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Crafting a great CV for a nonprofit job

Have you ever wondered why you apply for lots of roles, but don’t hear back or miss out on shortlisting? It might be that you’ve got some excellent skills and experience and you know that you would be a great candidate for a role. But that’s just where there may be an issue – YOU know you would be great, but are you making it clear enough?

So, how do you submit a CV that brings out the best in your background?

Read the application pack thoroughly

It may sound like a simple request, but prospective candidates can sometimes forget that they need to address EVERY point in the application pack. If there is a list of essential and desirable skills or qualities, list these down and us both your CV and Covering letter to explain how you match each of them. With examples.

Remember that you may have transferrable skills. So if they are asking for a skill or experience that you don’t’ have - think sideways. Sometimes the skill they need, is very similar to one you may have used in a different context. e.g., Fundraising and Marketing can be very similar. Bid writing is similar to submitting Project Funding Applications. Charity events are similar to product launches.

Give examples

Quite often a candidate may say that they are good at one of the skills needed, but if you’ve not given evidence of this then it’s difficult for the recruiter or charity to appreciate your abilities.  

Be clear

Don’t presume that the hiring manager will understand everything without explanation. The NPO world has its own language and that’s the ONLY language you should use when applying.   So cut out any business jargon on abbreviations.   Use plain English. Use short sentences and state the obvious.   For example, if you are willing to move location for a role, then make it clear on your application. 

Try not to leave it too late 

We all live busy lives, but if there’s any chance that you can get your application form filled out a week or so before the closing date you are really setting yourself up for lots of benefits (not only concerning your blood pressure). If you fill out your form in advance, then you can get friends and family to check it for you for little mishaps. Or you might even be able to get in contact with the recruitment agency and ask that they briefly look it over before you send the final version to them. A fresh set of eyes over your application can be very helpful.

Don’t panic, ask for help

If you’re having difficulty completing your application, get in touch with the recruiter and ask for a bit of help, Charity Careers Africa are always happy to do this! Sometimes things can be confusing so a helping hand can be very welcome.

Do your research

You might be surprised by the number of potential candidates who don’t do their research on the organisations whose role they are applying for. Particularly when it comes to interview it is essential that you’re up to date with the main facts about the charity.  You don’t want to be caught out in interview, and its only really respectful to the organisation you are seeking to join. Do your research and prove it by referencing it in your CV.   Show your interest and passion for the charity you are applying for!

Simply does it

It’s not just your language being concise – think about the layout of your CV or Covering Letter and resist overproducing it. Make the font a minimum of 12 point and use a business font like Arial, Tahoma or Calibri. Don’t use comic sans. Ever.

 Photo credit, made available under Creative Commons.

Bruce Tait

Director, Charity Careers Africa

Bruce is a well-known international NPO expert.  He has worked as a Consultant, Chief Executive and Director of Fundraising at multiple NPOs in Europe, North America and Africa. In 2007, Bruce set up his first NPO recruitment agency and now operates 6 ethical search firms around the world.
He pioneered values-based recruitment, and has worked to promote diversity in the non-profit sector. His team at Charity Careers Africa will guide and inform you throughout the recruitment process.

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