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Want to work in international aid? Here’s what you need to know to work at UNICEF Australia

Have you ever wondered exactly what hiring managers are looking for when recruiting for Australia’s most sought-after NFPs?

In a new series on the Ethical Jobs Blog, we’re interviewing the people who hire at the organisations you want to work in – and we’ll give you the insider knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing.

This month, we spoke to UNICEF Australia’s HR Director Fiona Watters. UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund – it responds to humanitarian emergencies around the world and promotes the rights of children. Based in Sydney, its Australian operation has a team of about 55 staff who work across a wide range of areas like fundraising, communications, policy and advocacy, and international development programs.

Hi Fiona, thanks for chatting to us! Firstly, can you tell us about what you do at UNICEF?

Great to speak to you, too!

As HR Director, I’m responsible for providing strategic leadership and operational oversight for all of our HR initiatives.

I’m supported by an excellent HR coordinator and together we provide support to staff and managers across the full range of human resources activities including recruitment, resource planning, performance management and policy development.

How often would you say you hire new people at UNICEF?

We are always on the lookout for talented and passionate people, and we’re growing – last year we recruited 22 people!

And what types of roles do you recruit for the most?

That’s hard to say, as we’ve got a very varied group here. But we’ve recruited a lot in the past twelve months for our fundraising team, and particularly in digital and marketing roles.

We also regularly recruit in the areas of advocacy and policy, international programs, and operations.

Of those, which do you generally find are the hardest to fill?

At the moment we’re really finding it hard to find digital fundraising specialists. We do struggle with that in the market; it’s probably the role that we’ve had the most trouble filling. Finding motivated and experienced digital fundraising specialists is a challenge at the moment and, generally, finding people with deep fundraising experience in the Australian market can be quite tricky.

Also, sometimes in fundraising you’re looking for a particular specialist, whether that’s a philanthropy specialist, or a face-to-face fundraising specialist – those types of people can be quite difficult to find.

It sounds like roles at UNICEF are so varied – does the hiring process differ much between them?

We actually follow a pretty consistent application procedure for all positions, so that doesn’t differ. Sometimes we ask applicants to do a practical test for some roles, but not for all.

Where we do differ is how we promote the roles. We tailor our recruitment approach based on what we know about the role and the candidates.

For example, how we approach digital fundraisers is different to how we approach our international program staff, or the markets in which we look for them.

But we always post on EthicalJobs.com.au – that doesn’t change! That’s kind of our stock-standard, because we do get a good response from it.

We generally find that across the board – whether it’s for general not-for-profit roles, or development and aid, or fundraising – that people are aware of EthicalJobs.com.au and are using it.

Onto the application process – what are some common mistakes candidates make in that initial stage?

Not fully understanding or reading the instructions in the application process. We always ask for candidates to send in their resumes and address the selection criteria, and we often get that people just send in their resume. So it’s really about thoroughly reading and understanding the instructions and responding to that appropriately.

Another common one is spelling mistakes. It’s really simple, but it’s one of those things that people don’t appear to take the time to really carefully review before they send their application in. Taking care really demonstrates to us that they want the job.

And what about further down the process – what sorts of mistakes do you often see in interviews?

For us, preparation is key to a successful interview. If we see that a candidate has not prepared for an interview or has not prepared to talk about UNICEF’s work or why they want to work for UNICEF, that becomes a bit disappointing.

You can have a candidate who does really well in the interview generally, but might fall down at the end because they’ve failed to do any research on UNICEF Australia.

That’s a key factor for us – demonstrating experience and a passion for what we do.

People’s failure to prepare for interviews is a big thing, and it’s obvious when that’s the case. They aren’t thinking about what questions they’re going to get asked based on the job description.

What would be the top things you look for when assessing a candidate’s fit?

On paper, we’re looking for a well-presented, clearly communicated resume and for the key selection criteria to be addressed. That is always fundamental. If people aren’t clearly communicating and presenting that document to us, it’s hard to get through the first stage. That’s one of the first things we’re looking for.

And then, secondly, we’re really looking for those people who are able to describe or demonstrate their passion for what we do. It’s really about their interest and commitment to advancing children’s rights and to improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Sometimes they’re able to describe or demonstrate that through their volunteering or paid experiences. Maybe they’ve been a supporter of UNICEF, or maybe they’ve been a recipient of UNICEF’s work in other countries.

We’re obviously looking for a good fit in terms of their ability to meet the role requirements and technical requirements, but it’s also something else we’re looking for. It’s that something special – a differentiator when you’re looking through 200 resumes!

We also have to see that they’ve got an alignment to our organisational values, so they don’t only care about the cause but they can demonstrate integrity, trust and respect for others, and a natural style to collaborate with people – to put teamwork first.

So who’s most likely to sit on an interview panel?

Generally it’s a minimum of two people, and often it’s a two-stage process.

Usually it’s the hiring manager and an HR staff member in the first round, and then the director of the department and the hiring manager again in the second round.

What questions do you wish candidates would ask you in interviews?

I really want candidates to ask us about our culture and what it’s like to work here.

I think a really good question is to ask the interviewers why they like working here. What are the things they enjoy about the organisation? I think that’s really important for someone in assessing their own fit for an organisation and a team.

Another good question is ‘What’s the greatest challenge the organisation faces?’ or asking about the challenges facing the role.

Luckily, most people do ask the right questions; most people are fairly clued up.

What traits do candidates need to succeed at UNICEF?

Adaptability and resilience are key traits. Like many other not-for-profits, we do find ourselves working in a changing environment, and often a difficult one.

Political changes, humanitarian emergencies and being wholly funded by voluntary contributions mean that we need to have the ability to adapt well to an ever-changing environment to ultimately deliver the best results for children.

One of the other things we look for is definitely a collaborative attitude – putting teamwork first. We also look for the ability to work across the organisation. It’s going to be difficult for anybody who wants to work on their own to work in an organisation of this size and this nature.

As I said before, we’re also looking for a commitment to the work that we do for children, so really putting children first in everything that we do.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone who really wants to work at UNICEF but might not have the right skills or experience?

Be persistent! Continue to really proactively look for opportunities to gain experience – whether that’s volunteering work, interning or paid work.

I think it’s important to research the sector well and understand its priorities and needs – and then be clear about the skills you’ve got to offer and where they might fit.

Then start to identify yourself with those skills. So, rather than scattering yourself across multiple areas, really hone in on what it is that you can offer and what the sector needs.

Using social media to connect with organisations you’re interested in can be useful, and I see that more and more.

Finally, I’d say network. I think that’s really important for people who want to work in the sector. I think people are only too happy to share their thoughts and experiences about how you can get into it and build your network. And it’s those things that give you a bit of a boost in terms of getting your application seen.

Thanks so much for your time, Fiona!

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