Careers in NGOs – Inspiring Advice from Alums

March 27, 2018

The CEU Career Services Office recently hosted Careers in NGOs, a panel discussion organized in collaboration with the university's Human Rights Initiative (HRSI) as part of the annual HRSI NGO Fair. The NGO Fair features representatives of local and international civil society organizations and is a wonderful opportunity for members of the CEU community to network with and gain insight into participating NGOs and their projects.

The career panel featured three CEU alumnae working in the civil sphere: Marta Vetier (ENVS ‘07), a global project manager and senior advisor with Greenpeace, Aiski Ryökäs (SOCI ’17), a project manager at Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Tímea Sófalvi (BUS ’16), who works as a trainer, coach and job counsellor with the BeeTree Expert Group.

Though the alumni panelists have followed very different but equally interesting career paths, there was one common element to their career stories: their passion and enthusiasm for trying to make the world a better place, be it through protecting our environment, ensuring human rights norms, or helping NGOs to stand on their own feet.

All three panelists suggested that volunteering, even during graduate studies – something they all did – is an important first step for people who wish to work on societal problems. Volunteering serves to build networks and to acquire skills that later on will be necessary for a professional career in the NGO sphere. Additionally, the panelists encouraged student job seekers not to be intimidated by concerns over a lack of work experience. Employers in this sphere pay particular attention to motivation and values when evaluating candidates. As Vetier pointed out, they will try to understand whether you can do the job, whether you will enjoy it and whether you will manage to fit into the team.

Relevant experience can also be gained outside of the civil sphere. For instance, experience in business can be good training in precision and efficiency. Participating in group projects while a student can bring valuable project management skills and the ability to work in a team. Simply doing well in your courses can help you gain confidence in areas such as critical thinking, writing and analysis and navigating diversity.

Indeed, the ability to work in a diverse environment is crucial, as NGOs frequently accommodate people of various backgrounds. Depending on the size of the NGO, individual responsibilities can cover a very broad range—often the case in small organizations, whereas in larger NGOs, with multiple programmatic areas and administrative departments, work can be very compartmentalized. The ability to communicate persuasively and connect with others is especially important, and fundraising experience is valued highly.

If you haven’t yet decided what to do during the summer, consider volunteering at an NGO that focuses on an issue of interest to you. And bear in mind that NGOs are not only looking for passionate social advocates and enthusiasts for a given topic. They also need IT specialists, office managers and other specialists, as well. If you believe that the sphere in which you can best make an impact is within the NGO sector, do research to identify the organizations you feel are doing the best work, put together a compelling CV and start networking!

by Beata Berkovics (ECON ’19)