  Lindsey Shirah, Projects Coordinator at Queen Mary Careers & Enterprise Centre, had a chat with James Larbi, an Aerospace Engineering undergrad at Queen Mary University of London who started his own social enterprise, Pre-ued, during his second year. Below James shares how he developed his idea and the most important lessons he’s learned along the way.

What is your social enterprise and how does it work?

JL: Pre-ued is an educational technology venture that partners with schools to make their courses publicly available online. We help top institutions take their mission from the walls of the classroom to the world by giving them an online platform where they can exponentially reach more students, raise their international reputation and boost admissions. Students in turn from around the world can study the best high school, secondary and pre-university courses for free.

How did you come up with the idea?

JL: It was in the summer of 2013. I had finished my 1st year of university and had just come back from travelling abroad. With a lot of time on my hands I thought it would be great to start a social enterprise/start-up and considered doing something relating to learning and technology. I had been drawn for a while to the idea of open education for everyone. This was partly due to a gap year I spent in Ghana, West Africa, where I worked with top academics making their research publicly available online. Some really phenomenal strides had already been made publishing university courses. There was however no one at the time doing the same for secondary schools so I wanted to pursue that idea.

PreuedlogoI ran the idea past my business module course lecturer, Adam, for feedback and was delighted to hear his positive response and advice on developing it. Adam also taught me about the “Innovator’s Dilemma”, which is a state of mind that every entrepreneur or innovator can get stuck in that potentially blinds them to the flaws of their idea. Through talking to Adam I learned there are many phenomenal lecturers and staff members at university who will gladly help you develop your ideas. I also spoke with the phenomenal team at the Queen Mary Careers & Enterprise Centre who are really passionate and informative about social enterprises and start-ups in general. Rachel, James and Maya, part of the core enterprise team, have been so supportive of my idea and me as a whole.

How have you gone about setting up your social enterprise?

JL: I started out by developing a prototype of the platform. It was so basic I laugh at what I did when I think of it now! I realized that the only way to gain momentum in a start-up is to, in the words of Nike, ‘just do it.’ This ties along with some wise words from Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, who said “If you are not embarrassed about your first product, you’ve probably launched too late”

After I had a basic prototype I needed to get some users. The users are primarily any student that would like to study a top course for free, but I had no courses to offer from schools at the time! This was a classic case of the “chicken and egg” story. I decided to start out by introducing the idea to schools and teachers. In order to get access to them I signed up to be an exhibitor in the Innovation Zone at the BETT Show 2014, the largest learning technology show in the world. Sharing the floor with some of the biggest names in technology was a great privilege.  I got to meet some of the best teachers, schools and innovators in the world and was able to form some partnerships throughout the course of the show.

What have you found to be most challenging about this project?

JL: The most challenging thing about the project has been accessing the funds to really scale up the venture. This is however not insurmountable now, with the numerous types of support from organizations such as Unltd who are passionate about social change and empowering social entrepreneurs to make a difference in the world. The explosion of crowd-funding also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to raise small amounts of cash from your friends, family and the wider society who may receive either thank-you-s, rewards and in some cases, a stake in your social venture.

What have you found to be most enjoyable?

JL: The most enjoyable thing about this project is seeing someone who you don’t know from a completely different part of the world sign up to your platform. It’s so fulfilling to hear about the impact you can have on people in regards to enabling them to learn.

What are the most important lessons that you’ve learned from setting up a social enterprise?

JL: Always read through an entire document before you sign it! We all skim past the small print of a web page or document and just tick “I agree” or sign at the bottom of the page. But when setting up a social enterprise, it’s always really important to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you sign a document; whether it’s for engaging partners or buying anything, always read the small print.

What would your advice be to another student interested in starting their own social enterprise?

JL: Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet! Research and preparation are really important when starting any kind of venture, but at some point you have to just try out your idea and see what happens. You can learn a lot from the initial experience of getting out there. Also it’s best to do something you’re passionate about, because when you are working long hours, facing set-backs and hearing lots of “no’s” from users, partners and possible investors, your love for what you do is what is going to keep you motivated.

Where/how can readers find more information about your social enterprise?

JL: To sign up to take a top free course, kindly visit us at: www.preued.org. For teachers and educational institutions who’d like to publish courses for free on our site, kindly email us: info@pre-ued.com. To join our social community follow us on Twitter @preued and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/preued

Thanks for sharing your experience and insight, James! For help developing your own social enterprise ideas, visit https://www.facebook.com/startyourownbusiness

– See more at: http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/blog/library/index.php/2014/07/insight-from-a-student-social-entrepreneur/#sthash.gfCNceN6.dpuf

Webinar: CVs and covering letters for the charity sector

UCL Careers29 May 2014

This blog post originally appeared on the Develop your Career blog

Are you considering a career in the charity sector? Unsure how to write an effective CV and covering letter that really communicate your passion and motivations? Want to know what charity employers are really looking for at this first stage of the selection process?

On Monday 9th June 2014, 1-2pm we’re bringing together a small panel of charity employers to ask them what they look for in CVs and covering letters and how those looking to work in the charity sector can make the most of their skills and experience on paper. As part of this discussion we’ll be asking panellists to critique a small selection of genuine CVs and covering letters submitted to us by University of London students and recent graduates.

We’ll be broadcasting this discussion live via a FREE webinar –  participants will be able to view the CVs on screen and listen to the accompanying discussion, as well as having the chance to put their own questions to the panel. Our panel of charity employers will include James Wilson, Service Manager at British Red Cross and Jack Lewars, Director of Operations at School of Hard Knocks, with more names to be confirmed.

To take advantage of this unique opportunity, click here to reserve your place on this webinar. Places are limited and expected to fill quickly so early booking is advised.

If you’d like to submit a CV and covering letter for feedback in the webinar please send it by email to Anne.delauzun@rhul.ac.uk by 9am on Friday 30th May, and include a brief summary of the position or type of organisation to which your CV and letter are targeted. All CVs and letters will be anonymised and we can’t promise to feature all those we receive.

How to secure a job in a Small/Medium Sized Enterprise : Case Studies

UCL Careers28 March 2014

Want to get a job in a SME but have no idea where to start? We collected a few different case studies of how students at UCL have got into SMEs.

Case study 1

Aim: Secure Job in the Charity Sector

Starting point: Experience in management and IT and also an MA in Human Rights at UCL

Method used to secure a job in an SME:

  • Studied the sector in detail – further knowledge was acquired
  • Maximised personal networking and contacts
  • Gained further knowledge, contacts were used to facilitate informative industry interviews
  • Focused job search further by understanding the sector
  • Applied to positions that needs core strengths in order to get an interview
  • Structured the applications on what the employer wants and highlighting strengths
  • Applied to jobs

Result: Succeeded in securing a job in the charity sector


Case study 2

Aim: Secure Electrical and Electronic related job

Starting Point: MSc in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in the UK and previous work in home country

Method used to secure a job in an SME:

  • Identified problems with previous application by getting advice from career consultants
  • Focused job search for vacancies that were in-line with my strengths i.e. languages and understanding home country culture
  • Sent speculative applications to employers that would be interested in my strengths
  • Applied to short term and long term internships
  • Spent additional time on understanding the job description and person specifications in order to apply to  the right jobs
  • Kept on applying

Result: Secured an internship with a company that is expanding in my home country and the potential of a job in the future


Case Study 3

Aim: Secure job in security, policy in Think tanks, NGOs or government body

Starting point: MA in Politics, Security and Integration

Method used to secure a job in an SME:

