A team from the United Nations Secretariat based in New York was in the island recently to raise awareness among Jamaicans about career and employment opportunities within the organisation.
It hosted four information sessions at the University of Technology and the University of the West Indies in which two current employees — Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources Management Catherine Pollard and Human Resources Officer in the Department of Management Lynne Goldberg — and former employees from Jamaica, Carleen Gardener and Henry Thompson, shared their personal experiences about how they entered the organisation and the different positions they've had over the years.
There was also a presentation about how to complete UN job application forms, how to be successful at competency-based interviews and how to present oneself at face-to-face interviews.
Below are some of the tips Goldberg gave during the morning session at UWI on Tuesday.
* Take time to frame your cover letter and curriculum vitae in the language of the organisation.
"To do this there's no better clue than in the job announcement," said Goldberg. "Recruiters spend approximately 18 seconds on an application. Why? Because we're lazy? No. Because we know what we're looking for, so strategise."
* Don't just think about the top three careers, think broadly.
* Focus on your experience and skills, not necessarily the name of the degree you hold.
As examples, she cited her experience and those of her colleagues. "Look at me, I'm a lawyer and now I'm working in human resources." Pollard, who now heads the HR operations and was previously chief of staff in the Department of Peacekeeping, holds a master's degree in accounting from UWI. Gardener, who has held senior positions at the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme, has master's degrees in education and in organisational management; while Thompson, formerly of Cable and Wireless/Jamintel, was chief of communications and information technology in various peacekeeping missions and acting director of mission support in the African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur.
* When listing previous experience, be specific about the jobs, positions and duties you have performed.
"I encourage you to apply for 30 jobs at a time if you're qualified for them, but tailor your cover letters to make the recruiter think you want the job and that you're a perfect fit for it," said Goldberg.
* Don't be deterred by not having a second language.
Goldberg advised that while language acquisition works to one's advantage, it might not be a deal breaker as "80 per cent of jobs only require English".
* While citing examples of previous situations/challenges during interviews, never say 'no' when asked if you would've done anything differently.
"Saying yes and explaining why shows that you have room to grow and that's a good thing," she said.
* At the interview, don't make gender or race jokes.
"We're very serious and because it's a multicultural environment, we're sensitive to nuances."
* Don't prepare for an interview in your head.
"Practise with a friend or a partner. Write it down and read it aloud."
"Very few people get a job after one, two, 10 applications."
* Don't rule out any possibilities to get your foot in the door. Goldberg explained that there are different paths to securing employment with the UN. Outside of permanent or contractual staff positions, there are volunteerships, internships, the young professionals programme, and the associate expert programme.