When you are considering a career in the UN make sure you bring some patience for the process because applying will take you effort and time. But before we start, let’s clarify, that this post is neither trying to criticize nor defend the UN’s recruitment policies but merely outlining some of the elements of the process. Also, understand that I’m not representing the UN in any way and the information provided below is merely information from my experience running the UN Job List.
To begin with, let’s be clear that there is not just one organization being the UN but rather a family of different organizations forming the UN. Consequently, there is also not only one recruitment experience, so things can vary from organization to organization and even within organizations based on duty station or department.
What are the key factors that influence the time it takes for recruitment for an applicant?
- Advertisement period: To be fair to applicants and to achieve a wide circulation of vacancies most job adverts come with a closing date. This closing date depends on the nature of the recruitment, the different agencies etc. An overview over the differences in advertisement periods can be found on here. Time frame: 2 weeks to many months as announced in the vacancy
- Long listing: A typical next step in the process is to take all applicants and sort out the candidates that are not fulfilling the requirements. This is the step where the formal requirements for a job are checked. This may include the years of experience, the educational requirements, checking for relevant work experience etc. Depending on the post advertised, this can be a very long and tedious job since there are cases with hundreds and even thousands of applicants and some of the checks will take some time. In some instances long listing is done by a panel of staff to ensure fairness. This may add additional time to the process as it takes time to coordinate the panel members’ schedules. Time frame: form a few days to several weeks depending on number of applicants and job requirements
- Short listing: After the long listing the list of applicants is still very long. In the short listing the challenge is to ensure that the most suitable candidates are invited for a written test. This means that the long list is gone through in more detail and applicants are compared against each other in terms of their qualification and experience. In most cases short listing is done by a panel of staff to ensure fairness. This may add additional time to the process as it takes time to coordinate the panel members’ schedules. Time frame: typically anywhere between one week to many weeks
- Written Test: To not rely on interviews only in some cases applicants are required to pass a written test. Designing, administering, correcting and scoring the test can be a task taking several weeks if the job is complex and applicants are scattered around the world. Time frame: a few days to several weeks
- Interview: This point is relatively straight forward in terms of what needs to happen. One key challenge is to get all the right people, i.e. all applicants, all panel members into the same time zone and make sure they are reachable i.e. not traveling, being in a location with connectivity etc. Depending on the complexity of the job, several rounds of interviews can be conducted. Time frame: from a day to several weeks
- Post interview processing:In this period, some UN internal process steps have to be completed. Firstly, a decision for a recommended candidate based on test results and interviews has to be made, secondly the documentation has to be completed, thirdly there is typically in independent review of the application process in the UN to make sure that the process was transparent and fair and lastly the offer has to be produced and signed. Time frame: from one week to several months depending on the post
- Contacting the preferred candidate: What happens next is that the preferred candidate is offered the job. Sometimes by that time the preferred candidate is not available any longer and the second (or even third) in line is contacted if these candidates are found to be fit for the job. It can happen that none of the candidates is fit for the job at which point in time the process starts all over from the beginning. You can identify these cases if you see a vacancy saying “re-advertised”. There is no need to re-apply for re-advertised posts if you already applied for that job in the first round. Time frame: a few hours to several weeks
The above outlines what happens in cases when we are talking about a standard recruitment. The process may be quite different for programmes like the Young Professional Programme (YPP) in the UN or the Junior Professional Programme (JPO) and may be very different for very high level posts. If you want to make sure you understand the process that would apply to your application, check with the organization which advertises your job.
A few considerations to keep in mind during this process:
- Unless you are short listed and invited for an interview you are not likely to hear anything from the UN. I don’t know the details of why this is the case but it is wide-spread practice so it’s best to anticipate not getting a regret letter if you consider applying.
- Even if you had an interview, you may not be hearing anything for quite a while after your interview: The reason is simply that aside from internal process review time and the contract administration time regret letters are only sent when the recommended candidate signed the contract. This is to avoid sending a regret letter to the second candidate and then offering a contract in the case of the first candidate not being available for the job.
- Processes can take a while if things need to be coordinated internationally. Trying to get experts for an interview panel from New York, Geneva and Nairobi to have time to interview an applicant from New Zealand can be quite complicated, especially since most people involved have a regular job and are not dedicated recruiters.
- The above outlines the regular case. If there are any challenges in the process (e.g. a short listed candidate can’t be reached to get the interview date confirmed etc.) additional delays may be incurred.
The bottom line is: If you apply for a job in the UN do some research on the recruitment time of your organization. When applying, be patient it can take a little while. Also, once you are done with your application, keep applying to relevant other vacancies and don’t be discouraged if it does not work out on the first try. Good luck!