How do you get a job in the third sector?

We’re delighted to have a guest blog today from Lisa Stewart, Oxfam Scotland Campaigns and Communications Manager.  Although Lisa is currently working in the third sector, she didn’t start out there – and that’s something we hear quite often.  You may not be able to go into your ideal third sector job straight after graduation, and that’s ok.  As Lisa’s advice shows, sometimes it’s about thinking longer-term, building up your skills and evidencing your passion.

People, especially students, always ask me how to get a job in the third sector. Every time they do, I wish I had a straightforward answer to give them but the reality is, there’s no single path to a career in the third sector and securing a job working for a charity or non-profit can be very difficult.

My own path to my job in the third sector was actually via the private sector, where I worked first of all in communications and then for a long time in Sustainability. I gained the skills in those roles that enabled me to apply for my current job at Oxfam, and whilst working there I also completed a Masters in Human Rights, which I hoped would help me shift into the third sector (and it did!)

So, from my personal experience, the best advice I can give is: wherever you find yourself working, seek out opportunities to learn more about and gain experience in the areas you’re really passionate about. I care about human rights, and I found a way to work on human rights issues within the sustainability team of a bank. This set me up well to move into the third sector as my next step – but of course, there are no guarantees.

Another great way to boost your chances of getting a charity job is pretty obvious – volunteering. Not only does it look great on your CV and help you to develop skills, but in addition, by volunteering for charities you’ll be part of the team. You’ll understand how they operate, what it’s like to work there, and you’ll make personal connections that could be vitally important in your future. It’s fun too!

The key thing, in my opinion, is to get involved with the cause or causes you care about – learn about them, find and connect with like minded people, volunteer for charities working in the space, find ways to make links between your current job and the cause. Whether it’s climate change, animal rights, the arts or tackling poverty – throw yourself into what you care about, and stepping stones will start to emerge that could eventually form the path to a job.

One important thing to know about the third sector is that very often jobs will be fixed-term and tied to a specific project. Right now, for example, we at Oxfam along with our project partners are recruiting a team to deliver A Menu For Change – a three-year project funded by the Big Lottery Fund to tackle food poverty in Scotland. The nature of funding means that jobs might come up more frequently than you think, but they’re likely to be fixed term and quite specialised.

At Oxfam, I’m proud to say we have one of the few traineeship schemes available in the third sector, offering paid employment in the form of rotations in our Campaigns, Policy and Influencing team. It’s not a graduate scheme, because applicants don’t need to have formal qualifications. Our scheme is unique in what we offer and look for in a trainee, with passion and enthusiasm for fighting against inequality being more important to us than qualifications and work experience.

What next?

Find out more about volunteering for Oxfam at

Find out more about A Menu for Change at (

Find out more about Oxfam’s trainee scheme at

For other UK-based volunteering opportunities see

The Careers Service will be advertising Employ.ed in the Third Sector work experience opportunities from March onwards.  See:

To search for paid roles in the third sector and volunteering opportunities overseas use MyCareerHub.


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