Charity Q&A: Macmillan Cancer Support

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tonyjacksonTony Jackson is the Head of HR for Macmillan Cancer Support. We talk to him about the employment opportunities available in the charity across the UK, and why working for the charity sector can be a challenging yet rewarding experience.

Careers: Tony, it’s initially important to introduce our readers to Macmillan Cancer Support.  Would you like to give an outline of the charity and its aims?
To set some context for you, over one in three of us will get cancer unfortunately, and for most of us it’s going to be one of the toughest things we’ll ever face. Where we come in is that we’re the leading cancer care charity. What we aim to do is provide as many cancer patients as possible with a range of services: medical, practical, financial and emotional. We also campaign successfully for changes that will improve cancer care across the UK. As for the two million people currently in the UK who are living with or beyond cancer, having survived it, we have an array of support services for them.

Careers: So within that – what type of roles are available at Macmillan Cancer Support?
One thing I’d want to clarify is that there a difference between who we actually employ and the posts which are the medical professionals – for example the Macmillan nurses who are not actually employed by us but are funded by Macmillan in the NHS.  So whilst of course we and the NHS are always looking for a variety of medical professionals, I’ll focus in this interview on the jobs actually employed by Macmillan.  And they range through all types of fundraising roles, event management, general administration, specialist help-line roles, learning and development roles, what we call service development and delivery (for example planning the schedule for our mobile information centres which visit communities to provide advice and information), and then various highly specialised roles directly linked to innovating in cancer services.  We have a strong research arm and finally the types of functions you’d expect in any large organisation: marketing/PR, HR, finance and IT and so on – so a really broad range.
Careers: So perhaps a bigger range than people realise there is within the charity sector. If you are looking to apply for work at Macmillan, are there certain qualifications or experience that you are looking for?
It really depends.It’s not essential for all roles that you have prior experience in a charity. For example this is my first job in a charity. We want to attract the best from all sectors including other charities. If you look at what we’re currently advertising for example, there are various fundraising posts and candidates for those tend to need some experience of working to targets normally within a sales or other fundraising environment. As for our external affairs team – where we are also recruiting particularly into our policy team where it’s really important people have deep knowledge and experience of policies’ impact on people affected by cancer or experience of working with the government.  There are specialist IT posts. But then also generic skills: in order to thrive in an organisation like Macmillan – which is very fast-paced – which can take people by surprise – the more general skills are: an enthusiasm for what we’re here to do, the ability to build and maintain relationships and the ability to deal with ambiguity in a fast-paced environment, and team skills.

Careers: Do you offer any entry-level positions for people who perhaps haven’t got a wealth of experience but are looking to work for Macmillan?
We do but there aren’t that many of them, compared to the size of the organisation. We tend to look for people with experience. We do have an internship programme so we obviously get students or school leavers coming in that way and sometimes they end up staying which is great news. We want to find further ways of “growing our own”.

Careers: Would you say then that volunteering at Macmillan is a good opportunity to get into the charity?
Sometimes. What we can’t ever say is that if you volunteer it is a route into a permanent role. But it certainly can’t do any harm in relation to an application with us or another charity.  In terms of volunteering, don’t forget Macmillan was started by a volunteer over a hundred years ago and they’re still at the heart of everything we do. There are all sorts of volunteering roles here – there’s something that people can do whether they have a big chunk of time, like a few months, or a few minutes a week.

Careers: Is there any opportunity to train or study for further qualifications whilst  working, to perhaps further their career?
Tony: Yes, we have a really strong focus on learning and development and that takes all sort of guises. As you’d expect we have our own courses, be it on the technical side or on people and management skills, we have an extensive catalogue of e-learning modules and we partner with external learning providers where appropriate. We always have to be very careful with how we use the charity’s money but where it is in the interests of the charity we will sometimes make a contribution towards an individual’s professional qualifications – for example we need qualified accountants, just like most organisations. So we do absolutely invest, but we have to invest very wisely and carefully.

Careers: Would you say it’s difficult for people to get into the charity sector generally?
Tony: Well I think it is very competitive.  Macmillan is growing, we’re successful, we’ve got a clear vision and we have a positive impact on so many peoples’ lives. I also have to say – and you might expect me to say this but it is true – we have fantastic people working here so it is a great place to be. And there’s immense goodwill toward us:  if you just mention in a social environment that you work here, the reaction you get is actually quite humbling. What this all means is that people really do want to work for us.  We have many applications for every role, we have an extremely high offer acceptance rate, and these are things which show that people want to be here.

Careers: Relating to that, how would you say working for a non-profit organisation differs from working for a regular company – what are the benefits?
Tony:  I just think that the purpose of this organisation is such a positive purpose, that everything you do is aimed at achieving a better outcome for people affected by cancer. Now that in itself is a very strong motivation, and whilst we have lots of good days ourselves, everyone has the occasional bad day at work and to be able to remember “actually that’s what I’m in it for”, rather than to create a profit at the end of the year, really is great. On top of that we have a range of benefits and a real focus on career progression. And there is a sense of camaraderie the likes of which you’d struggle to find outside the charity sector. Finally what is really important to us at Macmillan is to be seen as a top employer and not just a top charity – and this means we have an exciting agenda being developed as part of our new people strategy.

This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

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