Keen to start a career in the charity world, but can’t afford to intern unpaid?

Aware that paid charity internships were too thin on the ground, Cancer Research UK has just launched a new programme of paid internships. And the best bit? They want to hear from applicants from all backgrounds, no matter what or where you studied (yes, really!).

There are 24 spaces up for grabs on the programme, which runs three times a year (Summer, Spring and Autumn — click here to apply). Get a spot and you’ll be interning for a life-saving organisation. CRUK’s pioneering research delivers breakthroughs which prevent, control and treat cancer. From their volunteers and supporters to their scientists, doctors and nurses, their staff are all there to help save more lives. The charity’s work is world-renowned, leading on developing new, kinder treatments and getting closer to cures.

CRUK’s aim? To bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. It’s a big, bold vision, but that’s what drives the organisation and everyone who works there. And they’re looking for interns to join their team and help achieve that aim.

You’ve probably heard of CRUK’s Race for Life, and seen their charity shops on your local high street — but what is it really like to intern there? How can you boost your chances of success when applying, and what’s the likelihood you’ll be offered a paid job at the end of your internship?

Graduate Fog spoke to Sarah Jepson-Jones, Head of Talent and Leadership Development at Cancer Research UK, who told us everything you need to know — including why they’re proud to be one of the first to offer paid charity internships…

LEADING THE WAY: Cancer Research UK is the first big UK charity to abolish unpaid internships. Like us, they hope others will soon follow


What sort of applicants are you most keen to hear from for Cancer Research UK’s paid internships?

We want to attract as wide a range of people as possible into CRUK. Cancer can impact anyone of any age, background, ethnicity or gender and we want the people who work for us to reflect this. We really want to have a diverse range of perspectives, ideas and viewpoints in the charity and believe this will help us be even more effective in our desire to beat cancer sooner. If you have a passion for working with us, are self-motivated, able to think how best to tackle a task from a variety of perspectives and want to be part of a friendly but hard-working team then we would love to hear from you.

When should people apply?

Our intern application have closed for our 12-week Summer internships which will run from Monday 2 July to Friday 21 September. After that, you’ll have to wait until July to apply for our Autumn round of internships, which will run from September to December. Applications for our Spring internships open in October and these run from January to March.

Briefly, what’s involved in a Cancer Research UK internship?

To reflect the range of jobs at CRUK, we have lots of different internships, which we’ve grouped into 11 ‘streams’ — for example, Supporter Engagement, Marketing and Communications or Technology. Whichever stream your chosen internship falls into, you’ll support your team to run projects, helping them with their day to day work and will be responsible for delivering an activity or initiative. You will get to work with your fellow interns to deliver a fundraising target for us which gives you a great opportunity to work across the charity and have some fun! We also provide CV, interview and skill development to help you get into your next role after the internship, whether that’s with us at CRUK, or elsewhere.

You were the first big charity to announce you were abolishing unpaid internships. Why did you do this?

Because we believe this is the right thing to do, and as one of the country’s largest charities, we’re in a good position to make the move. We really want to improve equality, diversity and inclusion across the charity sector and we realised that our previous approach to internships — paying travel and lunch expenses only — wasn’t as fair as it could have been. Those who couldn’t afford to work for free were locked out of the opportunity to gain essential experience with us, and we weren’t getting the diversity of talent that our organisation needs to continue to do great work now and in the future. We’ve taken advice from fair internships campaigners — including Graduate Fog — and we’re confident that these changes will improve the situation for everyone. We also hope it will create a ‘ripple effect’ across the sector.

YOUR CAREER STARTS HERE “We see our internships as a springboard into paid jobs, and actively encourage everyone who has enjoyed and done well in their internship to apply for permanent roles in the charity.” Sarah Jepson-Jones, Cancer Research UK

What are the hours, and how much does a CRUK internship pay?

A CRUK internship typically lasts 4-5 days a week for 12 weeks but we are very open to flexible working arrangements wherever the role allows. The usual working day is 9am-5pm. We will be paying the National Minimum wage plus a London weighting allowance if you are based in the capital. This equates to approximately £4,150 for a 12-week placement.

So the internships aren’t all based in London?

We have a large central office in London so most of our internships are based there, apart from our Supporter Engagement role, which is based in our Oxford office. Excitingly this year we also have a couple of roles in our labs in Cambridge and London.


Can you tell us more about CRUK’s ‘stream’ system for grouping internships?

We run 24 internships per intake, so instead of swamping applicants with loads of different adverts to choose from, we’ve collated similar roles into streams (groups) based on the skills they require or the types of activities you’d be doing in the role. It’s just to make it easier for you to decide what to apply for as you can narrow down our roles to one area of interest. When you complete an application form you will be considered for all the roles within the same stream. We match you to an individual role within a stream depending on the skills and interests you highlight in the application and interview process.

The streams are: Business Strategy; Community and Events Fundraising; Human Resources; Health Data Community Engagement; Health Data Analysis; Lab-based Research (London or Cambridge); Marketing and Communications; Partnership Fundraising; Policy, Research, Public Affairs and Campaigning; Supporter Engagement (Oxford); and Technology.

