Help Desk: Charity begins at work

Your Career Problems Solved By The Experts
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The problem

I work for one of the "big six" firms of auditors, having trained as an accountant. However, I want to work for an NHS charity in general management.

In my present job, I have some management responsibility and often liaise with senior staff. I have a lot of background knowledge of the NHS and, to a more limited degree, of charities - I have undertaken some voluntary work but nothing very major.

I've had a couple of interviews but am growing demoralized at not getting any further. How do I break into health-related charity work?

I feel that I've a lot to offer, but am I always to be let down by lack of relevant experience? If so, how do I gain that experience?

R. Allison

The solutions

Pauline Donoghue, head of personnel, Macmillan Cancer Relief, says:

Firstly, try not to feel demoralised by the results of the previous couple of interviews - two unsuccessful attempts is not many for a job in any profession, and voluntary sector jobs are competitive. Try to get some feedback from these organisations - they may be able to give you some useful advice for the future or points on which you can brush up.

As a health-related charity, Macmillan Cancer Relief is more than happy to consider applicants with relevant experience, yet who have not worked in the voluntary sector before. The charity world is becoming more and more commercial and you should not feel in any way hindered by your commercial background.

Have another look at your CV and make sure that it highlights relevant points, such as your motivation for working in the voluntary sector and your interest in care. And ensure that you tailor your description of your experience appropriately to the job in question.

Clive Davis, manager, Robert Half Accountemps, 0171-395 9600, says:

In London the not-for-profit sector is crying out for commercially trained staff to add value to their operations.

At this stage it may be difficult to go from public-practice audit straight into this sector in a general management role. However, the route to achieving your aim is quite straightforward.

Many general managers start off in pure finance roles, as understanding finance is a key part of general management. By joining a charity or NHS Trust in mainstream finance or audit you will gain invaluable knowledge of the organisation's infrastructure. With two or three years' hard work behind you, the move into general management should be much more direct. NHS Trusts and charities always advertise their positions, which means that by scanning the public sector press you will be able to apply for all appropriate positions.

Katherine Gardiner, director of finance & resources at Mind, the mental health charity, says:

Demonstrate the right experience. Many charities use "equal opportunities" recruitment processes, which match relevant experience to a "person specification" of the ideal candidate. This should tell you what they are looking for. Volunteering may be a good way to get appropriate experience, especially as a committee member, treasurer or trustee of a smaller charity (which often seek financial expertise). Above all, make sure that you show how you meet the essential criteria on the application form.

Be prepared to "move sideways".Charities these days are sophisticated businesses with specific laws and accounting rules, so some specialist knowledge is useful. Remember, too, that charities often pay lower salaries than equivalent-sized commercial companies. As with any employer, do your homework and make sure that you understand what they do, and how they do it, before you apply. Good luck!

Compiled by

Carmen Fielding

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail