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Careers Centre


Sector Overview

The voluntary sector is made up of not-for profit organisations or charities which respond to identified needs that are not adequately met by either the state or profit-making organisations. Charities are usually set up by passionately committed individuals and continue to attract such people to their ranks. Individual charities range from the very small and entirely volunteer staffed to the significantly large eg Oxfam employs over 5,500 people in the UK and abroad. Over 160,000 organisations in England and Wales have registered with the The Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has a further 27,000 registered north of the border. The sector employs around 2% of the overall paid UK workforce (circa 765,000 people) and a further 3 million unpaid volunteers. Their UK income in 2010 was nearly £60bn. But note that government funding cuts are impacting on the revenue streams of many voluntary organisations.

A very wide range of professional, technical, research and administrative roles are available in the voluntary sector. Volunteer roles are typically less specialised and usually focused on service delivery or fund raising. In general, the smaller the organisation the more varied the tasks any worker may be expected to do.

For information on working overseas and/or ‘out in the field’ you will also find the following Careers A-Z pages useful:


Not-for-profit attributes profile

Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
Project management skills

Organising roles within societies eg for events. CAPOD offers courses on Project Management within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Also master the use of EXCEL.

The analytical skills to solve complex problems These are most likely to be developed and evidenced from your academic studies, especially any dissertation or research projects.
The ability to listen and understand both intellectually and emotionally. The ability to present arguments convincingly in speech and writing Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics. CAPOD offers courses on Communication Skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Empathy: a capacity to understand different perspectives than your own
  • Resilience: the work is often emotionally gruelling
  • Flexibility: success will come from imaginative adaptations to local circumstances


Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Barnardo's, Oxfam Scotland, Dial-a-Community Bus and Charity Works. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

In St Andrews

Use your time in St Andrews to gain relevant work experience. The opportunities to volunteer are endless and working on projects will give you many relevant skills that you will need to kick-start your career. Graduate jobs may value evidence of charity fundraising or experience of events organisation, all of which can be achieved by working on University projects or within the community.

During Vacations

How to get a (graduate) job

The links given below will lead you to positions which are advertised in this sector. Remember that evidence of commitment and networking are both very important. Jobs in this sector frequently go to those who can show that they have had a long term commitment to the voluntary sector, often through working as a volunteer in the specific area they are applying to. Often volunteers will hear of jobs that are coming up before they are advertised more generally, and will also often be the front runners for the position.

Paid positions within charities usually go to those with sought after professional or technical qualifications and experience. Other roles, eg in Policy, will usually go to those with postgraduate qualifications. It is vital for you to identify the role(s) that attracts you and to then establish the profile of qualifications, experience and skills which you will need to have in order to succeed. Spend time browsing current job adverts to get a feel for this and then make contact with people doing the jobs that appeal to you and seek their advice and experience before deciding on how to build up your own employability profile.

Building a career in this sector requires strategic thinking and a commitment to developing future opportunities for yourself through the development of a compelling mix of experience, skills and qualifications.

UK Wide



Please also see International Development

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:



Useful Background Information


USA resources


The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.


Internships USA

The following list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point: