During the last semester of her Master’s degree, Lizzie Falconer spent six months interning at the humanitarian aid and relief NGO Catholic Relief Services in South America. Here, she shares the ten lessons she wished she’d learnt before starting, and recommends to anyone starting a […]
Month: May 2019
Dear Abdulrahid Ibrahim Jabar,* Thank you for taking the time to apply for the job for which I’m helping XYZ international organisation recruit a stellar candidate. They’re hoping to find someone who will thrive in the position and appropriately represent the organisation to its stakeholders […]
The hardest thing about getting a job in international development often feels like the invisible competition of the thousands of applicants who apply for a single role.
“I was sent a pack of CVs for my recommended top 5 candidates for a relatively entry-level job (a P-3 posting in UN parlance). I was sent several hundred CVs out of a pool of several thousands. That’s a crazy number of a job posting that was only for 6 months,” says Thomas Park, who worked for the Gates Foundation in Seattle and studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “I was struck by the talent pool of individuals including one person who was from the country and was currently a senior leader within the health system holding multiple graduate degrees from leading US schools. There was also another person with almost 25 years of experience in senior leadership positions in the US government.”
But how exactly do you stand out from such a crowd, in an ever more competitive job market?
Back when I was building a social enterprise in Madagascar, I had the chance to present to a group of rather serious-looking private equity investors in Manhattan, with the hopes that they might choose my project for its investment potential, and provide much-needed funds to the project on the ground in the tropical eastern part of the country.
“This idea is going to change the lives of African farmers,” I began, convinced I had started off on the right foot.
Nervousness had established itself in my stomach, and anxiety in my throat, but somehow, I pushed on.
“Madagascar is a highly-indebted poor country, and this project is a sustainable solution to many of its woes!” Passion made my voice rise to a higher pitch.
The investors showed no expression; likely, they were bored.
As a young, non-white woman, I and my project would have been a prime candidate for them to invest in, simply because it would bring some diversity to the industry’s bias. And to be fair, the investors sat through my PowerPoint, and then asked the big question:
“What about the project’s revenues and growth?”
“Uh, yeah, they’ll be strong,” I said, thereby ruining my chances for any and all investment from them and their friends.
As you can imagine, the presentation went south, and I exited the room relieved that it was over and also embarrassed by the disaster it had been. I had not prepared well, because I didn’t understand the fundamental fact about evaluating someone – either an individual or an organisation – for their ability to manage a project well:
You have to understand, organise, and manage the NUMBERS, because they are the universal language of talking about RESULTS.
What do I mean by numbers?
Numbers can refer to:
- how many people will be involved in the project (number of humans)
- how many families will be impacted (number of beneficiaries)
- the total budget for the project (how many thousands or millions of dollars you’ll have at hand to make the project a success)
- where your project is being carried out (the number of villages/cities/regions/states/countries counted as your project’s target area)
- the physics of what you’re working with (how many thousands of litres of rivers or hectares of land are relevant, how many gallons of water will be saved, how many kilowatt hours of electricity are needed or will be saved)
- the size of your team (how many humans you directly or indirectly managed, guiding and supervising their day-to-day or month-to-month work and outputs)
- the length of your project (measured in number of hours or months or years). Note that for the sake of your CV, projects are NOT measured in months because international development salaries are based on days worked (for consultants and contractors) or monthly wages pro-rated based on an annual salary of X dollars per year.
Do you see how these numbers are suddenly more convincing, when added to your CV?
Had I begun my presentation to those investors with a series of numbers (the 5 million Malagasy farmers who stood to benefit, the $10 million in revenue generated in the first ten years of business, the 13% returns with 70% chance of success guaranteed to any investor in the project, and the 100% knowledge of investing in a social enterprise started by someone from a third-world country), my project would have been a) a lot more convincing, and, more critically, I would have spoken their language – talking about the RESULTS the project would (and could) generate rather than singularly focusing on my own personal interpretation of how I was going to save the world.
Focusing on numbers (and including as many of them as you can in your CV and Cover Letter) will position you as a serious candidate oriented towards results, and dramatically increase your chances of being selected for an interview.
“Given the strong headwinds a career of service involves, you need a strong “why” to keep you going,” says Thomas. Back up that ‘why’ with numbers and statistics on how you can (and have, in your past experience) addressed these issues, and you will give HR managers a more favourable perspective on your application, because they will see you as someone who understands the true issues at stake, and, crucially, a candidate who’s able to focus on outputs and outcomes that address the goals and vision expressed in their mission statement.
Consulting positions are often considered an easier way to get into international organisations, as the application process is usually shorter even if the necessary documents to apply are often the same.
Working in a foreign country can be stressful, and is often compounded by pollution, frequent travel to project sites, and just trying to find your bearings. How do you find time to look after your skin? And where do you begin to look for products that are similar to what you used back home? You run out of the preciously-conserved supply you brought with you, with months to go before your next trip back, and you’re left scrambling.
Here’s an opportunity to see how the UN works, on the inside, without spending six long months doing an unpaid internship there, AND it’s a chance to meet some of the people employed by UN agencies around the world. You should apply if you’ve got a few spare days this summer, in late August.
