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The inside story: how to get a job at The Fred Hollows Foundation

Ever wondered what hiring managers are looking for when they recruit for Australia’s most sought-after NFPs?

In this series, we interview the people who hire at the organisations where you want to work — and we’ll give you the inside knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing. 

This month we speak to Vicci Cawley, Global Talent Acquisition Manager at The Fred Hollows Foundation — a not-for-profit development organisation working across the world and here at home, focusing on creating sustainable change and ending avoidable blindness. 


Hi Vicci – thanks for chatting with us! To kick us off, can you tell us a bit about what The Fred Hollows Foundation does?

We are an international development organisation, working towards a world where no person is needlessly blind or vision impaired.

Our founder, Fred Hollows, was an internationally renowned eye surgeon and humanitarian. He worked tirelessly to not only end avoidable blindness in Indigenous Australia and around the world, but to make sure everyone had the right to quality eye health. While it didn’t happen in Fred’s lifetime, we’re working hard to make sure it happens in ours.

Of the 36 million people in the world who are blind, four out of five don’t have to be. Eye diseases like cataract, trachoma and diabetic retinopathy can lead to permanent blindness when often, the conditions are treatable or preventable.

We work hand in hand with partners, governments, and communities to ensure we eliminate avoidable blindness. Our aim, wherever we work, is to build capacity at all levels – from village health centres to regional hospitals to national ophthalmological networks. We train local doctors and health workers, build and upgrade facilities, develop and introduce new technology, and provide equipment.

The impact of restoring sight goes beyond treating blindness.

In research we’ve undertaken, we discovered that alleviating blindness is an effective way of easing poverty in the developing world. If more people in a nation can see, more people can go to school, work, raise children, or start businesses. Ending avoidable blindness improves the economy, equality, skills and development of a country, while reducing its financial and social burden.

Advocacy is another key part of our work. We lobby governments to change policies and improve health systems. All the different facets of our work are about achieving two things: providing long-term sustainable eye health care and ending avoidable blindness.

What are some of the things that might attract candidates to apply to The Fred Hollows Foundation?

Beyond our brand and reputation for doing great work, The Foundation is a unique and special place to work. Through our internal programs and employee benefits we aim to create an environment where everyone feels supported and empowered.

Whether people are motivated by continuous learning, professional development or simply finding an environment which enables them to thrive whilst balancing family or personal life, then we have something for everyone.

We have some great employee benefits. In addition, people get to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the sector. Whilst the above may get you in the door, most people agree, it’s the people and work that will make you stay!

Can you walk us through the recruitment process at The Fred Hollows Foundation?

We have recently launched a new recruitment system, which has streamlined the recruitment process, making it easier for people to apply.

We have customised our recruitment process with the candidate experience in mind, whether this be ensuring the application process is intuitive and easy to use, but also by ensuring there is open and easy contact with the recruitment team. We always welcome and encourage calls and enquiries from people who are potentially interested in roles.

When applying for a role we request an up-to-date resume and a letter of application. The letter of application is a really important part for us as it really helps to give us valuable insights into people’s motivations. Our hiring managers also love a good letter of application!

On applying for a role with us, everyone receives an initial acknowledgement of application.

If you are longlisted for a role with us, it is likely that you will be invited to take part in a 30-minute conversation with one of the recruitment team. Whilst this is not an interview as such, it is an opportunity for all parties to ask questions and to ensure there is an alignment.

Following the phone screen, if you are shortlisted, we will call you to discuss next steps, which is usually an interview.

If you are unsuccessful after the phone screen, you will receive a notification of this, usually via email, but with the option to book in some time for a more detailed feedback session if required.

For those candidates who did not make the longlist, “unsuccessful” notification will be sent out.  Candidate experience is incredibly important to us so all candidates, regardless of the outcome, are notified and communicated with.

For those candidates selected for interview, the interview process is usually a 2-stage process. For senior roles, or roles that have managerial responsibilities, you may be expected to complete an online personality questionnaire (OPQ) between the 1st and 2nd stage interview. The results of this questionnaire are then used to shape our questions for the final interview.

Whilst the 1st interview is usually a competency-based interview, the 2nd interview may take on various forms, depending on the type of role and its level. For example, a presentation, case study etc.

If you are successful after 2nd round, we will contact you for references before we confirm our offer.

If you are unsuccessful after interview, you will receive a call from our recruitment team to give you detailed feedback. We pay a lot of attention to this part of the process, ensuring we invest time in doing this well. We want everyone to walk away feeling good about themselves, so we make the time to do this part well and in person. It is also at this stage we identify people for our talent pool.

What are the top things you look for when assessing a candidate application?

This is tricky as it can vary greatly depending on the role. For certain roles, we will look for direct experience in a similar role, where a specific area of expertise is required.  In some areas this limits people to the NGO or INGO sector.

For operational roles or roles in areas like marketing, fundraising and communications we think much broader than this and look for the transferable skill set.

Outside of relevant experience, we love a good letter of application and getting the basics right with this are important. Having a tailored letter of application with the correct job title on it is a great start!

As a values-based organisation, we place a high importance on values and motivations so finding a way to articulate these is important.

What’s the most common mistake you see candidates make in their applications?

No letter of application or an application letter for a different organisation or role, this is a big NO for us!

A CV that stipulates a career goal, not aligned to the role they are applying for – again not ideal!!

And make sure you proof-read your application. A sloppy letter which doesn’t show care and attention can be the difference if others are equally well-qualified.

And if they make it to interview, who is a candidate most likely to meet on an interview panel at FHF?

It’s likely that the Hiring Manager will be involved in all stages of the interview process. In addition to this we will involve key stakeholders or peers and someone from our People and Development team.

Our interview panels consist of 2-3 people and where possible they will be gender balanced. Where appropriate we also try to ensure they are culturally diverse.

What advice would you give candidates to improve their interview skills?

One of the most important qualities we look for in people is the ability to work well with people who are geographical dispersed and culturally diverse, so good communication skills are essential. Whilst we allow for nerves at interview, we will want people who can speak clearly and articulate their responses in a way that everyone on the panel can understand.

I think it’s important for candidates to remember that not all interview panel members will be technical experts, so telling your story in a way that everyone can understand is crucial.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work at The Fred Hollows Foundation but perhaps doesn’t have the right qualifications or experience?

Pick up the phone and have a chat with us. Breaking into the sector can be hard, but we are always happy to give some advice and where possible share some ideas with you.

Thanks Vicci!


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