By Aditi Agrawal
Ever since I did my Masters at the LSE in London, I dreamt of working for the United Nations. I was very fortunate to live this dream and experience working at two UN agencies i.e. the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). I would like to share my experience as well as some tips for potential applicants here.
Getting a job in the UN – This tops the list as almost everyone who talks to me on this subject wants to know how to get in. The most important thing to do is to apply. Without submitting an application for a vacancy advertised, there is absolutely no chance of getting anywhere. Every agency advertises all their jobs on their website under the ‘Careers’ section. It is important to check these pages on a regular basis to ensure you don’t miss a deadline. The networking part comes at all stages, whether you have applied or are thinking of doing so and want to get some advice. But it absolutely essential for you to turn in your application online.
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Apply to rosters – Many agencies follow a roster system in order to keep a ready pipeline for immediate hiring. It is a good idea to check and apply to any rosters that have been advertised. Typically, candidates in the roster pool will have been pre-selected and would have gone through the hiring process in advance so that they can be immediately deployed in case of a need.
Work on your applications diligently – Quality of applications matter and this includes cover letters tailored to the role. Read the job description, and as a first step try to determine whether you fit at least 60% of their requirements or not. Next, work on your application and customize it to the job requirements as far as possible. Applying with generic documents can vastly reduce one’s chances as once an applicant makes it through the basic screening; their applications are reviewed in detail. A good application can convince recruiters about the motivation and drive of a candidate, thereby increasing their chances of making it to the next round of the process.
Tip: most agencies require the same or similar basic information and it is useful to keep this on a word document to save time when filling multiple applications.
Check the application process carefully – There are some websites specific to UN jobs such as unjobs.org, impactpool.org to name a couple. However, please remember to refer back to the specific agency’s ‘Careers’ section to see how to apply and to ensure that you have applied correctly. You do not want to miss the chance of securing your dream job simply because you did not read the instructions carefully.
Continue to apply relentlessly – The UN hiring process is exhaustive and takes a lot of time. It can get very disheartening to not hear back but this is not unusual, and the only thing to do is to keep applying.
Geography lessons – My Geography underwent a drastic update once I started working at the UN as there are 193 member countries, many of which I was not aware of. Working with people from different nations is a very enriching experience and teaches one about things on a global scale. The different parts of the world opened up before me in a way that I had never imagined possible. I also love the fact that I have a very wide network and invariably know people when travelling to different parts of the world.
Become culturally sensitive and embracing diversity – In an international work environment, everyone comes with their own set of experiences and ideas. Continued interaction with team members and the wider setup invariably leads to increased exposure to a wider cultural range. I have seen how significantly different cultures can be and yet work together in harmony. I have learnt a lot about the need to be sensitive and receptive. Culture has a big role to play in shaping people and has led to me having some very insightful conversations.
Improved perspective about the world – Being in an environment that is working at the grass root, as well as macro level, definitely increases one’s awareness about what is happening in the world. Most conversations center around what is happening in the world or about work that people are doing. Every story is unique and contributes to a better understanding of the issues at hand. Today I feel naturally inclined towards the news and much better equipped to participate in conversations about them.
Don’t Lose Hope – Given the magnitude of the work being done with long waiting periods, unexpected roadblocks and non-achievement of initiatives, it is easy to get disillusioned and question the impact of one’s work. This also happens when one is working in a support function and not in a direct field role. I would like to stress here that each and every role and function is very important, similar to the cogs in a wheel. In order to achieve anything, everyone must be aligned. Therefore, one has to keep their chin up and continue to keep their belief in the cause that led them to want to work for the development sector in the first place.
The United Nations symbolizes peace and harmony but for me personally, more than anything else, it reinforces my belief and gives me hope that we can indeed make this world a better place.