Top five tips for university students seeking a career in the NGO sector

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Top five tips for university students seeking a career in the NGO sector

Many university students are inspired to find out more about career opportunities in NGOs, wanting to work for organisations that really make a difference.  Graduate NGO jobs and NGO internships are highly sought after so it is well worth using your time at university to boost your chance of landing that first job.  Here are our top tips:

Take online courses

Look out for online certificated courses that align with the NGO career you are interested and make time to complete the courses in your final year at university. 

There is often a discounted rate for students or some courses may even be free. 

Use the opportunity to broaden your understanding of the sector, for example, even if you are hoping to pursue a career in law working for an NGO, courses on NGO fundraising or communications strategy can still be helpful in building your general knowledge of life at an NGO. 

At the start of your career it can be difficult to find enough experiences to fill your CV or talk about at interview – having recently completed a relevant course can really help fill those gaps.

Consider freelancing

If you have time at weekends and evenings but still need to earn some money to support your studies, why not consider helping an NGO through a freelancing platform? 

Sites such as PeoplePerHour, Upwork, Solidgigs, 99designs, Aquent and Guru allow you to create a profile, showcase your skills, receive reviews and bid for work. 

Most projects will take less than a week to complete so you have more flexibility to fit freelancing around your studies, compared to getting a part time job with fixed shifts.  For most jobs all that is required is a laptop, so you can bid for work all year round both during term time whilst at your university or from home during university holidays.  Skills in high demand include helping NGOs with

  • website design
  • social media
  • content writing
  • logo design
  • donation app design
  • leaflet creation
  • writing grant applications and reports
  • translations
  • proofreading
  • photography
  • video creation/editing

Freelancing is an easy way to build up your portfolio, use your skills, help an NGO and earn some money at the same time. 

Use social media

Identify 5 NGOs that you would love to work for after graduation.  Follow the organisations and any key staff members on social media and share and like their posts. 

Then go one step further. 

  • after a few months of following, start making positive, thoughtful, well researched comments on their posts
  • or ask them a question
  • mention the author and cross reference to any other relevant commentators
  • show that you understand the challenges they are facing
  • ideally you as seeking to establish yourself as an “expert”, perhaps having specialist insight into the student perspective on a topic

Commenting in a positive way can help your name get known and give you an advantage if you do apply for a job with their organisation.

Attend online events

For the 5 NGOs that you want to target, look out for any free online events that you can attend to learn more about their work and help prepare for when you land a job interview. 

It is much easier, cheaper and more efficient for NGOs to gather their senior leaders and specialists to take part in a zoom call rather than a face to face so online events really do give you a unique opportunity to hear from senior staff and start to get a feeling for the key values and priorities of the NGO.

Offer your research skills

As a university student some of the key qualities you are developing which are highly valuable to NGOs are your research skills. 

Reading, researching, bringing ideas together, spotting themes and trends, identifying good practice, sharing learning and making recommendations are all attributes much needed in NGO careers.

If you are serious about an NGO career why not focus your dissertation or final project on a solution for one of the challenges facing NGOs?  It might be a technology to allow quicker data collection in the field for humanitarian NGOs, more efficient vaccination storage for medical staff, greener energy supply for rural communities or more effective campaign strategies for climate change NGOs. 

Working alongside an NGO to produce research that helps you not only complete your degree but provide a practical solution for them could be a real win win situation.

 

Further reading:

For online courses:

Amnesty International:  https://www.edx.org/school/amnestyinternationalx

UNICEF:  https://agora.unicef.org/

The Open University:  https://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/climate-change/content-section-0

FutureLearn:  https://www.futurelearn.com/

 

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