Zara: Charityworks

Zara graduated from The University of Manchester in 2019 with a degree in Social Anthropology and Comparative Religion. She is currently the Divisional Coordinator at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, after completing her Graduate Scheme with Charityworks.

Did you always know you wanted to work in this sector?

I was always interested in the non-profit sector, having taken part in several volunteering experiences during school. During university and my degree, I developed an interest in social justice, human rights issues and activism, which led me to look into roles in the non-profit, third sector, and charity sector.

During my second year at university, I subscribed to the mailing list of a recruitment site Milk Round. An email came into my inbox about the Charityworks graduate scheme, which is one of the UK’s leading non-profit sector graduate programmes. It looked interesting and they had just removed the psychometric testing aspect of their recruitment process, which especially appealed to me as I was not getting through to first stages of other graduate schemes due to the tests.

What is the structure of the scheme?

It is a 12-month scheme. Once you give your preference of cause and location, the team will match you with an organisation where you will carry out your 12 month placement, alongside an ILM endorsed Leadership and Management course. Once a month you come together with your fellow trainees and leaders across the sector to explore and debate the key issues affecting your work and society. You also produce your own research, helping to raise your profile and develop your understanding of your environment. You also have access to a peer mentor and an external mentor who is established in the sector.

You remain in the same organisation for 12 months. I stayed in the same role for my whole placement, before I was kept on as a permanent member of staff. But I know other Charityworks trainees in other organisations who did rotate around different departments. The thing with the Charityworks scheme is that everyone will have a unique experience. We are all in different charitable organisations, doing different roles and with different placement structures.

What does a normal day look like in your current role / placement?

My current role as a Divisional Coordinator is quite fast paced and varied. I support three Directors and work across several teams including the research, policy, public affairs and global teams. A normal day for me is responding to enquiries, organising meetings, minute-taking, doing research or report writing, liaising with external stakeholders and providing overall administrative support across a number of working groups and interesting project areas or campaigns.

The variety of work really depends on what your role and host organisation are like. The thing with Charityworks is that every single placement is different, so I can only talk about my own experience in my specific organisation.

Would you recommend this graduate scheme for current students / recent graduates?

I would recommend the scheme. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to get a real insight into the sector. The organisations that Charityworks partner with are really interesting and are from a broad range of charitable causes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the learning sessions and conferences and they gave me an incredible insight into the charity sector, what issues it is facing and also explored larger societal issues. The facilitators are really amazing at what they do and a lot of them are previous Charityworks trainees so they have that experience of being on the other side of the sessions. The workshops and conferences are also an amazing way to make friends. I met so many interesting, driven people from my cohort and made some really good friends. The conferences are an amazing networking opportunity and the whole cohort becomes your network of peers who some of them will go on to be the next movers and shakers in the sector.

I also really enjoyed having that ringfenced time to be away from the office, go to Charityworks sessions and learn and develop new skills, and also have a bit of a break from the day-to-day stuff. It felt a bit like being back at university, which is obviously really nice if you’ve just graduated and you’re still adjusting to working life. You attend the sessions as part of the scheme and this is not part of your annual leave. At my work place it was considered as study leave and really supported by my line manager. During non-pandemic times, you go to meetings and conferences in really cool venues across London (if you’re London-based).

What was the application and assessment process like?

I applied to the scheme through a specific route for BAME Candidates, but I believe the standard application route is quite similar. I completed an application form with three questions, mainly about my interest in the scheme and sector, and my experience. I then had a telephone interview followed by an assessment centre which consisted of several group activities, a panel interview and a written test which was scenario based.

Do you have any advice for final year students going through the recruitment process?

I prepared for my interview by consolidating my knowledge of the scheme. My tips include:

  • Be able to demonstrate your motivation - why you want to do the scheme and work in this field.
  • Have a few key examples that illustrate your skills and experiences, for example, from previous work experience, internships, uni societies, etc.
  • Read online about assessment centres and if you can, see if you can go to a practice assessment centre at the Careers Service (search on CareerConnect for these). Make sure you actively contribute in the group activities - this doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be the leader or speak the most or loudest. Instead, stay engaged, try your hardest to involve everyone, make everyone else feel as though their opinions are valued - I think that is what really makes you stand out. A huge part of the group activities is listening, and contributing in a meaningful way without being overpowering.
  • Prepare for the panel interview. Use the CAR method and have a few good questions to ask at the end.
  • Use websites like The Student Room and Glassdoor to find out more about the assessment stage, or get in touch with a previous Charityworks trainee via LinkedIn or Twitter.

What are your plans for the future?

The graduate scheme has given me a really good background into the sector, as well as helping me to expand my skills and focus on the areas that I am most interested in. It has helped me to get my foot in the door as I don’t think I would have been able to get to this level without taking part in the scheme. The charity sector can be a tough industry to get in to.

Within my own organisation, I was lucky enough to be kept on as a permanent staff member and can see opportunity for growth and have a lot of support in my career development. I really like my organisation and I am enjoying working there.

My plans for the future are to continue building up my skills and experience, eventually moving to an organisation that is more aligned with my overarching career goals to work in development, gender equality and other related areas.