The simplest and most direct way to get your first charity job

Published: 02 May 2014 By Devi Clark

Devi Clark shares ways in which you can land your first charity job without studying or volunteering first.

How do real people develop their career?  Career theorist, John Krumboltz, called it ‘planned happenstance’.

Most of us, he said, don’t follow a coherent plan, but develop our profession based on a combination of luck and judgement.  When an opportunity arises, we take advantage of it. Our parents, our education, our peers all present us (usually unconsciously) with familiar options which become the most likely routes for us to follow.

So, to make a successful career move, particularly if we want a radical change, finding a way to make the unfamiliar familiar allows that planned happenstance to work in our favour.


Many people choose vocational study.  In the third sector this might include development studies, charity accounting, green deal assessments, animal welfare training or one of many other specialist courses.  Not only do they deliver knowledge and skills, but build your network of connections.

Volunteering is another well-trodden and frequently advocated way of getting your foot in the door.  Volunteering allows you to develop deep insight into an organisation, its culture, the needs of its beneficiaries and what roles you are best suited to.  The relationships you develop can also mean employers are willing to offer roles that your CV alone would not get you shortlisted for.

But there are downsides.

Both studying and volunteering to build a career can take time. The application process can take as long as applying for a paid job. Voluntary roles may not exist at your ideal employer, or the competition may be fierce.  And despite the range of opportunities available, many people with financial commitments find these routes into a charity career unfeasible.

While holding many benefits in their own right, if you see volunteering and studying primarily as stepping stones to your real goal of getting a paid job, there is a more direct way to do that: informational interviewing.

To illustrate how it works, let me tell you the true story of Virginia.  She was determined to find a job in international development, perhaps the most competitive field in the third sector.

Although she had international work experience, Virginia’s jobs had all been in the private sector.  The previous two years she had worked in her parent’s business and was geographically far from any organisation she wanted to work for.  Her applications didn’t stand out from the crowd and she was getting nowhere.

Virginia started informational interviewing with people she knew and the contacts they introduced her to.  She also used LinkedIn to develop her network.  Virginia emailed each person and asked for a 15 minute conversation.  

Each time, Virginia was clear what she was asking for. Not a job, but information. What kind of people worked in their organisation? What were the challenges they faced? What skills and experience did they have before getting the job?

There were dead ends. Some people didn’t reply. One tried to sell her stuff. It felt like breaking a taboo to ask for help.  But several people gave her useful insights and further contacts.

Then one day, after less than two months, a miracle seemed to happen. The day after they had talked, a senior HR Manager in an international development charity called her back and offered her a job that hadn’t even been advertised.

Anyone can use this method. Have a list of prepared questions. Research your target contact before you get in touch. Ask for introductions from people you know. And remember, people love to help.


Devi Clark is a career coach ( who specialises in the third sector careers. She is also a social entrepreneur and CEO of the Outsiders' Network ( where people who feel like outsiders transform the pain of feeling different into the courage to change the world.

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