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When it comes to recruitment charities need to break the mould and take risks

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After working for an organisation for 37 years and achieving just about everything I'd wanted to, i felt I was becoming stale and needed new challenges. Too young to retire and too fed up to stay with the old job, after an honest assessment of my experience, skills and talents, I decided to follow my passion and gut instinct to enter the third sector and help 'make a difference'.

Whilst I did not expect this transition to be easy, with a track record of leading multi-national organisations through complex change, at home and overseas, I hoped my talents would quickly be recognised. Six months later, and still searching for an opportunity, I realised that fresh starts invariably involve false starts and detours.

Despite up-skilling, completing business school courses, attending training courses, reading as much as possible about the sector, networking furiously with an increasingly large number of contacts, volunteering within the sector, and being totally flexible about where I might work within the UK, I was finding it difficult to make interview shortlists. While feedback from job applications suggested I was competitive, had relevant experience and fresh ideas, few organisations seemed willing to take a risk by trying 'someone or something different'. The mantra appeared to be if a candidate did not match 'essential' criteria he or she should be discarded.

Job hunting in a downturn was never going to be easy, but simply recruiting to stereotypical competencies and taking the safe option seems to be a lost opportunity. Why not take a gamble? Why not select from a wider baseline and throw someone like me into the melting pot to compete on equal terms at interview stage and take it from there. Taking such steps could revolutionise thinking, embed cross-sectoral experience and enable step change in organisational output within the third sector.

Two years on, happily employed in the sector, I am absolutely certain that my decision to change career was correct. I am enjoying life again. I have renewed enthusiasm and vibrancy. I am so pleased I did not lose heart or change track. Networking eventually enabled me to meet the chief executive of the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO), and organisation that was willing to take a chance and break the mould. With great foresight, I was invited to work as a volunteer with responsibility for delivering several meaty projects, encouraged to offer my services as trustee to a number of member organisations before being allowed to compete successfully for my current role - and here I am.

So what would I do differently to make myself more competitive and what should third sector organisations do when recruiting senior management? From a personal perspective I needed a much better long-term plan, significantly more patience and the ability to see things from both ends of the telescope. I needed to take time to build my credibility in the sector through volunteering for higher profile organisations while seeking opportunities to serve as a trustee on larger third sector boards. I needed to nurture and use my network of contacts better through use of LinkedIn - a really valuable tool - to a far greater level. From an employer's perspective, while I understand the reluctance to recruit square pegs into round holes, I would encourage the short-listing of candidates for interview who do not fit the traditional criteria. In this way potential candidates are not filtered out unnecessarily at the pre-interview stage and organisations have the opportunity to consider fresh ideas rather than just the same stale offerings.

So from my perspective the morale of the story is take a risk and recruit a budding Karren Brady into your organisation.


Andy Dey is the operations and development manager at Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO).

Andy's blog was originally published in The Guardian on Tuesday 18th February 2014 and has been republished here with his permission.