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How to get hired with an NGO

Published on Thursday, 05 Mar 2015

Many people, especially globally-conscious milennials, are now finding themselves attracted more and more to jobs in non-governmental organisations (NGOs). They are looking for a satisfying career that offers the chance to make a difference in the world and rewards more than just a paycheck. They find the work in helping to make people’s lives better fulfilling and worthwhile, something they may prefer over a higher wage in some cases. Unfortunately, finding a job with an NGO isn’t always so clear cut and people aren’t sure how to begin the process of applying and getting hired with an NGO. Although there isn’t one surefire way to break into the industry, there are a few things to get you started on your job search.

The first thing you need to do in your job hunt is decide which cause you want to work for. There are hundreds of NGOs, large and small, global and local, working on a wide range of causes from human rights to poverty to animal advocacy to renewable energy. The list of worthy causes goes on and on. Ask yourself where you want to make an impact. There is plenty of information online to learn about the various works the different NGOs around the world and at home are doing. Conduct your own research and narrow down the causes in which you are passionate about and want to help make a difference in. This will help you focus your job search to the organisations, causes, and regions that interest you the most.

The second part of this equation is deciding what kind of work you want to do at a NGO and how you’re qualified to do it. Just like a for-profit company, every NGO has a business need and a number of operational functions that need to be fulfilled. Generally speaking, NGOs need people in operations and administration, and larger organisations often have dedicated staff for marketing, communications, human resources, legal, and so on. If you are already a working professional, it’s likely that your skills are largely transferable to an NGO. For a college student or recent graduate, this is a good idea to explore opportunities via internships and work your way up from the inside.

Most people who work in NGOs will have undertaken and completed study in the fields the organisation focuses on so advanced education and professional development can be very important and advantageous in fulfilling the basic requirements for employment as certain NGOs. Unless you have extensive experience, paid or volunteer, that may be applicable to the position in question, many NGOs will prefer candidates with advanced degrees like MAs, JDs, and PhDs. Other skills highly valued by NGOs are the ability to speak other languages and experience working in a multicultural, often multilingual environment. Then there are positions in operations that require a specific educational background, such as those related to health or legal affairs. Make sure that you have the proper education, background, and qualifications for the positions you decide to apply for.

Having solid work experience will put you ahead of other candidates, but if you are still finishing your degree or are a recent college graduate just starting out in your career, a great way to gain much-needed experience is through an internship or by volunteering at a NGO. An internship can not only give you insight into what it’s like to work at a NGO, but it also offers you an opportunity to network with professionals doing the work you’re interested in. Additionally, the internship gives you hands-on work experience. While many internships are unpaid, some do offer small stipends to cover lunch and transportation. Volunteering is another key way to gain valuable work experience as many NGOs have limited budgets and depend heavily on their volunteers. Volunteering also gives you an opportunity to network with professionals working in your field of interest, which can provide you with a strong network for finding a paid position in the future. If you are looking to work in the field for a NGO, you may want to first consider working in the headquarters or home office to get your foot in the door. Then you can work your way to a posting in the field.

These days, a satisfying and fulfilling professional career is no longer limited to the price of a salary and high power position within a firm. Young professionals are now looking for careers that can reward them in much more positive ways. Working for a NGO seems to be filling the void for many, thus making the competition to fill postiions fierce. If you have decided which cause and NGOs you are interested in, then it’s a good time to start building your network and doing any professional development to help place you in an ideal position to land one of these prized positions. 

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