Chris Aukland is the managing director of specialist recruitment agency Ambition and is responsible for the growth and management of the Hong Kong business. He has 15 years’ consulting experience in the UK and Asia.
What you should know when considering working for NGOs in Hong Kong
What’s your opinion of working for NGOs? I’ve been in project management for about 15 years and, being fairly comfortable financially, I’m thinking it’s time to do something a bit more meaningful. I don’t mind taking a salary cut, but I’m more worried about career development and doing interesting work – can NGOs offer a level comparable to a for-profit multinational? Are there any other options available apart from full-time work? Are part-time roles common in the non-profit sector?
Working with an NGO is high on the list of goals for many professionals. Personally, I have had two separate stints at non-profits: working in a school for underprivileged children assisting with sports education and at an NGO that recruited English Language assistants for schools. In both cases, these periods were sandwiched between my management consulting career with Accenture and the start of my recruitment career moves. I enjoyed both immensely and learnt a huge amount. There are numerous benefits to this kind of work, aside from the altruistic. NGOs can offer opportunities to gain skills and experience.
Consider your employability in this sector. Hong Kong has a growing number of NGOs, which employ a very diverse range of people, who come from all walks of life both in a full time or temporary voluntary basis. Hong Kong is home to a growing number of NGOs: some are global, complex organisations with thousands of full-time employees, and organisational charts and salaries similar to those in the private sector. Others are local or Asia-based organisations that struggle to raise funds and have a small group of full-time staff that are often underpaid and backed up by an army of volunteers. Both types of organisations contribute to equally well-meaning causes and offer very different career paths and benefits.
Think very clearly about your long-term goals before making any commitments. Career opportunities do exist, especially in the more sizable NGOs. In smaller organisations, the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the business exists, but career opportunities might not follow traditional linear routes.
When full-time paid roles do materialise in this sector, organisations often receive a high volume of applications. Requirements are specific, and expectations can be high. Many individuals in these sectors work harder than their private sector counterparts.
Do you want a career break, or to volunteer on the side? Many people in Hong Kong dedicate their personal time to a chosen cause. Others take a career break or a specific period to work for an organisation for little or no pay, while others work in a salaried role. Your own personal circumstances, financial commitments, career goals, and skill sets will all factor largely in these decisions. In over 10 years in Hong Kong, I have not seen many part-time paid roles at NGOs, but it’s possible for you on a consulting basis if your skills set is in demand.
Project managers with experience in tech or change management possess sought-after skill sets in today’s NGO climate. Project managers in particular are suited to working with an NGO for a specific period of time before returning to the private sector.
Typically, professionals, if they are not employed full time, would work as unpaid volunteers so, as with any job-hunt, research and networking (attend industry events, seminars, volunteer, join social media groups etc) are key to finding what works for you.
Pay scales at NGOs vary hugely with size and scale. For some global, sizable and well-funded NGOs the pay scale can be comparable to that of private corporations but for smaller organisations where funding is tight, salaries can be much lower, so again it would depend on the specific role and organisation.
Working with an NGO or non-profit has its ups and downs like any job, so my advice is to work in a sector you are passionate about. That way when you do face any frustrations or challenges in your day-to-day work, you can always relate back to why you are working in that role in the first place.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as What you should know when considering NGOs.