  • Dedicated additional effort as was required by the industry and the employers observation and research showed that low number of  advertised jobs were available
  • Researched related websites to get the news about the industry and find out the names of relevant employers
  • Strengthened personal support network to keep up job hunting momentum – long process
  • Cancelled plans to travel and focused on job hunt – times management
  • Managed time to ensure priorities
  • Attended job fairs organised by the career service to expand possibilities
  • Made new contacts and strengthened existing contacts
  • Applied for internships and jobs related to my strength and skills

Result: Found an internship in-line with my strength first and carried on applying then found exactly the right job overseas


Case Study 4

Aim: Graduate job in computer software

Starting Point: MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Method used to secure a job in an SME:

  • Went  to  a few niche job fairs for entrepreneurial companies that required specialist skills and expertise
  • Made new contacts by networking, LinkedIn
  • Discussed options with careers consultants
  • Applied to relevant internships and jobs constantly

Result: Secured a job with an application developer

For further help with getting work with an SME, pop in to see us at UCL Careers or sign up to UCL Talent Bank.

Write an amazing CV for the Charity/NGO sector

UCL Careers3 March 2014

This post originally appeared on the Develop your Career blog

So you’ve decided to apply for that position at a Charity/NGO, but you’re stuck, blankly staring at your CV, not knowing how to best get across your experience or even if it will make the cut. You’ve got this nagging stat in the back of your head, that on average less than 10% of CVs make it through the first stage of the recruitment process.

Here are some quick tips on writing a CV for the Charity/NGO sector that can help give you a fighting start:

  • Make sure it’s no longer than 2-sides and know that the first half of your CV is key – it is what the recruiter will look at first and if they aren’t intrigued to read further, they won’t! Note: Some employers such as the UN might take a longer CV, so check and do your research before hand especially on the position you are applying for.
  • Read the person specification and tailor your CV against the competencies they are looking for. Most recruiters score CVs against a criterion and if you haven’t clearly labelled or demonstrated those competencies, your application won’t go any further. For example, if you are applying for a researcher role, make sure your research section has enough of the core competencies matched so you are ticking all their initial boxes.
  • A recruiter only spends on average 7 – 30 seconds looking at each application initially. Make sure you have a powerful punch at first glance. Get some friends to review or even get your application checked by your careers service.
  • When you are explaining why you want to work for them, ensure it is tailored appropriately and highlight what you can offer them. No one wants to read: “I want to work for Save the Children because I can’t wait to touch all children!”
  • Make sure it is a consistent format and if possible send it across in a PDF format – it doesn’t lose its formatting.
  • Get someone to triple check for spelling and grammar mistakes!
  • Demonstrating evidence is easier than you think. Core Humanitarian competencies are often:
  1. Understanding humanitarian contexts and applying humanitarian principles
  2. Achieving Results
  3. Managing yourself in a pressured and changing environment
  4. Developing and maintaining collaborative relationships
  5. Operating safely and securely at all times
  6. Demonstrating leadership

Once you’ve broken these down, finding examples are easier than you think.

Realised you haven’t got one of these competencies?  Build them up by:

  1. Volunteering whilst at university
  2. Internships during the summer breaks
  3. Reading
  4. E-learning
  5. Networking/attending free talks at ODI
  6. Training
  7. Transferring your skills from any sector
  8. Waitressing – pressure
  9. Childcare – operating safely
  10. Enhancing your knowledge of cultures – you can do all of this without even leaving the country!

Once you’re confident that you can nail your CV, come in and get it checked by an applications advisor who can give you more specific tips against the person specification and job description.

Good luck!

What’s In a Name? Volunteering vs The Internship and the Beauty of Starting Small

UCL Careers28 February 2014

This post originally appeared on the VSU Blog.

Katy Murray, who graduated from UCL last year, reflects on her experiences in the world of volunteering … katy_murray

There comes a time in every student’s university life when it dawns on them that this cosy, safe bubble of structured learning and student loans is not going to last forever. Soon the panic sets in, and there becomes one word that university students cling to like a life belt in the stormy seas of reality, an ideal they pursue like a holy grail of employment: The Internship. Yet applications for Internships can be as competitive as the post-graduation job hunt, especially now that organisations are facing increasing pressure to pay their interns (and rightly so). “The Internship”, however, is not the only line of defence between you and unemployment; if you are looking for valuable skills regardless of pay, volunteering  can be just as valuable as an internship, and, especially when volunteering for a small organisation, can even make you more resourceful and more used to unexpected challenges.

