Those of us who work in the third sector – which is as diverse and diffuse as any other sector – are united by a will to have a positive effect on the world around us. Whether it comes to you intuitively, or arises from a conscious realisation of your potential to contribute, this deeply held desire to make a difference is shared by everyone in the sector. This means that NFP organisations and social enterprises tend to overflow with bold, motivated and impressive young people, possessing the passion and skills to drive the sector forwards. The third sector has therefore become increasingly competitive, and jobs within it highly sought-after.
As such, it is more important than ever to try to stand out during the application process for these jobs, particularly when it comes to perhaps the most challenging part: the interview. We at Student Hubs have a fair amount of experience in this area as an organisation, primarily because of the internship and graduate schemes that we run (both of which entail thorough interviewing of many amazing candidates), as well as the fact that we’ve accumulated plenty of personal experience as interviewees ourselves. It therefore seemed like a good idea to extract some of the existing knowledge within our organisation to put together a bit of guidance on how to tackle these sometimes daunting interviews.
So, here are our 10 top tips for third-sector interviews, delivered with clarity and solidarity to get you into that charity (these also apply to all other organisations in the sector besides charities, but rhymes are important too):
1. Be prepared.
Preparation is absolutely key – obviously. Get to know the organisation you’re applying to before the interview, for example by following them on social media to see what they get up to day-to-day. Do your best to grasp their vision and their values – formulate some of your own thoughts on them and be ready to ask and talk about them at your interview.
2. Know your third sector stuff.
The organisation may want to hear your thoughts on the sector as a whole. Now, you don’t need to have an incredible knowledge of the whole sector, but you need to be able to show that you try to keep up in order to demonstrate genuine interest. We often ask interviewees to tell us about an organisation or campaign that they especially admire. This can be a tricky question, but the secret is to be able to back up whatever you say in a nuanced and informed way. For example, you may believe that the UN is more impactful than local development agencies, but you must be able to justify this view beyond saying ‘well, the UN is really big’.
3. Prove your motivation.
They might also ask you why you want to work in the third sector at all. It may seem difficult to answer this without sounding cliché, but it is a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates. We know that you want to make the world a better place – without wanting to sound too blunt, so do lots of people (luckily!). The key here is to demonstrate self-awareness: show them that your passion is genuine, share how it came about, whilst also recognising that it is not unique in and of itself. Above all, back up your answer with your specific interests and experiences, proving that you are informed and ambitious.
4. Give a clear picture of what you want to achieve.
Speaking of ambitions – this is something that interviewers often want to hear about. However, it’s not just about saying ‘I want to be CEO of this or that’. Whilst that may be the case, you need to (once more) back it up. Whether you aspire to managing a specific organisation, or just want to get involved with an issue that interests you, be prepared to talk about why and the impact that you envision yourself having.
5. Passion + real skills = the winning combination
Have I mentioned anything yet about backing up the things you say? Well, here it comes again – passion is great and so important to these kinds of organisations. Seriously, we love it. However, it’s unfortunately the case that it’s just not enough on its own. Passion absolutely must be complemented by skills and experience – and demonstrable attempts to acquire these, whether through a university society, volunteering in your home community or previous internships.
6. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself.
Interviews are the place to do that. Say what ‘I’ did, as opposed to what ‘we’ did: organisations want to hear what your role was and what you contributed to any project you took part in. And explain everything: the implications and importance of what you’ve done may be obvious to you, but won’t necessarily be so obvious to the interviewer.
7. Don’t evade this question: ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’
When talking to the interviewer about your experience, you may get asked some standard interview questions – about your leadership, your teamwork, your strengths, your weaknesses. Let’s put a quick spotlight on that last one: please, please, please don’t spin this round to talk about something that’s actually a strength. You may think that this is deviously clever of you, but it gets real old real fast. The trick here is to be self-aware and honest. Tell them about something that you want to work on, why you want to work on it and how you’re going to go about doing it. A desire to learn from experience and improve yourself is essential to doing well in the sector.
8. Have plenty of opinions (but don’t get too extreme).
Interviewers may well want to hear your opinion on lots of things – what you think of their organisation, what you think of a campaign, what the future holds for a certain issue. This is another great opportunity to demonstrate your interest, passion and engagement with the topic at hand. Here, you need to be critical without being cynical, and open-minded without being naive. It’s all about striking the right balance (something which you’ll have to judge when you get there) and backing up the things you say (hmm what a great tip, I wonder if anyone’s mentioned this already).
9. Pause to think about the reasoning behind less obvious questions.
The likelihood is that interviewers will have a set script from which they will ask you questions and gather the information that they need. As such, you need to think about the reason behind each question they ask you and what they’re trying to get you to talk about. Be careful though – just because they’re trying to talk to you on specific subjects, it doesn’t mean you should fake it and just tell them what you think they want to hear. Talk about your interests and experiences and be genuine.
10. Be genuine – please!
In fact, this is a great way to finish – be genuine and authentic. Bulls**t doesn’t work and is a waste of everyone’s time. There will be an element of intuitiveness to interviewers’ assessment of you, so a sense that you’re not being genuine ain’t gonna sit well with them. This once again brings us around to backing up the things you say – everything seems so much more authentic if you can tell the interviewers why.
There you go – 10 top tips and tricks for this lovely sector that we call home. I hope you’ve found these useful and will be able to apply them yourselves one day soon. This is far from an exact science, so remember that gauging the situation yourself is extremely important and can sometimes be more effective than following these kinds of guidelines too rigidly (but do keep them in mind as they will be useful and we worked really, really hard on them). And please let us know what you think of these tips, in the comment box below: anything to add? anywhere you think we’re way off? any burning questions you have that we didn’t answer? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
So Happy Interviewing everyone! And good luck, you’ll be fine – we believe in you.