DREAM TEAM: Cancer Research UK paid a small fee to co-create this article with Graduate Fog

What does the application process involve?

We’ve tried to keep this really simple as we know lots of applicants are juggling jobs and other responsibilities. First, there’s the online application, in which you’ll be asked why you want to join the internship scheme and what skills and behaviours you can bring to the role. We also ask for your CV, detailing your education history and any work experience or voluntary roles you’ve held. The second stage is an assessment — most likely to be an interview and a written exercise you can complete in advance. After that, we’ll make a decision and let you know if you’ve got the internship, by mid-June.

Does it matter which university someone went to, or what subject they studied?

Not at all — we want to hear from graduates from any university, and we don’t mind at all what degree you studied. Some roles are more suited for people with a scientific or research-based background because they require these skills. But these can come through work and life experience, as well as through university style study.

What are the minimum academic requirements? Are CRUK internships only open to university graduates?

No, we don’t have any set requirements at all — anyone who is of school leaving age (18) can apply, as long as you have a passion for working with us and the skills we seek for a role.

Is there a certain ‘type’ of person you look for?

In the past charities have been seen as quite elitist, only seeking a certain type of person with a particular graduate background. Happily, things are changing — the fact we are now being more inclusive means you won’t just find an organisation full of ‘posh’ people who all studied at Oxford or Cambridge! In fact, many of those working in senior positions now at CRUK worked their way up in the charity, starting off as local fundraisers, shop staff, researchers or even volunteers. So — to answer your question — we really just want dedicated, passionate and hard-working people. As I said, we know cancer can touch everyone’s lives and we want the people who work for us to really reflect this.

What is your own background, if you don’t mind us asking?

Sure. I’m originally from a town near Bristol and went to my local comprehensive school. I fell in love with Psychology during my studies and so went to Southampton University to study it. At the end of my degree I really wanted to get a career using psychology so I applied and was lucky enough to get a scholarship that allowed me to go on and do a Master’s in Business Psychology in Sheffield. I would not have been able to afford it without that. I’d have loved to have done some work in a few companies first, but not many places had internship scheme back then. I’m also (I hope!) a good advert for flexible working as I have a beautiful 2-year-old girl who has significant special needs and so I do part time working arrangements around caring for her. CRUK have been fabulous at allowing me to continue to have a career around these priorities.

WANT A REMINDER WHEN THE NEXT INTAKE OPENS? Send a blank email to with the subject ‘Autumn reminder’, ‘Spring reminder’ or ‘Summer reminder’

What other misconceptions might people have about working for a big charity like CRUK?

A lot of people think charities are just full of fundraisers — which is not true! Yes, we employ fundraisers (in fact some of the best in the country) but we also have people doing policy, social media, PR, supporting researchers, running multi-million-pound grants, marketing, IT, HR, finance, procurement… the list goes on and on.

Another misconception is that the sector can be a bit ‘nice’, slow-paced and bureaucratic. It is true that there can be a bit of paperwork to do but I was so surprised when I joined at how varied the roles are and how cutting-edge and fast-paced charities have to be. We have to be super-efficient, competitive and really creative if we are going to be able to raise lots of money and spend it really effectively to make change happen.

Can you give us an example of the variety and creative thinking you’re talking about?

Sure. CRUK is at the forefront of digital working and is directly influencing government and what research is done into cancer. We recently launched a global ‘Grand Challenge’ which attracted researchers from across the globe who all pitched for a £20m grant to do innovative work.

What is special about working for a big charity?

Charites are fun and friendly places to work. For me it is the perfect blend of public sector and private business, and you get to go to work every day feeling proud of the organisation you are working for as it is seeking to make a difference in the world. When we asked CRUK’s staff to describe our working culture in one word, the word cloud below shows the results:


What makes an application go into the ‘Yes’ pile? Any tips for standing out at this stage?

At application stage we want to know that you have the transferable skills required for the role, so check these carefully by clicking on the Internship Information Pack link in the internship adverts to see full role profiles, including the required skills. For each of the skills, think of your strongest example — it doesn’t matter whether it’s from your studies, work experience or extracurricular activities. The important thing is that you tell us how you used that skill and how you know you were effective. Giving examples of specific times when you’ve demonstrated a skill is much more believable than just listing skills you have.

Can you give an example?

Sure. If you need to demonstrate strong communication skills, describe what you had to communicate. Did you communicate over the phone, via email or in person? How do you know you communicated effectively? What did you achieve?

Any other essentials at application stage?

Yes — we also want to understand why you’re applying to an internship scheme with us so think carefully about why beating cancer sooner is important to you and what you want to gain from the placement.

Does it matter if someone doesn’t have any experience in charity?

No – you don’t need to have any previous charity experience but it’s a good idea to put all your experience on the application, whether it was a summer job in a shop or a cafe, a project you did in your spare time or a great essay you wrote. If it demonstrates a relevant transferable skill, we want to know about it.

What is the most common mistake people make when applying for an internship at CRUK?

Not checking answers for spelling and grammar mistakes or starting applications too close to the deadline. Give yourself enough time to complete the application and check your answers carefully before you press submit.

What wows you in an interview?

We love to see that candidates have done some research about CRUK and the wider charity sector or their area of interest. For example, if you’re applying for a Policy role, read more about what is happening in politics and some of the policy changes CRUK have successfully campaigned for.

Another tip is to get into the habit of structuring your answers — it helps make sure your responses are really thorough. For questions about your previous skills and experience, use the STAR method to help with this. The situation (S) and task (T) set the scene for your example. Briefly explain the context and the overall task that you needed to achieve. Then detail the actions (A) you took to achieve that. Use ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ to make it clear what you were responsible for. End with a result or reflection (R) — were you successful? You don’t always need to give a positive outcome. If you can show learning from the experience and demonstrate what you would you do differently next time it can still be a really strong answer. Finally, it’s great when candidates think about their answer before speaking. Take your time — your interviewer won’t mind!

What’s more important — knowing the right answers or handling the questions well?

There are no right or wrong answers in our interview questions. Instead, we are asking about you, your passions, your skills and how you think. If there is something you simply don’t know or have never experienced, that’s fine. Think about what you would do and describe it to us step by step.

DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER? DON’T PANIC! Sarah says it’s impossible to make a mistake in a CRUK interview, as long as you’re honest

What is a great question for applicants to ask at the end of their interview?

Interviews are a two-way conversation. The questions at the end of an interview are a chance for you to find out more about us. Ask us what you really want to know, such as what it’s like to work at CRUK or what a typical day in your intern role would be like. Avoid asking questions that you can find the answer to on our website. Instead do your research and ask us some broader questions to show us how much you know about us as a charity.

Do you respond to all applications, whether successful or unsuccessful?

Yes, we get in touch with all successful and unsuccessful candidates after the online application stage. Even if you are unsuccessful, we contact you with general application advice to help you ace your future applications.

Do you offer travel expenses for applicants coming to the interview from far away?

Being a charity, we can’t reimburse all travel expenses, but if this causes you difficulties in attending an interview let us know, as we will consider alternatives such as an interview via phone or Skype to help you still apply.

Are some internships less competitive than others? Can people apply for more than one?

There is no strategic way to get onto the internship scheme. All of our internship roles are popular, so my advice would be to think about why you are interested in each internship. Apply for the internship stream where you have the relevant skills, a genuine passion for that area of our work and can imagine doing the role for three months. You only need to apply to one stream as you’ll be considered for all the internship roles within that stream. If your application was strong but you don’t get offered an internship in your chosen stream we will attempt to match you with another role that you are suited to and interested in.


Let’s talk about the internships themselves. Can you give us more detail about what’s involved?

It depends on the role that you apply to, but you’ll be an embedded member of the team and play an important support role. All the internships are focused around core administrative duties so it’s a great opportunity to gain experience in an office. Beyond that we also offer a structured development programme to build up key transferable skills such as IT and project management.

Will interns be doing real work?

Absolutely! The roles are designed to give you a good taster of an entry level role while being focused around a project. You’ll be doing useful work that adds value to the team you’re part of.

Who do interns report to, and how much training and supervision can CRUK interns expect?

You will report to a manager in the team you are working for and they will be focused on helping you understand what you need to do and how best to do it. Our HR team will also provide you with support and you will get access to basic training in using our technology, in time management, project management, CV writing and interview skills. Depending on the team you are supporting, you might also get further formal training if needed to do the role, but in all roles you will get the chance to learn ‘on the job’ with regular feedback provided by your line manager.

What happens if an intern realises they’ve picked the wrong department and want to move?

The first step is to talk to your line manager. We want our interns to be able to make a good contribution so it’s important you get something out of your placement. We might be able to look at the responsibilities of the role so that you’re doing something that better suits your interests. Occasionally there are opportunities to support on mini-projects in other teams and many interns shadow other teams and talk to staff across the organisation to find out more about their roles. Intern fundraising is another great way to take on a different role, such as team leader, while having fun. However, going through the interview process should provide you with plenty of information about the role and enable you to know whether it’s right for you, so there’s a relatively small chance we’ll place you in an internship you don’t like.

What happens when the internship ends? How many interns go on to get paid permanent jobs?

We see our internships as a springboard into paid jobs, and actively encourage everyone who has enjoyed and done well in their internship to apply for permanent roles in the charity. We do not have dedicated roles for interns to apply for, but frequently the experience you have had and networks you have made working for us will help you do well at interview. Currently about half of our interns go on to get jobs with us. This might be in the area you did your internship with — or something completely different that you found out about working with us. In fact, one of the team running our internship scheme used to be an intern herself! From there, she joined the HR team as a recruiter and then moved into her current role working for me on talent development and early careers. Anything is possible!

APPLY TODAY! Click here for more information about Cancer Research UK’s paid internships

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