By continuing to browse this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Read our privacy policy

Transcript episode 11 Cornelia Moussa at WIPO

Author photo

by Impactpool

Intro quote: “I went to the office and I saw the first twin tower, smoke coming out. I didn’t understand what was going on, but when I reached the office, then they told me a plane flew into the World Trade Center. And then, we went up to the 23rd floor of UNFPA, and we watched both towers smoking, and then we saw the towers go down.”

UNjobfinder: Hi there, and welcome to the eleventh episode of the UNjobfinder Career Podcast by INTALMA. My name is Magnus Bucht and, for those of you listening to this podcast for the first time, this is a show for people who are interested in a career within the international development sector, working for international organizations such as the United Nations, European Union, development banks, inter-governmental or non-governmental organizations. We’re talking to people who are having a remarkable career in this field, trying to get their stories about how they once entered, choices that they’ve made, challenges that they have faced, and, not least, to hear what kind of advice they can share with us. It’s been a while since our last episode and, for those of you who are regularly using our website,, I’m sure you’ll understand the reasons for this short break. During the last months, we’ve started a partnership with new international organizations, we’ve launched a new structure and design of the website, and also introduced the possibility to register and sign up to get your personal job alerts, just to name a few things. Continuous improvements to the site will of course continue and we have many more features planned that you will benefit from. But, from now on, we’ll also continue with our podcast here on a more regular basis. In this episode, I have the pleasure to talk to Cornelia Moussa. Cornelia is the Human Resources Director at WIPO. You will hear more about WIPO and Cornelia’s career in our conversation, but what’s clear is that this is a person who has seen and experienced a lot. We’ll go over, cover many different topics. Keep your ears open as Cornelia will share lots of valuable career advice. So, without further ado, let’s get right into the interview.

UNjobfinder: Today I’m very happy and honored to have Cornelia Moussa here as a guest at the UNjobfinder Career Podcast. Cornelia, welcome! Great to have you with us!

Cornelia Moussa: Thank you very much! I’m very honored to be with you and to speak to prospective UN job applicants.

UNjobfinder: Great, thanks! So Cornelia, you are a person with enormous experience from working with different UN organizations. Currently, you are the Human Resources Director for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). And, before that, you had the same role: HR Director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). And you’ve also had senior management positions with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, International Trade Center (ITC), and many years of experience. So Cornelia, that was a very short summary of your career. But please, tell us a bit more of who you are and what you have done so far.

Cornelia Moussa: Yes, thank you. Actually, I joined the UN way back, many years back in 1977, and I did that after completing my education here in Switzerland at the time. I had a commercial diploma that I got. And then, I worked in the private sector for a year. And that was a large Swiss company who did export machine equipment all over the world. And after a year in the job, I didn’t really feel that this was exciting enough. So I wrote to the UN in Vienna. The UN headquarters had been established there. And I asked them that I wanted to work with them and asked for advice about how to go about it. And they answered me back very kindly and said well, if you want to work with us, then why don’t you come here and we’ll take it from there, we’ll see. So I went to Vienna. I am Austrian, I must say, and that made Vienna as a choice easier. My father was Austrian but I grew up and lived all my life in Switzerland. So I went to Vienna, and they gave me some tests and, at the end of that, they said okay, here is a job, three months, a short-term thing, something quite junior entry level. And they assigned me actually to UNRWA at the time. UNRWA was in Vienna on evacuation from Lebanon because they had to move the headquarters out of Lebanon very quickly because of the civil war there. And so, UNRWA was in temporary quarters. And I got a job there. So that’s where it all started.

UNjobfinder: Amazing! I think that many people will be envious when they hear how you were able to enter into the UN. Not really a way that is manageable right now of course.

Cornelia Moussa: Yes, that’s right.

UNjobfinder: So, at that point, what was it that made you interested in the UN?

