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Want to work on one of the biggest mental health issues facing Australia?

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

In this series on the Ethical Jobs Blog, we interview the people who hire at the organisations where you want to work – and we’ll give you the insider knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing.

This month we speak to Robyn Turner, HR Manager – Victoria and Tasmania at Dementia Australia. The national peak body for people living with dementia and their families and carers, Dementia Australia has offices all around the country and employs staff in a wide range of areas like fundraising, marketing, and training.

Hi Robyn, thanks so much for chatting to us! Can you tell us about what Dementia Australia does?

Dementia Australia represents and advocates for the needs of more than 425,000 Australians living with dementia and the estimated 1.2 million people involved in their care.

Firstly, we have the National Dementia Helpline, which provides the public with information about dementia and memory loss, direction to support and services in your area, information on how to reduce your risk of getting dementia, as well as providing emotional support and counselling.

We also perform a range of other functions and offer services like advocating for the needs of people living with dementia and their carers; educating the public about dementia; and early intervention programs providing people in the early stages of dementia, along with their families and carers with information, advice and peer support.

Can you walk us through Dementia Australia’s recruitment process?

Dementia Australia uses recruitment platforms like EthicalJobs.com.au to attract candidates.

We make our ads clear and provide all the key information an applicant will want to know about us and the role. We always include position descriptions (PDs) or links to PDs, so you can dig deeper into a role beyond what we write in the ad.

We ask all applicants to address the key selection criteria, which we outline in our job ads and position descriptions. This helps us to quickly see who ticks all the boxes on paper and gives us a snapshot into an individual’s background beyond a standard cover letter.

Once we receive an application, we acknowledge everyone with a receipt of application and we always email applicants who haven’t been selected for interview. We appreciate the time it takes to send in an application, so we make sure to give everyone a response, whether they move to the next round or not.

Successful applicants are invited to interview with the relevant managers and possibly an HR representative. This gives us the opportunity to meet the applicants and get a feel for who they are, how they work and what their values and motivations are.

From there, we do reference checking and try to get back to all applicants ASAP, we know how tough it can be waiting to hear back from an interview so we try to turn this around as quickly as we can.

And what are the top things you look for when assessing a candidate at the application stage?

The first thing we look for is how closely the candidate aligns to the key selection criteria – this is, after all, the ‘must haves’ we need for someone to be successful in a role. If an applicant hasn’t addressed the criteria directly, it makes it difficult for us to see how suited they are.

We also look for clear and uncluttered resumes. We don’t spend a lot of time in each resume at the initial screening, especially if we have a lot of applications, so the clearer they are the better the chance we can see if they should continue in the process.

Still on the application process, what are some of the most common mistakes candidates make?

It sounds obvious but spelling and grammar can quickly stand out for the wrong reasons in an application.

Generic cover letters that don’t address anything you’ve asked for in the job ad aren’t great either. It shows a lack of effort and genuine desire to work with us, especially when you put it next to a cover letter that was purposefully written for our job and addresses the key selection criteria.

Lastly, putting too much info in a resume is a mistake – keeping it to two to three pages is key. After that, chances are the recruiter has stopped reading and you’ve missed the opportunity to show your best skills and experience as they related to the position you’ve applied for.

Who would likely sit on an interview panel at Dementia Australia?

The line manager the role reports to, and then generally the next manager above the line manager, or another manager who works closely in the area the role will be working in.

An HR representative will generally attend senior level interviews or second round interviews.

And what are some of the main mistakes candidates make in interviews?

Being nervous in an interview isn’t a mistake – in fact, almost everyone is nervous.

Interviews are not the most fun and, as interviewers, we try to get a rapport going and make a candidate feel at ease.

However, if you’re really nervous it always helps to tell us, and if you think your nerves are interfering with the quality of your answers, say that too. It’s OK to own that and it helps us to consider that after the interview when we do our debriefing.

Other little things to keep in mind would be not to negatively talk about a previous employer, and when you get the ‘tell us one of your weaknesses’ questions avoid shallow answers such as ‘I’m a bit of a perfectionist’.

We all have things we can grow from and giving an honest answer here about what you feel you need to improve on and how you plan to do that shows a lot of insight and self-awareness; these are good qualities and show us a pretty honest side to you.

Which roles are the hardest to fill at Dementia Australia?

Regional positions can be quite challenging. We provide a number of services across the country and can take us some time to find specialist, qualified and experienced staff in remote areas where some of our most vulnerable consumers need us.

Quality fundraising staff can also take us some time to find.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work at Dementia Australia but might not have the right qualifications or experience?

We have a variety of roles on offer, so if you don’t have the skills or experience yet to be a counsellor, for example, perhaps you could start somewhere else while you finish your studies.

We offer a number of professional development opportunities, secondments and internal positions that don’t get advertised externally.

So while you may not initially have the skills yet for your desired role, you can still work with us in another capacity – if you have the skills for another role – and work your way through.

We also have staff who started with us as volunteers and then came over as paid workers when a role became available. Volunteering lets us get to know you and see your work ethic first hand, so this could be another opportunity as well.

Thanks for your time, Robyn!

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