This edition of GLOCAL Careers was originally published in the GLOCAL Alumni newsletter on March 14, 2020.
The GLOCAL Careers series investigates what it takes to work in different sectors relevant to the programme. Through interviews with academics, industry professionals and GLOCAL alumni, we share first-hand insight on application processes, necessary skills and other considerations when choosing your career.
In this quarter’s International Organisations edition we spoke to Fernando Martínez Cure, Technical Officer at the International Labor Organisation in Geneva. Also interviewed was Annie Heslinga, GLOCAL Alumna who undertook an internship at the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Fernando Martínez Cure, ILO Technical Officer
by Robin Lee
What’s your role in the International Labour Organization (ILO) and what projects are you working on?
I am a technical officer at the ILO, focusing on SME development and refugee livelihoods. What that means is that I support project officers in the field around the world, helping them to better include refugees in their local market systems.
What skills & experience are valued in candidates applying to work at the ILO?
We want people with research experience and analytical capacities, as well as experience implementing projects and working on the field. These are often contrasting profiles!
It’s useful to have both sets of skills because we don’t want to just identify improvements; we want to implement different business models and facilitate them with market actors. It requires knowing which questions to ask and in which format, as well as ‘street smarts’ to find the interests of different partners and to craft the right arguments.
Another thing that is valued is writing! It’s so, so important. The ILO almost never measures this when we hire people – out of the 25, 30 people I’ve hired, there has never been a writing test. But [writing skills] are so crucial and save so much time.
Of course, having different languages helps, especially if you work with Latin organisations. Our team speak Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, German, and so on. You need that because we operate all over the world and often need to work with people on the ground, and it’s not the same just using a translator.
What advice can you offer on the application process?
None of your experience means anything if you don’t know how to sell it! That’s often the case – I find people have very well-rounded experience but then you read their cover letters or CVs and the important things are not highlighted. Just consider that I might be looking at 80 or 90 CVs in a day and can’t go through all of them in detail.
You shouldn’t rely on the recruiter to find what they are looking for in your profile if you’re not speaking their language. By that I mean the language they use in their everyday work. If I see the sort of words and arguments that I deal with on a daily basis, this is going to register with me.
For example, I was working on a project in Colombia involving a ‘Productive Inclusion Ladder’, but the term I used to describe it was ‘Livelihoods’ as this resonates more with everyday activities. If you are applying to the ILO, say to work on market systems for refugees, then read the sort of thing that we do, look at the way we name things and what is written in the job description – then plagiarise it!
Do you have any final advice for students and graduates hoping to work at the ILO?
You need some sort of passion or calling to be successful in this sort of work. If you are looking to work in the field, then you need to really reflect on whether it excites you and represents something meaningful – those are the kind of people we’re looking for. To work in a bank, for example,maybe you don’t need to be excited – though I’m sure some people are, while others fake it! But I’m super grateful I have this opportunity because it makes my life bigger than just myself.
Finally – try different things!
Annie Heslinga, GLOCAL Alumna/former UN Intern
by Robin Lee
Where did you do your internship and what did it involve?
It was the United States State Department in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I specifically worked in the State Department’s Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Most of the work in my office was focused on events involving bringing key figures from around the world to the UN. I was involved in a lot of programming for a number of congresses, a number of cultural visitors and persons of importance from around the world.
For more information about the Bureau, check out their website here: https://eca.state.gov/about–bureau
Something to keep in mind when working for foreign offices is that they have many different departments. GLOCALs could be suited to work in a variety of different departments, for example, economic advisory positions in ECOSOC (the United Nations Economic and Social Council).
How did you find out about the position and what did the application process entail?
I was involved in a number of extracurriculars through New York University, and one of my peers mentioned that the State Department internship program was great for those interested in international affairs. At the time, I was an International Relations major (in my first year of university), so working with the State Department made a lot of sense.
The application process itself was quite long – I believe I applied in the fall and then started the following summer. Essentially, you go through a lengthy process of filling out a web form, and you choose a first and second option of embassies you’d like to intern with. I chose Germany as my first and New York as my second. I had a phone interview with the US consulate in Leipzig, and they seemed quite interested in my motivation letter. However, I didn’t get that position and ended up being hired by the New York Mission to the United Nations with no interview. After starting the internship, I remember being told my cover letter was really well written.
Do you have any advice for GLOCAL students who would like to do a similar internship?
I think it helps to find a way to make yourself stand out. If there’s any way to seem like you’d add a cool new perspective on things, then I think that’s important for your application.
Another tip is to make the motivation letter really technically correct – any kind of spelling error can lead them to disregard your application.
It’s a good idea to bear in mind that there are a lot of programs like this for most countries – the EU has a similar program for traineeships. And if you’re a US citizen, they have a very specific program for people with Master’s degrees – once you’re accepted and if you like the department that you’re working in, you get hired into the State Department through that program. So if I wanted to continue working for the State Department, that’s the route I would go for.
There are different ways of joining the Foreign Service in the US, for example becoming a diplomat. That involves taking an intake exam and going through a very long process with multiple interviews. But I think people don’t realize there are ways to work for the foreign office – if you’re working with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, for example, then most of the staff are hired through a straight forward application process, while only a few of the staff are career diplomats.
Do you have any advice for going through such a difficult process?
Honestly, I think I almost didn’t finish the application. It involved so many steps, and also my motivation letter was really horrible to start with. My primary motivation for doing an internship at the State Department, in full disclosure, was that I was (and still am) quite upset with the state of affairs of US foreign diplomacy. As a result, my motivation letter involved finger-pointing in its first draft.
However, I wouldn’t recommend sending an application letter like that – obviously, the criticism came from a good place, but it’s important to frame your criticism in a constructive way. I sent it to some friends, and they helped me to word my motivation letter in a way that showed I would be a good hire who could improve what the agency was already working on.
I think that made my motivation letter stand out from someone who just wants to be a career diplomat, or just wants to work with the State Department or United Nations because it looks good on a CV.
What skills do students gain on the GLOCAL programme that are useful for this type of career?
In the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, there tends to be a very diverse group of people with international backgrounds, so doing a program like GLOCAL can make your a competitive candidate. For GLOCALs applying to work with Foreign Offices in Europe, it might be helpful to talk about your interest in a specific place or to explain what draws you to working on diplomacy in an international setting. Everyone has multicultural and international experience in Europe, so, again, it’s important to be specific and stand out.
What are some of the pros and cons of working at the State Department/UN?
A lot of the issues are similar between the State Department and the United Nations.
In terms of the cons, it depends on who you’re working for. Both the State Department and the UN huge entities with many different bodies, with different levels of national involvement. Depending on which department or project within a department you’re working with, you are going to deal with different amounts of bureaucracy and different hierarchies. For example, in the State Department, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is much less politically involved and politically charged than the economic or security departments, for example. That’s just something to keep in mind.
Of course, even within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, projects are quite slow. It’s difficult to propose new programs or to innovate. It’s often opaque in terms of funding structures, and even management structures – particularly when power changes hands. I imagine under the current presidency the organizational structure of the different departments changes quite often.