Cornelia Moussa: It just opened the door, and it was a whole new world, and I hadn’t got a clue about what these people were doing, why they were there, and so on. So I had to learn all this very quickly. And, in fact, I ended up in HR policy that dealt with job classification and policy development and so on. And so, after a few months, UNRWA went back to Beirut because the civil war was supposed to have ended. And so, they agreed that I come with them to help them pack and unpack at the other end basically. And so, I went to Lebanon. And it was really exciting, and we set up offices there, and tried to get the operation going again from Beirut. But then, the civil war actually didn’t quite stop as expected, and I decided to go back to Vienna because I thought this wasn’t really working very well for me. Then, I had a short job with the Atomic Energy Agency, but then UNRWA decided to come back to Vienna because the civil war had set in again. And so, they packed up and came back to Vienna. And then, I joined the advance party of UNRWA then, and helped some 200 people, staff and their families, to basically come back to Vienna and to establish themselves and to put the kids back in school and to find flats for the people and to basically start all over again. And then, UNRWA was in Vienna until 1996 or thereabouts. And, during that time, we did quite a lot of interesting work basically supporting the organization during a number of emergencies, not only in Lebanon, but then we had Intifada in the West Bank in Gaza and that posed a whole lot of challenges which we tried to the extent possible to manage from Vienna. And so, this was a great learning opportunity.

UNjobfinder: Okay. So you remained with UNRWA in Vienna until then?

Cornelia Moussa: Yes. And then, I moved to Gaza in 1996 because then there was a political decision that UNRWA headquarters would not go back to Beirut but that it would establish itself in Gaza because the Palestinian authority had set up their quarters in Gaza at the time. So the Secretary General of the UN made a decision that UNRWA should move to Gaza. So they made a building there for the headquarters and we basically let go of the staff that we had in Vienna. All the staff that were brought from Lebanon, they were sent back home, or they were settled in other jobs in Vienna. And then, I went to Gaza and we hired some 200 local staff there, we trained them, and the headquarters was up and running. And when that was finished, then I moved to another UN job in New York, to UNFPA. And I was there until at the end of 2001. From the beginning of 1999 till the end of 2001, I was in New York. Then I came to Geneva to work for the International Trade Center. And then, I went back to the Middle East at the beginning of 2005 to work for the Economic Commission for Western Asia in Beirut. That’s part of the UN Secretariat. So it is a very different sort of setup and structure. And I was there until March 2007 when UNRWA rang me and said we’re going to have an HR Director position, how about applying? So I did just that and I was selected. And in March of 2007, I moved from Beirut to Amman. I was HR Director in UNRWA in Amman for 5.5 years and then I decided that it was time to go back to Europe, and I applied for this job here with WIPO. And I was selected, and I’ve been here since August of 2012. So this has all worked very well.

UNjobfinder: Indeed, it has. When the circle has sort of closed, you’re back in Geneva where you once started.

Cornelia Moussa: Kind of, yes. Yes, indeed.

UNjobfinder: Great, I can understand that each of these positions have been really challenging of course and have given you an extreme amount of experience. You said that, in the beginning, when you started working with the commercial company, it was not really what you were looking for in your career. Then you started working with UNIDO and UNRWA and you’ve remained with the UN. When you started working for the UN, even though it was a bit of an unusual entry into the UN, what has kept your passion? What were the biggest differences from going from the private sector, that commercial company, and going into the UN? If you go back to that time.

Cornelia Moussa: You know, it is of course a non-profit environment, and the UN is so varied, has such a wide range of mandates, and the mandate kind of has a huge influence on the organization’s culture. So if you work with refugees, it is one kind of atmosphere and mindset and nature of work. If you work in population affairs, like in UNFPA where you deal a lot with gender issues and women’s issues, it’s another thing, it has other kinds of challenges. Then the trade development or social and economic development is very specific, has its specificities. And then, here, intellectual property is quite specialized and we have a lot of people that are in this IP field, that have a legal background, or people that come from the IT side. So every organization is so, so different. And also, the environment that you walk into, the duty station has an impact. You work a lot with national staff and so on. So there is a great range of different things. And then, of course, the UN is not a static body but it’s always subject to a great deal of change, partly driven internally by mandates changing and partly also driven externally by member states, by the environments that we have to respond to, deal with. Just think of the organizations that deal with refugees, or that deal with relief, that step in when there’s a crisis, peace keeping and so on. So it has such a huge range of different things that one can work in that, to me, it is much more vibrant and varied. And then, you have all the different cultures working together. So that makes it very interesting. Of course, nowadays, you also have that to some extent in the private sector because we have multinationals, and they also operate globally, and there is much more mobility generally than it was at the time when I joined the UN system. But still, I think the UN has a very specific, a very rewarding work environment.

UNjobfinder: Indeed, thank you. I can imagine that there is of course a huge difference between the organization that you are working for currently, WIPO, compared to, for example of course, the mandate of UNRWA. And I would actually like to hear more about WIPO. I’m sure that many of our listeners know about WIPO and what you do, but there might also be some people who are quite unsure about what you do. So could you please tell us a bit about what is it that WIPO is doing and its mandate?

Cornelia Moussa: You know, WIPO is an excellent organization and it has a very important mandate. Intellectual property is an extremely important field, more so nowadays than ever in the past. And it has been subject to enormous change with the onset of digitalization. Just think about what has changed in terms of copyright in the music industry and so on and so forth. So it is very, very interesting to be here. WIPO administers many international treaties or we help member states to administer international treaties and, of course, it provides services for people who want to file patents and who want to protect themselves in terms of copyright and so on. So WIPO does quite a lot of different things. We also do development. We help developing countries deal with their intellectual property issues, help them set up intellectual property infrastructure. And then, we have a number of very important databases which are available free of charge to clients who want to inform themselves on many different aspect of intellectual property. So a very wide range of services. We are quite a compact organization. We’re not large in UN systems terms. We’re about 1,200 staff here, mostly in Geneva. We have some external offices but they are quite small. We have offices in Japan, in Singapore, in Moscow, in China, in Beijing, an office in Rio, and the liaison office in New York. But largely, the action is here in Geneva. And so, this is a great duty station. It’s really an excellent place to work and to live, and staff find at WIPO a very good compound with good facilities. We also have a conducive work environment where staff have some development opportunities, they have training opportunities and so on. And for families, Geneva offers a great, great quality of life. So it really is a good place to be.

UNjobfinder: Great, thank you. One thing that I’m curious about, because I know that WIPO compared to I presume most other UN organizations, is a self-funding organization.

Cornelia Moussa: Yes, that’s right.

UNjobfinder: What does that mean?

Cornelia Moussa: Well, it means that we finance 95% of our costs. They’re generated by fees that come in from patent registration and similar services. So it is great of course that we generate our own income but also that makes us a bit vulnerable to swings in the global economy. If the economy goes down, if people file less patents, have less interest in intellectual property, in innovations and file less, then our income can go down. So we have to manage our resources very, very carefully.

UNjobfinder: Okay. So would you say that in a way you are more similar to a private company in that sense?

Cornelia Moussa: In many respects, yes, we are. But we are part of the UN Common System, so we pay the UN salaries and benefits and so on. So we cannot just pay people less because we have less money. And therefore, we have to create reserves and generally have a workforce that is flexible where we have a core and we have some other ways of resourcing personnel around that.

UNjobfinder: Great, thank you for sharing that. So going back to you and to your career with the different organizations that you have been working with, the political environment that you’ve been with, not least of course with UNRWA and UNFPA, and working in Beirut and in Amman, I’m sure that you have so many stories that we could talk about for hours. But could you give an example of an experience that you’ve been through or maybe a story that you’re really proud of or that has been rewarding for you in your career?

Cornelia Moussa: Two things come to mind really. One is about the HR story if you want. As I said earlier, we spend most of the resources of an organization in HR, and HR has quite a strategic function. In fact, if HR doesn’t work, then the organization doesn’t work properly. So it is very important that this job here is done right, that the HR functions well, that we provide a good work environment for the staff, that we have policies and systems in place that function well so that people feel good about how things operate, that they don’t get frustrated when things take time or things are not properly done. We also have to support managers of course to manage their staff properly, to motivate, to manage performance, to create a good working environment for their staff, and we have to manage the costs of the organization. So if all of these things work together well, then we have a good organization where the staff are happy, where they can actually contribute to the best of their ability, they can be innovative, they can be creative, they can apply their skills, and so on and so forth. That is very important. So when that happens, then the HR director is a happy person. Another rewarding side of my career is that, especially at the beginning when we were working in UNRWA in that very difficult environment where the field was in crisis, we hired a lot of young folks that were excellently qualified, came out of university, and we put them into West Bank and Gaza as refugee affairs officers. We hired hundreds of these because it was a very, very stressful job and we only kept people for relatively short periods of time, and we tried to find the best of people from all over the world, from all countries, a lot of them by the way from Sweden and from other places. Many of these, they actually stayed in the UN system and they made excellent careers. And I come across them once in a while. They are in senior positions now, and they are all over the place, and not anymore just dealing with refugees but with gender issues, with economic and social development, with peacekeeping, with whatever. And sometimes, when I run into these people, they say oh you were the first person that I spoke to when I joined the UN. And they made great careers and I thought that that was very, very rewarding. And I like to coach young people who come to me, who come out of school and they see this huge amount of opportunity in front of them. Where to turn? Where to go? How to start thinking? And it is very interesting if you can sort of give some guidance and share your experience and help these young people to find their way.

UNjobfinder: Excellent. That’s also what we are hoping that we will get from you during this interview. So that’s excellent. Maybe if you turned that coin and going from what has been rewarding for you, I’m sure that you’ve also had lots of experience that kept you awake at night and that has been a challenge for you or, of course, for the organization that you’ve been working with. Could you give us a flavor of the type of challenges that you have faced and that have been a struggle for you?

Cornelia Moussa: Yes, I think that there could be lots of stories here and challenges come in many shapes and forms of course. And a couple that I can think of are, for example in UNRWA, you work in an extremely resource constrained environment and you see the needs everywhere and you see refugees are living in very, very difficult conditions even 65 years on this refugee organization has been there. And you can’t really do what needs to be done because the resources are not there. You can only do a very bare minimum and that is quite challenging and quite frustrating. And even as regards the management of the staff, UNRWA has more than 30,000 staff and the salaries are what they are and that’s what UNRWA can basically pay. And you spend a lot of your time trying to make ends meet and there is never enough money to do what needs to be done and that is quite draining and quite difficult. That’s one kind of challenge. Another kind of challenge is operating in sudden crises. From one day to the next, you find yourself in an emergency. And, in my case, this was usually related to armed conflict in the Middle East. And then, things start to sort of fall apart and you will find in such a situation a few people that can still think clearly and are level-headed and do the right things and pull together and manage an emergency. So you got to get yourself out of harm’s way, make sure the families get out of the way, try to evacuate, try to move people to safe places, keep operations going, keep HR services running to the extent possible, but also, in some cases, you have to continue with the organization’s mandate like in UNRWA, even if there’s a crisis, you have to provide services to refugees and that can be quite challenging. Now we try to plan for emergencies but one emergency is never the same as another. And so, you’ve got to still really struggle to make things happen and to manage a situation which is completely fluid and out of control. So that’s another kind of challenge.

UNjobfinder: Yes, indeed. Sorry, did I interrupt you?

Cornelia Moussa: At a more personal level, there are also challenges for the staff of course working in a UN environment. And as regards to my own situation, I can think of managing a dual career family, I found that actually quite, quite difficult. My husband also worked for the UN and we were very fortunate that early on in our careers we had some stability, we had a long period of stability in Vienna. We worked both in the same location, in the same organization in fact, and it allowed us to have two children and to raise them. And when they came towards the end of their high school years, I had to move to Gaza, or I was offered a job in Gaza with UNRWA, and the choice was of taking it and dealing with the family situation or of stepping out of the job and staying in Vienna and looking after the family. So we had to have these quite difficult discussions at home of course, my husband and I, and we decided that I would go to Gaza and he would stay behind with the kids in Vienna. And that was very hard. That’s not easy at all. And we managed to do it because Gaza is a non-family duty station and so, in a place like that, you have more time free, you get out once in a while and then of course you go home and you spend time with the family. Now, a couple of years after I went to Gaza, my husband’s job also disappeared because UNRWA closed its offices completely in Vienna, and he then moved to Bosnia to peacekeeping and later to Kosovo and, by that time, my daughter, who is the elder, she was ready to go to university, and my son joined me in New York. And he went to school there. So that’s how we managed it. And we kept our house in Vienna and that was the base for the family, that’s where we would spend all our free time of course. And this is how we sort of managed to keep things going. But this is quite, quite challenging. I’ve seen it many, many times that this leads to really difficult situations for families, and the UN is not always able to deal with this properly because there are quite a number of very good duty stations where you can raise a family and have your spouse and all that and it works very well. But then, there are duty stations where it is not possible. And then, also, when the spouse also has a job or has a profession or wants to have a career, it’s not always easy to manage this very well in the UN system. What the UN does is to ensure to the extent possible that in the countries where it operates the spouses get work permits, they can work if they want to. But the UN doesn’t actually find a job for the spouse. The spouse has to find his/her own job and that is sometimes a challenge, especially in the smaller duty stations out in developing countries. And it can be quite difficult for staff members if the spouse comes to a duty station with the expectation of I’ll find myself a job and then it doesn’t happen or it cannot happen or whatever. Then you have an unhappy spouse but also you have an unhappy staff member and it is not a good situation. So this is a challenge that many people face in the UN, and it’s something that has to be considered early on.

UNjobfinder: Indeed. Thank you so much for that, Cornelia. I think that’s really valuable information for people who are thinking about having a career in any international organization about the, if you want to call it, the cost that it can have on a personal level. Looking at you, now when you tell the story about what you and your family had to go through, did you have any own sort of coping strategies for how to deal with that? And also, I can only imagine the stress that it puts on the family to have one family member, like you said, your husband was working in Kosovo, maybe that was during the time when it was a war ongoing there, and you were in Gaza which is also a duty station where you could of course end up in a dangerous situation. How did you cope with that stress? Is there any advice that you can give to others who might be coming to that situation?

Cornelia Moussa: It’s a tough question. First of all, if you’re in HR and there is a crisis, you’re busy. And the first thing that you do is to tell your family I’m fine, everything is okay. I remember there were a couple of situations first of all in New York when the 9/11 disaster happened, I was actually there, and I went to the office in the morning, and I saw the first twin tower, smoke coming out. I didn’t understand what was going on, but when I reached the office, then they told me a plane flew into the World Trade Center. And then we went up to the 23rd floor of UNFPA and we watched both towers smoking, and then we saw the towers go down. And that was just dreadful. So we were panic-stricken of course. And then, the news came that there is another plane in the air, it seems to be a terrorist attack, and we didn’t know where it was heading. And so, that caused a lot of panic. So I called Vienna and I spoke to my son and I told him something is happening here, just for you to know that I’m fine, that everything is not okay but I’m okay, and just tell everyone else that I’m not in the World Trade Center, that I’m okay. So that was one situation. And then, the next one was when I was in Lebanon, suddenly there was a crisis between Hezbollah and Israel because something happened, there was an air attack from the Israelis on Beirut, and one nice morning we woke up and the bombs were coming down. And again, it was a matter of telling the family this is what’s going on here, and probably the phone lines will go down before long, just to let you know that I’m fine and I’ll call you when I can. So basically just putting people in the know. It is always worse for people who are outside to deal with a situation like this than when you’re actually in the middle because if you don’t know what’s going on, then it causes a lot of anxiety. We also had some car bombs in Beirut and, when this happened, every time the phone lines went down, you couldn’t communicate. So you developed some kind of coping strategies and let people know that you’re okay.

UNjobfinder: And I presume also from your position that you had to deal with the staff’s security almost of course before you could even think about your own security.

Cornelia Moussa: Absolutely. That’s right. When we had the war in Beirut, that was in 2006, that was in the middle of summer, in July, and a lot of staff brought all their extended family to Beirut and we had to evacuate. All the organizations pulled together. UNRWA gave us busses and we managed to have some convoys to ship people out of harm’s way but that was quite a challenge. And when we had everybody out of the country, then we took a boat to Cyprus and we went to Vienna, and we set up our computer systems in Vienna, and we continued the HR business there.

UNjobfinder: Has that made you more decisive perhaps because you have been so many times in situations where you have to make quick decisions and, of course, analyze what decision would be best, maybe not with as much input as you would like to have?

Cornelia Moussa: Yes, indeed. You develop of course important experience and you can bring that to situations. As I said earlier, not one situation is the same as another, but certain things do repeat themselves. For example, it’s easily overlooked how important communication is, to keep communication systems up and running so that you can communicate with staff, you can convey messages, do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, we are here, we are not here, what happens to salaries, what happens to contracts, what happens to medical insurance. Because people have questions and you have to be able to give answers and, if the systems are down, then it’s quite a challenge. So I think one learns from one situation to the next.

UNjobfinder: Great. Cornelia, now we had a lot of focus on of course the challenges and working in hazardous situations and in conflict situations. If we leave that, and I still hope that people will be encouraged to work for organizations where this is of course a reality, but if you look at yourself having this successful career that you’ve had with the different organizations, would you say that you have a personal habit or a trait that has been critical for your success?

Cornelia Moussa: You know, I think that it’s very important to do good forward planning and also one should never sort of rest on one’s laurels and say now I have a great job, fantastic, and this is it. The UN is a fast-moving environment. Things change, technology changes, jobs change, processes change, and also one has to keep in touch with professional development. So one has to keep one’s skills sharp and up-to-date, and one has to plan ahead and have good multiyear forward planning.

UNjobfinder: Excellent. If you would say the most important lessons that you would like to share with our listeners who want to pursue an international career, what would those be?

Cornelia Moussa: Important lessons for an international career… First of all, I think people need to think about what it is that they want for themselves in terms of professional career and for their family. Most organizations require a degree of mobility, and so, people who go and work for places like UNDP or UNHCR or UNICEF, they will be faced with the kinds of mobility issues that I described. But then, there are other organizations where this is probably less the case. Like in WIPO we don’t have issues with mobility because we are here and people are not expected to move to other places periodically. Also, I guess that there are certain staff that are not so much subject to mobility, the people that are working in the support areas like administration, finance, procurement, and so on. They will be less having to move around than people who are in program areas. So one has to think about what to expect in terms of that. And then, another important lesson is the continuous professional development because one has to compete for jobs at regular intervals and one has to stay in touch with one’s own profession.

UNjobfinder: To make sure that, like you said, that you have the forward planning and make sure that your skills are always actual, right?

Cornelia Moussa: That’s right. And then languages are of course also important. And so, various organizations have different language needs but sometimes one has an advantage to have an additional language. And if two candidates compete for the same job and one has excellent this, that and the other in terms of UN languages, then sometimes it can make a difference. So it’s good to learn things, it’s good to also to do something intellectually that is maybe not so related to the job to give balance. I always found that very good.

UNjobfinder: Great. So looking at WIPO, why would you say that people should come and work for you?

Cornelia Moussa: Well, I think that we are a very good organization that does very important work. We have a very good working environment for our staff. We have some development opportunities. Many people come here, and they work here for a few years, and then they go back to their national IP offices and they take the experience with them. So very many good reasons for being here. Our area that we work in is rapidly evolving, it’s becoming more important all the time, and we want to hire the best people that we can find.

UNjobfinder: So I’m sure that many of our listeners who are hearing this also would like to get some tips on how to get a job with WIPO. Do you have anything to share there? And maybe are there any specific areas that you are trying to recruit or that you are recruiting currently if you look at sort of key occupational areas or skillsets that you are looking for right now?

Cornelia Moussa: Look, most of our services are provided through IT platforms. They are all provided through electronic means, databases and registration systems and so on. And so, IT skills are very important, and we have been hiring many IT people, and we will continue to do that. Then, of course, we also hire people that have an IP, intellectual property, background. And then, we also hire people that are in development, that come from various parts of the world and they have experience in developing countries and particularly relating to intellectual property. And then, of course, being a UN organization, we have regularly a need for people in support areas, which is finance, procurement, HR, oversight, and so on. So those are the jobs that we will continue to advertise. Now, in terms of the process, like all organizations, we have an online recruitment system. Currently, we have a system which is like you have it in many other UN organizations. We will probably change it in the coming month to a more sophisticated one but there is not one UN portal where you can apply and then you’re in the system. You have to apply for every organization separately, which is a little bit of a challenge. Now I think that it’s important that people realize with these electronic recruitment systems what has happened is that we get a lot more applications than we used to get in the past because it’s very easy to apply. Once you’re in the system, then it takes a few clicks with the mouse and you submit an application. It’s not pages and pages of forms that one had to complete like in the past. And that means that the volume has gone up. So we get for every job several hundred applications. We recently had a P3 job in administration and we had 350 applications. It means that, for the HR colleagues who have to go through this lot to find out where the qualified and the best candidates are, they have to go manually through this. We have sort systems but we don’t rely on them 100%. So we do look at every application. And so, it is very important that we find the information that we are looking for quickly because the recruitment colleagues are not spending half an hour on each application. They have to see whether the person has the qualifications, the experience, the language and any other technical requirements of the job. Are these there? Yes or no? And if yes, they go on one side of the pile. And if no, they go on the other. If people can’t find what they are looking for, if it’s not clear whether somebody has the experience that is required or the languages, then the chance is that they will not go into the yes list or hired. So it’s in the interest of applicants to make sure that the recruiter finds at a glance what the essential requirements are of the job. So if a degree in x, y, z is required, put it there, put it there clearly. If a professional qualification in something or other is required, put it there. If language requirements are there, state clearly. Do you have it? Yes or no? And then, the experience has to also speak to the requirements that are listed in the vacancy announcement because usually, in the couple most recent jobs, is where you expect to find the most relevant experience. So it is very important that the application is tailored to the job and very clear.

