UN Office Matters

Consulting at UNICEF
  • "I just want to get my foot in the door!"

    The stars had aligned: a Temporary Assistant (TA) position was advertised in a unit where I had previously worked at as a consultant. I knew I was a strong candidate, who filled pretty much all the requirements for that 9-month staff contract. I had done excellent work for them in the past, and knew everybody in the team, except the new boss.

    I was excited with the prospect of making the transition from sporadic consultancy gigs to glorious full-time UN staff member. In fact, I had already began fantasizing about my new office and how I would decorate it...

    I was so sure I would get the job, that I didn't even bother preparing for the interview, which I thought was going to be only an informal chat anyway. Little did I expect to be sitting in an interview from hell, being bombarded left and right with tough questions. I  was especially surprised when asked, "What kind of job do you see yourself doing in 5 or 10 years?" 

    I looked at my interviewer for a few seconds in utter disbelief. How could he ask me something so ridiculous when I was obviously desperate trying to get my foot in the door of the UN system? I must have translated this thought into a more diplomatic response, which pretty much meant that I saw myself working at UNICEF in the long run, no matter what kind of job I had. Not satisfied, he continued fishing out for specifics of the posts I wanted to have, when, where, why... 

    Not surprisingly, I didn't get the job in the end (although I was soon vindicated because the person who eventually got hired sucked big time). But this was an increadible eye-opener for me. Yes, preparing for job interviews was a clear lesson learned. But most importantly I came to see that I was so busy trying to get a job that I never gave it too much thought about building a career. 

    Of course you never really know where you will be in 5 or 10 years... but you need to be aware of your professional profile - your likes, dislikes, your abilities, your weaknesses. Being aware of these things will help you be more selective in your job hunting. At the same time, it'll help ensure a good match between work and doing what you love (and are good at).

    This brings me to an important career advice I've learned from this experience: even when you (think you) have limited options, be picky, follow a common thread, and close a few doors.

  • 3 years, a consultant


    Once you're "in the system," and you do good work, it's not surprising to be on a 'rolling consultant status' for quite some time. People learn about your work, and you get an edge
     in the recruitment processes for short-time jobs. It also helps to be 'around and available.'  

    I was around and available for three years at UNICEF HQ, with a small stint at a consultancy at UNDP in-between jobs. I worked in different sections, but mostly in policy. It was a bitter-sweet time, with lots of highs and lows. 

    I was very happy and proud to work as a consultant, particularly in relation to the high-level jobs I was doing. Plus, as a consultant I often didn't have to deal with the daily management crap that comes along with being a full time staff member. I was bound by deliverables and could manage my time and work load according to them.

    But it was also a frustrating time. The uncertainty of not having an steady pay check was horrible. I was lucky to count on my husband's salary during those jobless months, so I was able to 'wait' until the next gig came along. On the other hand, I met many capable individuals who served as consultants at UNICEF but couldn't afford to play the 'waiting game' and ended up leaving the organization.

    I always had my eyes on a staff position and I remembered applying to several posts, particularly during my third year as a consultant. My job hunt during those years yielded three important lessons, which I'll expand in the next posts:

    1. Know where you want to be in 5 to 10 years;

    2. The art of networking; and

    3. Go to a Country Office!