My time in a third sector internship; what I learned

Phoebe O’Carroll-Moran, fourth year Mathematical Physics undergraduate student and one of our Careers Service Student Engagement Assistants, shares her experience of interning in a third sector organisation.

Students are increasingly leaving university wanting to create a positive change in the world around them through fundraising to international aid work. As heartening as this may be, this has led to competition for internships and entry-level jobs. It’s therefore more important than ever to equip yourself for these challenges. This week, I’ll be sharing my experience of interning in a third sector organisation and talking about how you can use the current world of remote working to your advantage.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of many a summer plan, from holidays to work experience and the world of work. We students owe it to ourselves to adapt to this as best as we can. Luckily, many employers are meeting us halfway by pivoting towards online work setups and remote internships. This was how I found myself working at a Brighton based charity from the bedroom of my student flat 600 kilometres away in Edinburgh.

I formed part of a small team of interns based around the country, all working for EmbraceAbility, a relatively new non-governmental organisation (NGO), based in the UK, but who work primarily on Koh Dach Island, Cambodia – never was there a greater testament to the power of remote working! They mainly focus on assisting children with disabilities who are living on the island, although their support extends widely to encompass things like education, health and even sport. Our role as interns was to plan a fundraising campaign that would help the charity’s efforts to supply women on the island with sanitary protection.

One of the greatest insights from my time there was being able to see the degree of love and work that goes into running a small charity. I felt rather privileged to be part of such a concerted effort to create a better future for those who would benefit from the service. Not only this, but I gained a pretty broad range of skills from my time there that I believe will be transferrable to most workplaces. From teamwork, to design, to liaising with external stakeholders and businesses, it was a good grounding in planning and implementing large-scale projects.

It was also a bit of a crash course in remote working. In many ways, its structure pretty closely resembled a typical office job. We had daily meetings (over Zoom) to provide progress updates, and we stayed in regular touch with our team via a mix of email and Whatsapp. I also had typical 9-5 working hours. It wasn’t without its challenges though; there was the time difference between the UK and Cambodia to contend with and connection issues could make some meetings unmanageable. I also found that I missed the usual workplace dynamics of casual chat with colleagues, which would normally happen organically in an in-person working environment. Although we got on well as a team, it was hard to create “water-cooler” conversation with someone when it involved jumping on Zoom first.

I will add that my time in a third sector organisation did give me a more realistic overview of what a career in this sector would look like. With the right degree of preparation and by upskilling in the right areas, you too can get involved and shape the future in a positive way; there are a number of things you should be prepared for:

  • Having to take a role, at entry-level, that isn’t perfectly aligned with your long-term aspirations.
  • If you want to work in international development, but the only available jobs happen to be in fundraising, or vice versa, then you shouldn’t rule out the option entirely.
  • An established track record in a charitable organisation will massively boost your chances of obtaining your role of choice in the future, and having a strong overview of the sector from different angles will definitely help you too.

 At the Careers Service, we can help you get a clearer idea of how you can break into this sector. Our charities and voluntary organisation occupational page is a good starting point.

(Image credit: Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay)


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