NGO jobs are always highly competitive because so many people want to find a career with meaning where they can feel and see that they are making a difference. Career opportunities in NGOs can be exciting and fast moving once you are in the sector but how to break in? NGO internships can be a good way to get a foot in the door but whether you apply for an internship or an NGO graduate job asking the right questions at interview could make all the difference. Here are our top tips:
Training and capacity building
It is always good to ask a question about training or continuous professional development at your interview, whether you are applying for NGO internships or NGO graduate jobs. It shows that you are keen to keep learning new skills and improving yourself.
Unlike some big corporate firms, NGO budgets are tight, and they need to account for any spend on training to their donors, so there may not always be the opportunity to attend week-long conferences or in person training courses.
Suggested question to ask:
- Does the NGO provide access to online learning platforms where I can keep up to date with sector developments?
NGO graduate jobs will often have a strong focus on capacity building – training others around you to help them be more resilient to future challenges. So you might find yourself training volunteers on climate change campaign developments or helping community groups meet with their government representatives to demand better housing.
Possible questions to ask:
- What opportunities will there be for me to share my skills and knowledge with others?
- What are the IT systems in place to allow easy sharing of information with colleagues?
Collaboration with other NGOs – coalitions, partnerships etc
To offer a better service to their beneficiaries, have more influence in governments or access joint funding, many NGOs now work in coalition with other similar organisations. For example, The Climate Coalition has over 100 organisations working together to tackle climate change.
Asking how the NGO collaborates with others is a great question to bring up at your interview – to demonstrate you are aware of this trend and are flexible and keen to work with others.
Funding opportunities and challenges
Asking a question about fundraising at your interview shows that you are aware of the practical challenges of running an NGO. Even though you may not be applying for a specific fundraising role, many NGOs think of all their employees as a representative of the organisation and a fundraiser in terms of delivering high quality work, dealing with donor visits or contributing to report writing.
Ideas for questions to ask:
- What is the ratio of fundraised income from private individuals in comparison with institutional donors?
- What percentage of fundraised income is unrestricted?
- Which new technologies are used to fundraise?
Opportunity to travel/work internationally
If you are applying for International NGO jobs, you may have the opportunity to work from a variety of different locations and to experience both a head office setting and a field/project site. If you are flexible and available to travel, let the recruiter know this at your interview. It is important to frame your questions in the light of the needs of the organisation – not just your desire to travel and see the world!
Questions you could ask:
- Are there particular projects or countries where you find it difficult to fill vacancies?
- How do you share good practice between country programmes?
Career opportunities and specialisms
It is a good idea to ask about opportunities for career progression, sideways moves or becoming a sector specialist. NGO Internships and entry level NGO jobs often include a rotation element, but you may need to ask if this is also available for NGO Graduate jobs.
- Although this role is in the (administration) department, I would welcome the opportunity to learn about other aspects of the organisation. Is it possible to do some work shadowing with the campaigns team later in my career?
- I am interested in specialising in a particular area of fundraising – legacies or philanthropy…will there be an opportunity for me to move into these specialist roles later in my career?
Setting your signs on an NGO job means facing tough competition, so being well prepared for your interview is essential and asking thoughtful questions will show just how keen you are. We hope that these ideas help you on your way in your NGO career!