During my second year, I learnt the power of starting small.  I was incredibly fortunate to find an unpaid role in a small social enterprise company. I am still amazed and the enormous level of responsibility, autonomy, and opportunity this small organisation gave me. When I finished, with a view to gaining more hands-on experience on a smaller scale, I contacted the UCLU Volunteering Services Unit to see how I could help.  Working with the VSU took me into some tiny charitable and not-for-profit organisations in London, an eye-opener to the real communities behind the commercialised veneer of WC1.  These are noble and desperately needed organisations, a lifeline for the communities who are being ever squeezed by London’s ceaseless gentrification.  Yet these places are likely to fall beyond the radar of many an ambitious UCL student looking for big CV points, their senses finely tuned to the scent of a near-by careers fair or looming graduate scheme application deadline.

Frankly, I know this because I was precisely one of those students. I volunteered with the VSU, but this was not before I had narrowly missed an opportunity for an internship for the British Red Cross. When working for the VSU I visited many small scale charities, but until visiting, it would never have crossed my mind to cook food for a group of elderly people in a local Highgate community centre. This was because I “knew”, like every tactical student trying to tot up employability points around their course deadlines, that for a busy recruiter glancing at my CV (according to UCL Careers, the average recruiter spends about 90 seconds scanning each CV) a big name like the British Red Cross or Oxfam would catch the eye better than X unknown local charity. What I have learned from my time with the VSU, however, is that not only is this a miscalculation, but that to continue with this attitude could mean that many bright, creative and caring young students could miss out on some eye-opening experiences; experiences which expend their employability not only on paper, but far more noticeably in person.katy_murray

A good example of this is a memorable experience I had when I met with the head of a local community centre. I waited for her in the main hall of the centre, where she joined me to conduct the meeting.  As the meeting progressed, however, more and more people entered the hall, offering us food, interrupting us frequently with questions, or dragging chairs loudly across the floor. As I was trying to conduct this meeting, which I found stressful with all the noise and interruptions, I began to feel a bit irritated.  As I left, however, the coordinator apologised for the busyness of the hall. It turned out that a meeting was about to start which was incredibly important for the community centre, informing its participants of the government cuts and changes to benefits.

As I reflected on this experience, I realised that this meeting had demonstrated to me the remarkable nature of some of these small organisations and initiatives. They are chaotic because they are dealing with people whose whole lives are chaotic and difficult. Yet the manager was still able to give me her time despite the importance of the meeting that was about to begin. Meanwhile she was calm, collected, and dealt with each query briefly but effectively, while I sat there stressing that this was not meeting my expectations of “professional”. When I relayed this epiphany to John Braime, the VSU’s Volunteering Manager, he nodded fervently. “Absolutely,” he said “I often give talks to some of the UCL business students. I tell them that an internship at a big consultancy firm is all well and good, but if you really want to learn about time and people management, try going down to your local community centre and see about taking some tips from them.”katy_murray1

Going to a large company or organisation in search of valuable work experience is, of course, still an excellent career move. Larger organisations can offer you a valuable starting step on a career ladder and provide you with some important experience. Yet it is important to look for more than a “name” as your key criteria for choosing your next employer. Since graduating I have begun volunteering at the Children’s Heart Federation, a national organisation with only 8 permanent members of staff, which I found out about through the VSU’s weekly emails. I am now second in command on a campaign which has recently featured on the One Show, Radio Four and BBC Breakfast. On my second day, I was surprised with the opportunity to accompany my line manager to Parliament to lobby an MP. Last week I represented the company at an all women’s networking event, where I gave two presentations. Again, this opportunity was offered to me last minute, and I had just enough time to be briefed on what I had to say before my cab arrived and I was on my way to give my speech.

