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This post on how to get an NGO job without prior working experience is a sequel to my last post on How to get a high paying NGO job anywhere in the world.
There are a lot of talented individuals, who want to change the world and think that contributing their talent to the world of social impact is a good idea.
However, soon after they started taking hopeful steps towards that dream, they were greeted with the painful realization that job experience counts significantly not just in the regular corporate world, but in NGO work too.
To be candid, getting a job in any establishment can be difficult when you have no previous career experiences.
But then, this is because most organizations prefer hiring someone with proven capacity to carry out a particular job duty.
For this reason, someone with previous experience at a particular job role is considered a better HR recruitment decision over another with zero work experience.
Does this mean you should forfeit all hopes of securing an NGO work opportunity because you are a newbie?
This blog post is your informative guide to getting a job placement in the humanitarian or sustainability sector, or working in charity, without having any prior experiences.
This guide will be discussed under the following topics:
- Be realistic with your expectation
- Make the best first impressions possible (a) Content of your application (2 samples included), (b) Your verbal communication skill, (c) Body language
- Request to be adopted as an intern or volunteer
- Demonstrate willingness to provide extra value, as well as absorb new knowledge
- Never underestimate the importance of natural talent
- Work your ass off
Here are the things you should do as a non-professional desirous to begin a career in charity, but have no prior work experience;
1) Be realistic with your expectation
NGOs do not give out their jobs just because they want to ‘give someone a chance’. It is either they are certain about your abilities, or they trust that you will pick up really fast, given their initial assessment of you.
To get your foot in the door, you have to start out soft, with more realistic targets. Start with opportunities that are ‘less risky’ for the organization to let an inexperienced person handle. For instance, entry-level assistant jobs.
When you apply for assistant jobs, you get to work under a more experienced person in the organization. In due time, he/she teaches you the ropes, while buffering the lagging effect of your inexperience on the work flow in the organization.
Of course, this is more easily achievable for you, than applying for a bigger position, say, the position of Regional Project Coordinator.
For the most part, no reputable NGO will give an inexperienced fresh college grad the opportunity to work as project coordinator for a large team. Positions like this usually consider some years of experience in team management as pre-requisite.
Here are a few assistant jobs to consider: administrative assistant, program assistant, media assistant, personal assistant, assistant store keeper. There are so much more.
Altogether, it is a waste of time for you to apply for jobs that really require years of experience as cited in the instance above. In like fashion, do not apply for jobs that require a professional practicing license, when you do not have one.
2) Make the best first impression possible
There are three major opportunities you have to make the best first impressions possible:
- The content of your application,
- Your verbal communication skills, and
- Your body language.
The content of your application:
Basically, this is where your opportunity to make a first impression begins. The first step to securing an NGO job opportunity usually starts with forwarding an application and resume.
A well written cover letter and resume demonstrates your skills in written communication.
It should convey passion and strong reason for humanitarianism or social impact.
If you are aware how your specific skills can benefit the NGO in question, be sure to include this in your letter. Make sure to write clearly on this. The person reviewing your application may require articulated context to understand the value you are promising to bring on board.
Where applicable, be specific about the job role you are interested in. Just in case you are unsure if that position exists in the organization, your letter should connote a readiness to work with any other department while offering your own unique contributions from there.
Here is a sample letter (for non-professionals with specific skills) to convey the point above
Dear Michael O.,
It is my pleasure to write you about my interest in working for your organization as media and communications assistant.
While searching the web for the different NGOs in Maiduguri, Nigeria that could benefit from my skills, I came across your website. In the light of getting to know about the problems your team of staff and volunteers are tackling in the area, I feel motivated to seek an opportunity to work in your project.
I am convinced that my digital skills when deployed effectively across different media on the internet and social networking platforms, will achieve massive publicity for your NGO. This, I believe, will consequently increase awareness about your mission, get more partners and donors to support your vision, inspire more volunteers to join your team, and attract great sponsorships to expand your activities.
If your organization currently have a media and communications department that sees to activities of this kind, I will be glad to work with the team there. And if you do not have such a department yet, I will not mind an initial placement with your outreach department.
I believe that starting out with the outreach team comes with the opportunity to collect real stories from the field, that can serve as material for media and communication contents, with which, I can create work that with attract the right kind of attention to your cause.
I will be glad to meet with you over an interview to discuss the prospects of my application.
Feel free to reach me back through 777-777-777 or my personal email address, email@example.com
Strategically leave out some points of weakness from the letter, so that you don’t attract resistance so early in the correspondence.
For Example, you don’t need to mention that what you know about media and communications is all self-taught, and that you have no professional training on this. Same goes for clearly stating that you have no previous experience in this role at another organization.
Taking a closer look, you will agree that drawing attention to these ‘weaknesses’ earlier in your letter can be a put off.
But…. If your cover letter is written in the most creative manner, these pieces of information that you have strategically left out will cause the recruiter to get curious and reach out to find out why no professional training or work experience appears in your resume too.
When this happens, it is a sign that the organization is really interested in what you have to offer.
Your success at this point will depend on your verbal communication skills. Use this opportunity to pitch them your personality, energy and skills, in the most impressive way.
What if I am not sure which of my skills will be valuable to the NGO?
Most aspiring NGO interns or volunteers are not sure which of their skills are relevant to the organization they desire to join. They have no particular job roles in mind, but are desirous of learning about charity work and social impact from other team members while contributing in any other unique way they can.
For the sake of persons in this category, I have included this sample letter, as an illustration to the point made.
Here is a sample letter for non-professionals without specific skills.
Dear Michael O,
After reading through a news publication online that linked me to your organization’s official website, I got excited from learning about what your organization is doing in Pakistan to help children who have lost their families to the armed conflict in the area.
Further reading revealed that your organization also run an emergency response humanitarian project here in India. Hence, this letter of intent to join your team.
In reality, I have only a little idea of how your organization operates. Nevertheless, I am desirous to contribute to changing the world with an organization like yours, that is dedicated to aiding vulnerable individuals and communities.
Meanwhile, I hold a Bachelors Degree in Sociology. I also hold additional certifications in project management and digital account management systems from some of the available online courses, and have a huge interest in logistics and supply chain management. In addition, I am skilled in creative writing, and possess great analytical and leadership instincts.
I understand that your NGO’s operations require a lot of flexibility and dynamism. I am however, confident in my ability to learn and adapt quickly to any context of work that you find me suitable for.
Attached to this application letter is my resume. I look forward to hearing from you soon, and possibly meeting with you over an interview to discuss the prospects of my application.
Feel free to reach me back through 777-777-777 or my personal email address, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Adjust this letter a bit, and what you have is a good application letter for an internship)
Your verbal communication skill:
Utilizing an opportunity to start or hold a conversation, helps you to build a bond with the other party.
A good impression made during a conversation can cause the hiring manager to pick a special interest in you. This could mean securing that opportunity to work with the NGO despite having no prior work experience.
These tips will be helpful for you to hold a worthwhile conversation with any decision maker regarding your application, either in a telephone or one-on-one interview.
- Always start with a warm greeting to the other person, or a warm response to their greeting.
- Feel free to address the other party in their own name.
- Express yourself with confidence.
- Be clear about your intentions, what you can offer, and the benefits of these for the organization
- Talk about your experience learning those skills or using them to achieve results (on other occasions that are not necessarily paid jobs)
- Do not make obvious attempts to avoid certain questions, except you consider them very personal and unrelated to your application. In this case, feel free to decline politely.
- Be real. Do not lie about yourself.
- Creatively chip in a few personal experiences that have thought you great life lessons that influenced your purpose.
- Keep conversations as formal as possible. A little humour isn’t bad at all.
- Sound enthusiastic and passionate, but not desperate.
- Point out and address any misconceptions they may have about you, your application and your claims.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions too.
Your body language:
When the NGO recruitment person or interview team has asked to meet in person, here are a few tips for making a good impression with your body language;
- Wear a moderate dressing to the meeting. Nothing unnecessarily luxurious.
- Give or return a warm handshake
- Maintain good eye contact
- Sit upright
- Keep a smile
- Keep gesticulations at a minimum
- Don’t shuffle your legs against the floor
- Don’t bite your nails
- Demonstrate self-awareness by being conscious and in control of your composure and reactions.
In a subsequent post, I shall cover specifically on how to be in control of your body language in a skype or video interview.
3) Request to be adopted as an intern or volunteer
Generally, businesses and for-profits are known to spend money based on budgetary plans made for a financial year. Without doubt, this also applies for non-profits, and charities.
For this reason, a charity group may be interested in the prospects of your application holds, but still be unable to offer you a paid job.
Don’t feel bad if the organization is indisposed to offering you paid employment for budgetary reasons. When you find out, send them another mail. Ask if you can work with them as an unpaid intern or volunteer for a while.
Firstly, this shows that you are really interested and determined about joining their team.
Secondly, this makes it easier for them to reconsider your application, as they are not under pressure to fulfill a contractual financial obligation towards you.
Remember that your plan is to make it through the door.
A lot of things change after you have achieved that.
Like, management may later review the financial plans for the year or preceding quarter, and decide that you are worth the investment for their organization.
This could mean being paid as an intern or volunteer, or being offered a full time job after a period of providing great value for the organization.
4) Demonstrate willingness to provide more value, as well as absorb new knowledge
Being part of a non-governmental charity means buying into their vision, and demonstrating this through your work ethics.
What this implies most times, is that your disposition to flexibility will earn you good credit. Be flexible enough to give a helping hand to members of other teams in your unit or a different departments, who are faced with a load of work and could use some assistance.
To be able to assist other teams whenever the need arises, it is necessary that you learn as much as you can about other departments in the organization. Your work does not have to suffer for this to happen, as you can always use your free time to interact with the other teams.
Nobody will appreciate a non-professional newbie who gets the rare opportunity to be part of a non-profit team, then starts sitting around idly when his work desk is less busy.
You should build a reputation for continually providing more value than is expected from you.
Throw yourself into whatever work is going on around you!
If you were not offered a full time job at your first NGO opportunity, this means that your engagement with that group may just be temporary.
There are cases where at the end of a given period, the organization converts an intern or volunteer to a full time staff.
However, this is not always the case, and you will need other connections to move on after your time there is over.
As often as possible, attend industry meetings and events. Meet up with the keynote speakers, and representatives from other NGOs. Exchange contacts. Mail them often.
It’s easier to have a request considered in the future if it is coming from someone with which you have history of some form of industry plus personal relationship.
Mind you, if the organization you volunteered or interned with does not give you a full time job after your period with them, it does not mean that the work you did there was not well appreciated, or that they think you have learnt nothing. It could simply be that they still do not have provisions for adopting a new paid staff.
Apart from the prospect of getting called back for a job when the time is ripe, the organization will gladly give you a quality recommendation letter.
Recommendations are very powerful in the world of social work and charity.
If a reputable NGO recommends you for doing a great job during your stay with them, other reputable organizations will take their word for it, and offer you an opportunity too.
In addition, your new network of friends in other organizations will be more willing to inform you of openings in their organizations. Expectedly, most will agree to forward your application to their own connections in HR. Recommendations from industry people are more trusted and likely to work for you.
6) Never underestimate the importance of natural talent
Without reservation, your basic asset as a newbie looking to be given a chance in a job role you have never handled before is your natural talent. The more charismatic you are perceived to be, the better your chances of success in this.
Your people and communication skills fall under this category. If you are genuine, open to ideas, innovative, gentle, and easy to interact with, chances are that you will end up with the opportunity you have indicated interest in.
7) Work your ass off
Of course, when you have finally got your feet in the door, you don’t want to disappoint whoever took that bet on you. You also do not want whoever recommended you, to regret doing so. Therefore, you should literally be willing to work your ass off.
An NGO job is not the typical fun job that most people think it is. In reality, there are lots of moments of intense workloads.
By all means, do more than anyone initially expected from you. Bury yourself in the work. Let it consume you. Document your progress and achievements. Meet with management over your novel ideas. Get more done in less time and with less resources. Share knowledge with the team. Do more!
I hope that this guide was valuable. Thank you for reading! Also, if you find this guide useful for people interested in knowing how to get an NGO job with no previous work experience (or any other entry-level job), please consider sharing our article!