Afghanistan veteran with medals and child

Do’s and don’ts of Third Sector job applications

23 January 2015

Do’s and don'ts of Third Sector job applications

Want to work in the Third Sector? Do’s and don’ts of job applications from our in-house HR Professional.

Ian Westall, Director of People and Organisation Development at SSAFA advises what candidates should be thinking about when applying for jobs in the Third Sector.

What impresses you when you receive a job application - what specific things are you looking for?

Brevity and clarity. There are lots of applications for most roles nowadays and this gives the recruiter lots of work to do, so you want to make their job as easy as possible. A tailored CV that takes up two sides of A4 and is relevant to the advertised role, not just a generic history, is what is needed. Be ruthless with your ego! The covering letter should be completely specific to the role and clearly show how your skills and experience meet all of the advertised requirements of the job. Too frequently nowadays people apply via job boards using generic CVs and covering letters – and fail at the very first sift.

Do you like it when someone shows a passion for your cause area?

Yes, especially when balanced with a passion for their chosen profession and a clear understanding of how their skills and experience can support the aims and objectives of our organisation. Wanting to ‘give something back’ is laudable but not sufficient to secure knowledge-worker roles within the sector, you also need to have relevant skills and experiences to be able to fully contribute to the success of the organisation.

Is it essential to have previous charity experience - does volunteering or being a trustee help?

No, it’s not essential but it can help. We need to attract people with diverse backgrounds and experiences so that we reflect the world in which we operate, so previous sector experience is not a pre-requisite. The ability to adapt your working style and operate successfully within the governance norms of the charity sector is essential but you should also have the confidence and competence to suggest and promote better ways of working.

What advice can you give to people preparing for an interview?

Really research the organisation. This doesn’t just mean a quick look at the website, you should read at least the last two years annual reports, to see where there are patterns or trends and what is being emphasised or changing. Run a news search to pick up on media activity. Check out their social media profiles and look at what the organisation is promoting and how the followers are engaging. For any senior role make sure that you understand the published accounts and financial health of the organisation. If you cannot do this yourself, find a friend who understands accounting to help you. With this level of research you should be able to prepare some relevant questions for the interviewer that indicates a high level of interest and awareness and therefore your seriousness about the role.

What, in your opinion, are big 'no-nos' - coloured writing paper, turning up late for interview etc.?

Be punctual and have relevant pre-prepared questions. If giving a presentation, take paper copies, be prepared for technology letting down. Don’t just speak to the person asking the question; address all of your remarks to the entire panel. Never admit to a weakness that you don’t have a way of compensating for. I recently interviewed someone for a senior role who admitted that ‘everyone says I talk too much’ and who then gabbled on without pause. Clearly he hadn’t learned how to manage that weakness. He didn’t get the job but in my feedback I suggested he got an egg-timer and trained himself to answer any question in a maximum of three minutes!

Can you recall any particular applications/interviews that impressed you for a specific reason?

It’s always the quirky ones. Whilst working for an online train ticket retailer I received an unsolicited application from a recent graduate looking for an internship in marketing. He sent a paper model that he had designed and engineered himself. When you popped it out from the A4 sheet and folded up the model as instructed it produced an elegantly-designed train with his application clearly written on the body-side. On another occasion while recruiting for a public affairs manager the interviewee captivated the panel by presenting details of how he arranged, in his spare time, all of the publicity for a four-day national festival at Olympia attended by tens of thousands of people for a major voluntary organisation. He didn’t mention who the organisation was until questioned – it turned out to be the Great British Beer Festival for CAMRA and his passion and dedication for that cause made him the ideal person for the job we were filling.

In contrast did any stand out for all the wrong reasons?

Apart from numerous people over the years who just didn’t turn up for the interview, a recent failure was the interviewee whose presentation fully answered the scenario set out on his opening slide – unfortunately it wasn’t the scenario we had set and clearly referred to another role he was applying for. At no time did it occur to him that it was incorrect until challenged – needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

SSAFA employs over 600 staff in 14 countries around the world, who deliver health and social care to the armed forces and their families. To find out more about working with us visit our website.