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Posted on December 07, 2022. Career Advice.

NGO Recruitment consultants receive hundreds of applications daily and are trained to carefully screen them to identify the candidates who most closely match our client’s brief. If you are not having any luck with your non-profit career applications, make sure you are avoiding these common mistakes to increase your chances of being invited to an interview in an NGO.

Mistake #1 Not following application instructions

Make sure you follow the application advice when you apply, many candidates will omit a well-written cover letter which can make the difference between being invited to an interview – or not.

Check to ensure you are applying for a position that you have valid working rights for. Positions in Australia will usually require you to be a citizen or have residency and working rights, and positions we advertise for Asia/international will usually state if sponsorship is available. If a cover letter is requested, you should include one.

You should address the skills and experience required in your application, both in your resume and cover letter. If you do not meet most of the criteria and you cannot demonstrate any related transferable experience, you might consider if it is a good use of your time to apply and wait for a more suitable opportunity.

You can also send your resume for inclusion on our database and check our postings regularly for updates.

Candidates who apply for every vacancy regardless of their suitability will not be helping build their professional personal brand.  It is better to selectively contact our consultants with a quality application. Usually, a Word document is preferred.

Mistake #2 Not tailoring your application

A generic cover letter or resume shows you have not tailored it to the job and will detract from your application, it may mean your application gets less attention, or is not progressed if it appears to be irrelevant.

A cover letter is a chance to brand yourself as a well-qualified candidate, especially if you are missing some of the required experience. You can also explain any special circumstances (such as a planned relocation, an employment gap, or a transition from another sector or job function) and your motivation for the role and the organisation’s cause in your cover letter. This is very important to include on non-profit sector applications.

Make sure your cover letter is well written and addresses the key selection criteria identified in the advertisement you responded to or via the position description we’ve sent you, so the consultant reading it will want to read more in your resume. Do not copy chunks of your resume in your cover letter, it is better to paraphrase in your cover letter for maximum effect rather than repeat the same content.  NGO Recruitment often receives applications with resumes not tailored to the job the candidate is applying for, and our consultants then check the cover letter to see if there is any additional information to help them assess it, but often the cover letter is a generic one, or it’s not included at all.

It is true that an experienced recruitment consultant is well trained to first scan your resume to see if you appear to meet the key selection criteria before reading on. If your resume’s heading, summary, and skills section are not communicating your strengths and unique point of value, your application may not be progressed.

Your resume and cover letter:

  • should have a clear and modern format
  • should be easy to read and scan
  • must communicate your fit to the key selection criteria
  • must demonstrate the previous roles’ responsibilities and achievements
  • must demonstrate your commitment or connection to the organisation’s mission

You should have a version of your resume tailored to each job function you are applying for, this way you only need to tailor the top section each time you apply, and perhaps make a few small updates to the rest. By addressing the skills and experience requirements in the position description or advertisement, and using the same terms and language, you will be able to show the reader that your experience is a closer fit.

Our consultants also look to see if you have held similar responsibilities to what our clients are looking for, and what the results and impact of your work have been. Ensure your resume is achievement focused, rather than a list of position responsibilities which does not usually differentiate you or communicate your unique value proposition. You should also ensure your achievements are backed with factual evidence and quantifiable by using compelling data and figures, which are more convincing than vague statements.

Mistake #3 Failing to highlight transferable experience

If you are trying to transition into the non-profit sector you will need to show in your resume that you have the motivation and understanding of the role. Include transferable skills and experience, as these will allow you to make a smooth transition and start adding value in the role as quickly as possible.

Our executive search consultants usually need to see evidence of your commitment to the social impact sector, in the form of related work experience, voluntary or community work. If you do not have direct sector experience, ensure your connection to the cause of the organisation is clear, demonstrating your commitment to a career move to the not-for-profit sector. The cover letter is also another chance for you to showcase your transferable experience, motivation, and cultural fit.

Cultural fit should not be overlooked in a non-profit application. Our consultants are carefully trained to ensure the candidates we shortlist are not only skilled but also have the ‘soft skills’ that will help them fit well into our clients’ organisations.

Study the cultural competencies required, pay attention to the language of the position description and advertisement and visit the organisation’s website for more information on the organisational culture. You are more likely to be viewed as a potentially suitable candidate, if you tailor your application with these requirements in mind.

Mistake #4 Having an inconsistent online profile

Recruitment consultants will often check your online presence, especially your LinkedIn profile, if they need more information. A LinkedIn profile that does not align with the resume is a red flag for consultants. Ensuring that dates and job titles are aligned with your resume, will avoid any misunderstanding  around your application.

LinkedIn profiles that do not have a photograph can also be overlooked by recruitment consultants so be sure to include an updated and professional photo. Photos are not recommended on your resume.

Mistake #5 Not checking for errors

It is surprising how many applications contain obvious spelling mistakes, too many different font types and sizes, are applying to the wrong role or are addressed to a different organisation or contact person. Make sure you are not screened out at the first stage by making these basic mistakes.

Avoiding these mistakes will greatly increase your chances of success with your job application.


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