UCL Careers


Tips from experts on getting into the Charities and NGOs sector

Student Valeria Fernandez Soriano shares top tips for cracking the Charity and NGO sector.


3 February 2022

f you’re intent on a rewarding career in the charity and NGO sector, you might have realised that finding a way into this competitive field is no easy feat.

As part of UCL Careers’ Charities and NGOs Week 2022, recent UCL graduates and experienced professionals working in the Charity and NGO sector shared their experiences and gave top tips on getting your foot in the door.

The key takeaway from the session? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, even if it means starting from the bottom. 

Getting work experience

Though your academic background will help you, you’ll need to set yourself apart from the multitude of graduates by showing that you have the practical skillset to address real-world problems. Most charity sector employees began their careers in volunteer work, so this really underscores the importance of getting work experience.

Here at UCL, we’re lucky enough to have the Students’ Union Volunteering Unit’s brilliant online directory that connects students with community organisations across London.

If none of the opportunities sparks your interest, demonstrate some initiative, and set up your own volunteering project; you’ll be assigned a supervisor who will guide you through the entire process and turn your altruistic vision into reality.

Making your mark

Mike Baxter, a Youth Engagement and Diversity Manager for the British Red Cross, advises applicants to go for a 6-12 month long entry-level role, and then pursue other opportunities for career progression once you’ve left your mark within the organisation.

Maintaining connections

It is also important to maintain your connections with the people you’ve met along the way.

Paolina Della Bordella, a Senior Innovation & Strategic Management Officer at WaterAid, kept in touch with her former line manager during her London-based placement and landed a part-time job while doing her master’s at UCL. Connections with colleagues are vital if you want to move sideways into the sector.

However, Benjamin Siggery, a GIS, Research and Monitoring Consultant at Surrey Wildlife Trust recommends applying through the proper channels and advertised listings, especially LinkedIn.

Make your application stand out amongst the rest, make it personal by visiting the website and where possible introduce yourself to the team. For recruiters, adding a face to a name can make a huge difference. 

Managing your finances

If you’re concerned about managing your finances whilst volunteering, many internships and placement schemes offer bursaries or reimburse expenses. If they don’t, Paolina says that from experience, it doesn’t hurt to negotiate with the relevant department, even if it’s to get course credit for your volunteering.

Rise of remote working

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in the era of remote working, such that companies are scrambling to facilitate flexible options for employees. Pay is slightly less in the charity sector, so it is very good news that you no longer need to be based in London, or even in the United Kingdom, to gain valuable work experience in the sector and make decisive steps towards your dream career.

Charity work requires driven and passionate people keen to make a difference. Make sure you’re one of them by putting yourself out there, keeping an open mind when applying to different roles, and exploring different passions. 

Missed the event, or want to recap? View the recording.