Knowing someone on the inside can be an enormous help when you’re looking for a job at a UN agency or international NGO, whether you’re just starting out or have years of experience. The reason is extraordinarily simple:
The UN hiring system is bureaucratic and time-consuming, even for the folks who work there. It can take 3 months just to advertise the job in accordance with the host country’s laws, and six months to parse through the 4000+ applications you received, and interview and hire the right candidate. Do you know what can happen in 9 months? The dream candidate that, for example, UNHCR had in mind for a P5 post in Bogota, Colombia, can fall in love, get pregnant, get married to her German spouse who’s not leaving Germany in a million years, and she’s pregnant so she’s not risking a non-German health system, and suddenly, she’s not available for the post in Colombia. And that’s just one possibility. But it means they have to restart the process, wasting nine months of work and a lot of precious time on a donor-funded project, from a donor who’s expecting results. Do you see what I mean?
It’s a lot simpler to call up that contact your colleague has in Medellín (a high altitude city near Bogota) and say, are you available to move to Bogota for a 6-month contract? And if your contact is keen, they’ll say yes, and within 2 weeks or maximum one month, you’ve filled the role and satisfied a) your boss (on the HR team), b) your colleague (on the project implementation team), and c) the candidate, who’ll be grateful for the rest of their life for the chance to put UNHCR on their CV.
But how do you become one of those contacts in the first place?
You create a relationship with someone on the inside.
Here’s an opportunity that let’s you get in touch with plenty of UN insiders:
- you must have a residence permit for Europe, even if it’s temporary or you’re an intern
- you must have health insurance.
ABOUT THE ORGANISATION
This is a UN organisation that serves the personnel of the United Nations and its affiliates via inter-agency training and learning. It’s housed in a beautiful, historic building, and located in the midst of an English garden, right on the banks of the river Rhine; the castle constitutes a perfect hub for learning and training on sustainable development.
ABOUT THE JOB
The UN organisation is offering a week-long training that provides an exclusive opportunity for dialogue with professionals and thought leaders who are currently working towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Since 2012, this summer training programme has been a flagship programme of this agency, and it prides itself in offering executive education, learning and knowledge exchange since its inception. As the world community prepares for the first SDG Summit in September 2019 under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, the eighth edition of the training will focus on reviewing progress made in view of the implementation of the2030 Agenda thus far. It will also provide conceptual background knowledge about the Sustainable Development Goals, including the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The participants of the training will include staff from across the United Nations System, government officials of various countries, civil society and private sector representatives.
- Venue preparation, registration, and logistics
- Posting on social media (Twitter and Facebook)
- Rapporteuring different sessions (translation: taking notes and writing comments)
- Clicking photos and videos in the course of the week
IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO APPLY…
- No German needed ! And while you’re in Bonn, use the time to pop in at one of the 140+ NGOs + UN agencies working in Bonn for an informational interview.
- The application is a quick process, but you need to do it TODAY.
- This isn’t one of those life-changing opportunities to change the world. It’s a chance to get to know how a certain UN agency operates, be a part of their work for a week, and meet the kinds of people they serve, from all around the world. If you are savvy, you can network your way to an informational interview, which, down the road, could lead to a job offer.
- Any nationality can apply, as long as you have a residence permit for Europe and European health insurance.
QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE:
I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve got a partner and children. Is this worth my time?
Lots of people at the UN are married, too,. The point is to give you exposure to a world you might not be familiar with. Yes, you’ll be mostly manning the event and making sure it runs smoothly. But if your eyes are wide open and your ears can pick up little bits of several languages, you will learn a great deal about the kinds of people who end up at the United Nations – including in permanent positions with wonderful benefits and great pension schemes. You’ll have plenty of spare moments to ask top officials your burning questions. If you’ve got the time – perhaps you’re between jobs, hanging out in Europe for the summer, or just have a few extra vacation days – this could be a great option.
What will I do with my dependents?
During the day, you could enroll your kids in summer camp, send them to one of the many public swimming pools around Bonn, pack them a picnic and deposit them near the river, or send them with your partner to Cologne for the day, where they can shop and eat street food and do city activities. Or, just leave them at home and say you’ll be back with German chocolate in 10 days.
Will they feed me?
I’m not sure. It’s possible, but take a sandwich just in case.
Is Bonn nice?
Bonn in the summer is the kind of charming, romantic city in which you could fall in love. Add lots of green space, a meandering river that runs through town, and proximity to Paris, Brussels, and Geneva, and you’ve got a prime location in which to base yourself for a week.
What will I get out of it?
Refer to the first question, and you’ll see that this is up to you. Are you willing to be an extrovert for a week, sharpen your intuition, and know to pounce when the opportunity for a one-on-one moment with a key UN official arises? Then yes, this is a chance to a) hang out for five days with full-time staff and government members linked in one way or another with the United Nations, b) see how the UN runs an event and whether you could fit in with this culture (conferences are a major part of NGO work), and c), be trained by UN staff on how they present the organisation, and how they translate the mission and vision of their agency into the SDGs.
I don’t know how to use a smartphone. Can I still apply?
Yes, if you’re really good with a camera and can type up your notes afterward.
Why is there such a short deadline?
I found out about this yesterday myself. As Tim Gunn says: “make it happen”.
Can I put this on my CV?
I’m disabled and can’t be on my feet for long. Should I still apply?
Ready to begin your application? Download details here:
Deadline: 8 May 2019. As of publishing this article, the application link was still active!
Thank you to the following photographers for their lovely images: