5 mistakes you make when applying to United Nations jobs (#2 is very common)

1) You don’t read the requirements

People from all around the world are applying to the same position as you. If you don’t save some time to read all the job description, someone else will do. And your competitor will highlight
in his/her curriculum vitae exactly what the mission needs from him/her. Guess who will be shortlisted?

Some U.N. positions have a very high level of specialization required, and you may have it. But no recruiter in the world will be able to figure it out if you don’t explicitly show them your level of expertise.

Let me give you an example with one current open vacancy. I believe examples can show you what I mean:

The UNDP vacancy #61408 - Investigations Consultant – states that, having at least 2 years of experience in the field of administrative or criminal investigations is essential. It was open recently in order to fill a job vacancy in the Office of Audit and Investigations (OAI).

What happens in this scenario? 80% of the applicants, who barely read the title (Investigations Consultant), will write a beautiful passionate cover letter saying that they are experts in investigations; that they’ve been doing this during the last 20 years and they are ready to work in any hazardous environment around the world (and in half of these cover letters they will state that their dream is to work in U.N.). Well, in the eyes of the recruiter, this won’t give them any advantage. Why?

Because the recruiter’s job is to find the person who will better fit in this specific position, not “the best investigator in the world”. By the way, the above generic cover letter does not match any of OAI specific tasks. What will be the role of the new investigator after all? For this answer, take a look at OAI’s investigation section description:

“The Investigation Section of OAI is responsible for conducting investigations into allegations of misconduct, such as mismanagement, fraud, corruption, retaliation on whistleblowers, workplace harassment, abuse of authority, violation or willful disregard of UNDP regulations, rules, and administrative instructions, that involve UNDP staff, contractors and other applicable persons.”. source: UNDP*

Well, then the other 20% of candidates, who actually read the requirements, will write down how many fraud, corruption, retaliation, abuse of authority, etc… cases they have solved, how they acted and which documents they wrote. The recruiter will be confident to shortlist these candidates for an interview, since he already knows that they already have experience in tasks that will be expected from them.

2) You are applying to a G position, but you don’t live in the duty station city.

To be honest, I myself made this mistake several times.

The first step of your application in Inspira (and other UN recruitment portals) is to answer the pre-screening questions.

For G positions, there is always the “do you live in the duty station” question, as you can see in the picture below (extracted from a real post):

Pre screening questions

As G positions often are related to “assistant” jobs, you may fill overqualified for it if you have a university or Master’s degree and, consequently, you will expect to be shortlisted.
But, by the time you answer “no” to the question, your Personal History Profile will be automatically ignored by Inspira (and you will never know that this happened).

3) You are applying to a position without meeting the minimum experience

This is exactly the same scenario. Some G-5, G-6, P-3 or P-4 positions require a minimum of 5 or 7 years of progressive experience in some specific area. This means that your working experience should be related to the job you are applying to. If you have had many different jobs but didn’t specialize in any of them, it will be much harder to be recruited. A good candidate would be the person who started in a lower position in an organization and, along the years, got chief or supervisory positions in the same job family.

4) You are sending the same cover letter to all jobs

This is also related to the fact that each job post has different requirements. If you read carefully, even two similar job posts, sometimes with same title, have different focus. For a recruiter, it does not take more than 6 seconds to realize that your cover letter is a Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V from another one. It is not bad at all to have an “I love United Nations” speech in your cover letter, but we strongly suggest you to put it in the final part, in a way that you would highlight how your experience matches the requirements in the first sentences.

5) You did nothing, but “we” did

Yes, it is a mistake. I have seen lots of people using “we” instead of “I” in their cover letters. For example: “We finished our project before the deadline”, “our team designed new ID cards for refugees”, or "we established an optimized work flow”, etc.

You may think that this shows to the recruiter that you learned your lessons about teamwork, but the negative aspect is that the recruiter will never know your exact role in your successful projects.

This can really hamper the chances of good candidates. Eventually, I’ve noticed that many candidates use “we” due to their national culture, as a sign of humbleness and respect to their colleagues. “The whole is more important than the individual”. Well, by doing this the recruiter will be in doubt about your real contribution do the project, and will shortlist the candidate who made specific, “selfish” statements.

That is it for today, our team really hope this can help you or your friends in the pursuit of a U.N. job.

Be a Peacekeeper Team.

You can also give yourself a chance and start looking for U.N. opportunities here:

UN Jobs Search

*available at: https://jobs.undp.org/cj_view_job.cfm?cur_job_id=61408


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