Choosing which social or community work employer suits you

When looking for employment as a charity worker, volunteer coordinator, community services officer, social worker or the like, choosing which organisation is the right fit for your needs is tricky business. With organisations offering so much choice in terms of their mission, culture, size, flexibility and more, there’s certainly a lot to weigh up.
Brianne Turk
Brianne Turk
Team GradAustralia
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We know you’re eager to land your first graduate position. And with so much competition, it’s no wonder many have an ‘I’ll take what I can get’ attitude. You may even be tempted to send off applications willy-nilly and accept the first offer that lands in your lap. But with workers in this industry typically prioritising job satisfaction and a belief in their work over and above career progression and wage, it’s never been more important to assess which organisations match your personal values, aspirations and needs.

While compromises need to be made — especially early on in your career — a bit of research now will make a whole lot of difference down the track.

So when deciding which organisations suit you, consider the following points:

Mission and Values

Most people with an interest in this sector want to feel passionate about their work and its impact on society. Feeling aligned with an organisation's purpose and the principles is the first step. So ask yourself: What is this organisation trying to achieve? How are they going about doing this? Now, how does this make me feel?

Similarly, each organisation has a specific set of values which guides their work. Examples include embracing difference, dignity of all people, accountability, cultural respect, leadership, work-life balance and so forth.

Let’s say you find two organisations whose mission is to provide respite and recreation services for individuals with a disability, and their families. One operates on the values of providing cost-effective services, flexibility in service schedules and services close to home. The second values including individuals & families in all decision-making, recreation experiences tailored to individual goals, and building partnerships with community organisations to promote inclusiveness.   

Which is more enticing to you?

There’s no right answer, but a sense of congruence with an organisation's mission and values is a great launchpad for a fulfilling career.

Structure & size

Whether it’s a statutory body, voluntary organisation, private welfare provider, global charity or local not-for-profit, every type of organisation has its pros and cons.

Government positions usually bring a higher pay packet than voluntary organisations, but the associated red-tape and bureaucracy leaves some workers feeling frustrated. While voluntary organisations follow guidelines too, they typically enjoy more room for creative and innovative work. Another upside of voluntary organisations (and private organisations too), is that because they provide services to niche groups, workers are often able to form closer relationships with clients.

It all comes down to where your priorities lie.

Are you interested in working at a local level assisting your own community, or with widespread issues and international aid? Smaller organisations may allow you to take on tasks outside your typical job description, and larger organisations might provide you with better training opportunities and a well structured career progression!  

Culture

Culture is a big one.

If you’re someone who has to be really passionate about their work, chances are you want a great working environment too.

You can get a feel for an organisation’s culture by checking out their website, looking at their values, chatting to staff at careers events, or if you’re lucky, having a quick squizz around their offices during an interview. You might even know someone whose wife’s step-daughter’s boyfriend works there.

Whether you’re someone who wants to have a drink with colleagues on a Friday night, prefers to keep their personal and professional lives separate, or is just after a fun, accepting and supportive workplace environment, don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter about the organisation’s culture. First hand info is always best.

Flexibility

When weighing up which organisation is the best fit for you, consider whether you have any specific needs that would be reasonable to accommodate.  

Perhaps you’d prefer to start work early so you can do the school pick-up, or work from home one day a week because that’s where you’re most productive. If you have physical or mental health concerns, you might search for an employer who will work with you to come up with suitable, flexible working arrangements.

Remember that this sector places strong emphasis on health, wellbeing and fulfillment. If there’s ever a sector to speak up about any needs you have, this is it.

It’s also worth noting that most organisations where staff work directly with individuals in crisis, or with those experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, provide opportunities for emotional support and work-life balance. It’s not unheard of for an organisation to allow employees to work longer days on average, so they can accrue time and take off one day per month (effectively a three day weekend every month!) to rejuvenate themselves.  

More information on self care practices can be found here.

Goals

Don’t forget to get a sense of what sort of goals the organisation has in mind for you, and assess how these correlate with your own. You might realise you’re headed in different directions or alternatively have your eyes opened to a new career path you hadn’t considered! Aspirations can include training opportunities, donation targets, forging partnerships, promotions and so on.

Final considerations

At the start of your career you’re probably not going to get everything you want, but the more research you do, the more equipped you’ll be to make an informed decision.

So read an employer’s website, get your hands on some staff interviews or organisational evaluations, and ask your recruiter any questions you have. Better still, speak to a recent grad that works there.

After you’ve gathered all of your info, get stuck into some critical analysis.

What picture does it paint? More importantly, how does this match with your needs, values and aspirations?

If you still can’t find work, or choose not to take any offers that come your way, don’t forget to look into temp work in your field. Temp work can offer invaluable experience that might just help you land a more permanent position next time round.