UN Office Matters

  • Go to a country office!

    I took a long break from writing this blog. I blame my silence entirely on my kid, who now refuses to draw cartoons for my posts. Plus, now that he's older, bribes have become too expensive.

    So, where was I? Oh, yes: networking.

    While uncomfortable, networking can be an excellent learning tool. But instead of telling people how great my work was (nobody cares), I spent my time asking how people got to where they were. Two things became immediately clear during these chats. People love talking about themselves (no surprise here). And they would always come alive when reflecting about their experiences in country offices (or the 'field,' in UN speak). Not only the work seemed much more interesting, but it was also viewed by many as the optimal career track.

    "Say what?! Working in the field is good for a career in international development?" 

    That may sound obvious for many, but when you're in the beginning of your career, you just don't know better (at least I didn't). Especially when you're working in HQ. As far as I was concerned, I could easily work in New York for ever (isn't the UN there, after all?). But having a resume sprinkled with work stints in different developing countries is your passport to success (I'm trying hard to refain from rolling my eyes, but this is actually true, so I'll let the image below speak for itself). 

    Unfortunately, to get a job in the field, you need field experience (a-ha). In a previous post, I discussed how being born and raised in a poor country doesn't make you any more experienced for aid work than say, someone who spent a semester painting houses in Costa Rica. So what to do?

    If you're new to UNICEF, I recommend reaching out to Country Offices with cold emails (they are good in responding). Do your research about the country program and your interested area of work. Write a sort of 'cover letter' email, saying that you're looking for short- or long-term employment opportunities and ask them to put you in touch with  xx department. Attach your CV and hope for the best (the more you do this, the less anxious you'll be). Adjust your expectations: most likely this will lead to internships or consultancy opportunities. I know. It's hard. 

    In my case, this meant turning my job hunt from HQ to the field. Before talking about what I did to get my first staff post, let me emphasize how important it is to think about these decisions carefully. Fully embracing a career in international development, especially in organizations such as UNICEF, also means adopting a certain lifestyle. It affects not only you, but your entire family. And they may not be super happy about this transition.