By ULOMA OGBA
The United Nations is probably one of the most well known organisations in the world. Around the world, wherever the UN is present, it is widely regarded as a symbol of peace, cooperation and development.
For someone like myself working in the development sector, landing a job at the UN is considered a major feat and one that is likely to open doors for you throughout the rest of your career.
So the question is, how exactly does one go about getting a job at the United Nations? Having successfully gone through the process recently, I would like to offer a few key pieces of advice that I believe worked to my advantage.
1. Become an expert at something
Whatever your qualifications are, know now that for every position you apply to at the United Nations there are hundreds, if not thousands of people with the same qualifications, or even better. So what’s going to set you apart from the competition?
In my opinion, you have to be an expert at something, anything. You should also be able to demonstrate how you can use your expertise to make an impact on the job if you are hired. In my case, while the job description did not immediately ask for it, I knew that I had a flair for design and communication and so I was sure to highlight that.
I showed this not just in my CV but in the way my CV was designed. Also, in answering the questions in the application process, I made sure to weave this fact into my answers, and it worked.
After I was hired my boss told me that was one thing that stuck in her mind. In addition, the fact that I was able to display that skill at every stage of the interview process, both on the written test and during the oral interview, was impressive.
So my advice to you is, be very good at what you do. Also, have a few unexpected tricks up your sleeve. In this day and age, don’t limit yourself to any one way of doing things. Rather use your time wisely to cultivate skill sets outside of your field of work or study.
2. Be bold and daring
For most positions advertised at the UN, it seems that they are looking for experts with tons of experience. At first glance I think it can be very intimidating to most people, especially those in the earlier stages of their careers, who feel that they do not have the necessary profile to apply for the jobs they come across.
My advice to you is to ignore the doubt and dare to go for it anyways. The position I applied for asked for at least 5 years of experience and I had only 2. But reading the job description, I was convinced that even with my limited experience I could take on the role successfully. So I set out to show that in my application.
I enlisted all the help that I could get throughout the application process. I familiarised myself with the work being done by the United Nations body I was applying to. Also, I read through tons of reports, case studies, partner organisation websites.
I must have spent close to two weeks crafting the perfect application and going through it over and over until I was fully convinced that I was submitting an application that would get me the job.
After I was hired, I heard from my boss that my application immediately stood out. My boss said it was complete, compelling and presented in an attractive format. By the time they realised that I did not have the 5 years of experience that they were looking for, they were already sold on my qualifications and abilities to think outside the box. That was what put me through to the next round.
3. Cultivate an international outlook
For the most part, the work done by the UN strives to find out what works in one part of the world. Whether it is in terms of promoting socio-economic development, peace or security. Then trying to see how the lessons learned can be applied or reproduced in another part of the world.
What that means is that if you do land a job at the United Nations, you are going to be interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Together, you will find common ground so that you can do meaningful work and enact real change.
Part of what I believe helped me through the application process was that I was able to display the fact that I had a very international background. Not just that, I had successfully thrived in different cultures. I had also been able to build things i.e. networks, grass-roots organisations, communities, everywhere that I had been.
Finally, be determined and proactive
In all honesty, landing a job at the UN is hard, but the truth is that it is actually very achievable. It’s one of those things that you have to be really determined and proactive about. Be on the lookout for new job postings on the various UN sites at least twice a month.
Do your research into the different United Nations bodies you think you would like to work for. Know what they are truly about. Then, appraise your background and expertise to determine how you could really make an impact there. Seek counsel from people who have worked in the UN or other international organisations. It never hurts to get a more realistic picture of what it’s really like from an insiders perspective.
Be patient and persistent. You may not land the first or second or even third position you apply for at the United Nations. Still, that should not deter you. Even if you do make it past the first or second round, it can take weeks or even months before you advance to the next round. In my case the whole process took about 4 months. During that time, I still had to focus my time and energy on the job that I already had.
Believe in yourself and in your abilities to succeed and to thrive anywhere. When I got the call saying I’d been offered the position, there was no hesitation and I immediately said yes, even though I knew it would take me away from everything that was familiar to me. I have not regretted one minute of it!
Do you work in the development sector? Do you have a job that has taken you to far and remote corners of the world? What have your experiences been like? Are you considering applying to the UN or similar organisations? We would love to hear from you about your experiences. Visit www.globalcareersfair.com for information on jobs in the development sector.
About ULOMA OGBA
I work as a Knowledge Management Specialist for the United Nations Capital Development Fund. In my spare time, I write articles for SLA as a contributing writer and I co-founded the NGO, Give Girls A Chance to provide access to quality education for girls in Nigeria. I’m passionate about contributing to the personal and professional development of black women. I love writing, reading, traveling, online shopping, watching TV shows, discussing current events and world politics.