How to Get a Job with an NGO

June 13, 2017

What matters most when applying for a job with an NGO? Persistence and professionalism, according to the experts. During the annual NGO fair organized by CEU's Human Rights Initiative in March, the Career Services department at CEU hosted a panel discussion with three alumni who work in NGOs to share their experiences: Katarzyna Pabijanek (GENS '05), Marta Vetier (ENVS '07), and Balint Nemeth (SPP '16). Pabijanek works at the Open Society Foundations as Program Officer; Vetier is a global project leader and senior adviser at Greenpeace; and Nemeth has several years of experience in the Hungarian non-governmental sector as communications manager, project manager, and more. The panelists shared their experiences on how they found their dream jobs in non-governmental organizations in Hungary and elsewhere and also answered questions from the CEU community regarding pursuing a career in the NGO sector.

Thousands of CEU alumni and students make a difference in the world through their work in non-governmental organizations, yet we know so little about the dedication it took to reach their positions. One of the panelists, Pabijanek shared her story of how she started her career self-employed and never abandoned her desire to work in the non-profit sector. She applied for her current position 16 times. “It is okay to not have your dream job from the beginning,” she said.

Vetier agreed: “Persistency matters.” In her words, NGO leaders are “looking for committed people, not someone who leaves the sector in half a year.” Similar points were raised by Nemeth, mentioning how doing an internship during his graduate years was important for further developing himself. Volunteering and internship can be essential as finding a job largely depends on networking, he said.

The other points panelists elaborated on were the skills they gained at CEU and elsewhere that helped them secure their dream jobs at NGOs. Project management skills, as well as public speaking, presentation, and report writing are crucial in the non-profit sector.

I asked the panelists what impressed them most when receiving job applications. First, meeting the deadline and sending all the necessary documents were named as obvious, but second was the cover letter. Cover letters not only demonstrate your writing skills but allow you to show your future employer your passion for the job. You need to make it clear that this is not a standard letter you are sending out because showing your commitment is a crucial part of your success as an applicant in the NGO sector. 

 by Otto Kobakhidze (NATI ’17)