The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used a lot recently, and in many different contexts. When it comes to the world of work, though, it really is justified. The coronavirus pandemic has changed how, when and if we work, causing some sectors to stall and others to surge. Amongst all of the data on the UK’s employment, what’s clear is that more people are changing their line of work. Whether through necessity or desire, an estimated 7 out of 10 UK workers are currently considering changing careers.
With so many people potentially looking to change tracks, the charity sector will undoubtedly see an increase in applications for open roles. But should we be open to candidates without third sector experience? Our answer is a resounding yes—here’s why, and what to look out for as a charity recruiter.
Why consider career changers?
Increasingly, recruiters and HR professionals are prioritising transferable skills over narrow experience in a sector. Research from the emerging market of ‘blind hiring’ shows the most reliable way to measure a candidate is through work samples (activities related to the actual job) rather than what’s written on a CV.
People pick up skills from all areas of life and work; what matters for recruiters is not where they’ve developed these skills, but how well they can apply them. When you look at it this way, a successful salesperson could easily transition to an effective fundraiser, or a marketing executive could seamlessly slide into a charity comms role. If you assess candidates on raw ability rather than what they’ve done to date, you’re more likely to hire the best person for the job.
It’s a common trope that the charitable sector is slow-moving, overly bureaucratic and generally lacking the spark of its private counterpart. This might be harsh, but it’s true to an extent. Whilst some charities are starting to innovate (particularly in regard to technology), many are still lagging behind. The findings of the Charity Digital Skills Report 2020 suggest that 66% of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low, whilst 51% of charities don’t have a digital strategy at all.
Ultimately, this lack of digital know-how translates to missed opportunities for raising funds and meeting your organisation’s mission statement. By hiring people from outside of charity (or at least being open to them), you can benefit from a more diverse skillset and help to modernise the third sector.
Although many people are currently changing careers out of necessity, there are also many who are changing out of desire. The self-reflection made possible by lockdown has led numerous people to question their motivation for the jobs they do. LinkedIn is full of stories and posts about people that have switched careers to better align with their values, passions, and skills—and what unites all of them is adaptability.
Each ‘career switcher’ has demonstrated not only a willingness to take a risk but to adapt to an entirely new situation. As charities enter a phase of increased uncertainty, the flexibility and determination of shifters can only be seen as positive traits.
Fundamental skills for charity career shifters
Clearly, the skills required for a charity job is determined by the demands of a particular role. Having said this, we’ve found the following to be important to most jobs in the sector:
Digital skills – This is incredibly broad, but any newcomer to charity needs to have solid digital skills. Effective remote working requires knowledge of cloud-based applications (like Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite) as well as video conferencing. For fundraising, the ability to manipulate and draw meaning from data will prove increasingly valuable as donation technology (like contactless payment terminals) is being used more—lookout for Excel and SQL skills.
Communication – As work patterns are changing, communication skills are becoming even more central. New employees, regardless of where they’ve come from, need to be able to communicate complex ideas in a simple way to team members who they’ve perhaps never met. They also need to be sensitive to the demands and uncertainties of the ‘new normal’ on colleagues and clients. In essence, a high EQ will be very important.
Motivation – The reason why somebody is applying for a role is just as important as their skills to fulfil it. People who work in charity are generally driven by purpose over financial gain. Try to discover what’s driving a candidate towards your organisation and whether they have a personal connection to your cause.
The jobs market is currently in flux, and the number of people changing careers is increasing. If your charity is hiring for a position, keep open to those without third sector experience. Skills and motivation are more important than previous experience and career shifters can bring various benefits to your organisation, from fresh insights to more up-to-date digital knowledge.