Recently, I applied to an unpaid internship for a UN organization, but I’m not sure that I’m cut out for a job in diplomacy. I know a bunch of people in Wageningen who aspire to similar careers, so let me share what I think it takes, to embark on the prestigious path to a FS-6 position within UNICEF, UNIFEM, WHO, WFP, and the like.
I recently had a glimpse of the affluent and hierarchical world of diplomats in Geneva, where I visited a friend. What I saw confirmed my impression that working for the UN agencies is not just about personal qualities and performance, and is not just about being someone’s ‘contact’. Although all of these oil up the hinges, of course. It also helps being a Trinity College rower and knowing that ‘Uzbekistan’ is not a demeaning word to indicate an under-developed country…
So, what does it take? First, outstanding determination. I known that some of the vacancies, infamous among UN job seekers, are bogus, created ad hoc to promote or let in a set candidate. Nonetheless, many vacancies are for real, and any applicant with purpose will get a chance. Even me. What else? Clothes make the man, so I should forget about hippy slack or WUR sweaters. ‘Casual’ in Geneva means flip flops with long trouser and a tailored shirt. For women, that translates into horse-riding boots. Ride the winning stallion! Too bad my legs look short in horse-riding boots. But where to go from there? Get an expensive flat, correct your accent, quit smoking. Sounds like a game over for me.
Ultimately, it takes a taste for diplomacy. If you are born and raised in Wageningen, favouring transparency, knowledge sharing, and straightforward talking, the UN agencies might not be your cup of tea. Either way, as Socrates said, know yourself.
PS: If you have the messiah complex and picture yourself as a white Jesus from space, you better leave development interventions alone and start your own corny comedy show.