Volunteering is never dull, and full of exciting (and often unexpected) challenges. Therefore not falling for a name not only applies the name of the organisation, but the name you attach to your experience. “The Internship” has become the holy grail because it implies a structured and supervised programme of learning, work experience, and/or training. “Volunteering”, on the other hand, is often shunned because to most it implies tasks which are valuable and often very rewarding on a personal level, but which are unlikely to provide many professional skills. This, as I hope I have demonstrated, is not the case. Most importantly, as these examples show, working for a small charity that does not have the resources of its larger counterparts, offers constant opportunities to exercise and develop one’s own resourcefulness. This is the fundamental power of starting small.

Want big responsibility in a fast-paced environment? The Charity sector could be a hidden gem!

UCL Careers29 October 2013

Katy Murray graduated with a First from UCL in 2013 with a degree in Ancient World Studies. She is currently interning at the Children’s Heart Federation and gives us her take on breaking into the Charity sector and how you can get big responsibility within a fast-paced environment…

I am a recent graduate, and I am working two jobs to fund an expensive habit; unpaid internships at small charities. It’s not always a glamorous life; I generally work a 6 day week, hibernating on Sundays. I am also occasionally still found in the queue for free curry at SOAS to save some pennies. On the other hand, last week, on the second day of my internship at the Children’s Heart Federation, I was greeted at our small Shoreditch office with “Do you want to come and do some lobbying at Parliament?”  Next thing I knew I was walking the halls of Westminster, having tea with an MP, looking out onto the Thames.

The experience I am getting at this charity is one I would quite frankly pay for. I am now second in command on a campaign which has recently featured on the One Show, Radio Four and BBC Breakfast. On my first day, I was knocking up press releases to be sent out to newspapers nationwide. Not only am I gaining skills that make me more employable, but I get the biggest buzz out of the working on a cause that I really think is valuable.

When I am not getting my fix at the charity, I work as an Applications Adviser at a major London University. The majority of students who come through the door want to work in banking and finance, management consultancy, and pharmaceutical companies; big business, big competition, big salary. There are numerous reasons why students decide to go down this route, but each candidate looks for something to give an edge to their application forms. One of these I have been seeing recently is students saying that they are drawn to the social responsibility initiative which some employers are promoting. Some banks, for example, give their employees time off the volunteer for their communities, which some students seem to find attractive. As a graduate looking to “break in” to the Charity/Not-For-Profit sector, a part of me always wants to ask (but doesn’t): why not work in a sector whose business is social responsibility? Why not seek opportunity in organisations whose “triple bottom line” has always been their bottom line?

One major reason is money. A recent TedTalk by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta noted that a CEO of a Hunger charity can expect a salary of over $316,000  less  than a Stanford MBA (that’s nearly £200,000). Pallotta also observes “We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping people.” Yet not a single student that I have spoken to has said to me “I want to work for X bank/consultancy firm because they pay more than the others.” Most of the students I see are ambitious, diligent and want to work in these sectors because they want a big career and big challenges, (perhaps as well as a big pay cheque).

Clearly, as someone who, for whatever reason, wants to be a full-time do-gooder, I struggle slightly to understand the will to work in the profit driven cultures of private sector corporations. What I do understand, however, is how it feels to do a job that I am passionate about, and that I get a genuine buzz out of. Therefore I completely respect the fact that there are people in the world, who get geeky at the thought of stocks and figures, risk analysis, and financial instruments. So if you are one of them then I wish you all the best. But if it is just that you’re looking for a job which is about meeting targets, assessing risk, problem solving and big responsibility in a fast-paced and challenging environment, and you want a career with meaning that gives back to your society and your community, then I can tell you the Charity/Not-For-Profit sector will tick every one of those boxes.

This blog post was orginially posted 29th October 2013.