UNjobfinder: Excellent.

Cornelia Moussa: That’s about applying. Then, after that, we usually have written tests for those who are on an initial long list, not even a short list yet. But if we have let’s say an admin officer role, we probably will invite about 20 people for a written test. And that written test will be about the job. So the test will be given online, it will have like let’s say 10 questions, you have 90 minutes time. So it’s very important that the questions are answered precisely, not any other question, but the question that is being asked, and that the presentation and the language and everything is well done. The answer should be structured well and clearly written and so on. And then, applicants have to make sure that they budget their time very well and not spend an awful lot of time on the first three questions and then run out of time for the last three. That’s not such a good thing. So it’s good to take an overview and then plan the thing, and then make a good submission and send it in in the time that is allocated. Then we come to the interview stage. And here, the interview boards usually consist of a number of colleagues who have had training in competency based interviewing. This means that the interviewer will ask candidates to give specific examples from their careers, not to answer a question hypothetically, but when the question is tell us about a time when you had to make a difficult decision, then we want to hear a precise example about when the candidate had to make a difficult decision, how did he do it, what was on his or her mind, how did they plan it, how did they deal with the aftermath and so on. Not I would if I could, not hypothetical. And so, it’s always good to think about these hypothetical examples a little bit in advance, and if I’m asked about the most difficult decision or the most difficult situation, or my biggest success or my biggest disaster, those kinds of things one should think about in advance because in the interview there simply isn’t time to start doing an epic long search. This is another piece of advice that could be useful. And then, answering the questions of course in an interview, I think candidates should expect about 8-10 questions. They should listen very carefully to what the question is and then take a moment to think and then structure their response very well and not ramble on, not go on forever but be concise, give the essential information that is asked in a well-structured way. And maybe the final piece of advice when it comes to interviewing is that candidates should do quite a bit of research about the organization that they are applying for, and they should know the basics, they should know the mandate, the governance structure, they should know the budget, the staff, the locations, the issues, what are the challenges the organization is facing, what are the key successes and so on, so that they can make a better interview altogether and respond to questions more intelligently. It is very frustrating for an interview panel to sit there and to find out that a candidate is completely clueless about what an organization is all about, and that does not leave a good impression. So it’s time well-spent to go to the website and to do quite a bit of research about the organization.

UNjobfinder: Excellent, Cornelia. I think that making sure that you have the criteria that are asked for in the job description before you even send an application, and make sure that if there are requirements asked for, make sure that the recruiter can spot those requirements quite easily, and already maybe in the application make clear of the achievements that you have made that are in line with what the organization that you are asking for in a job description. And plan for the test, make sure that you prepare for the interview, prepare for the competency based interviews and then we also have articles about this on the UNjobfinder website. And make research about the organization. I think all that is really valuable advice and I think that it’s critical that our listeners really listen to this and, of course, they will be able to go through this over and over again. We will have the full transcript of this podcast on the website but also, of course, by listening to this over and over again. So thank you so much for that, Cornelia. I think it was really excellent advice. I want to respect your time. I can see that we have been talking now for quite some time. My final question was actually if you had any other final tips, but I think if you want to add something, please do, but I think that also what you gave us here now was excellent. So anything before we end that you want to share with our listeners?

Cornelia Moussa: No. I think that patience is another thing that is needed. I think many people apply for many UN jobs and this is quite normal. It usually doesn’t happen the first time that they succeed, but interviewing is also about practice. So I think people have to be patient and they get better and better, and eventually they will succeed. I wish the listeners good luck and hope to see many of them come through.

UNjobfinder: Excellent. Thank you so much Cornelia, and thank you for being with us today, and for being willing to share all of your insights and experience, and what you have told us has been extremely valuable. So thank you so much!

Cornelia Moussa: A great pleasure.

UNjobfinder: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Cornelia Moussa. Cornelia, thank you so much for joining the show. You will find show notes for this episode, transcript of everything we said at If you want to be sure that you receive all new episodes, then please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. Showing what you think of this show and leaving and honest review on iTunes is something that we really appreciate. Thank you so much for listening, bye for now, and see you in the next episode!

Latest transcripts

Show more transcripts