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Working for the United Nations: Perspectives of Early Career SIOP Members

Lise Saari and Daniel Maday

Introduction

Over the next several TIP articles, the SIOP UN team is proud to present perspectives from I-O psychology professionals who have worked with the UN and shared their inside perspectives with us. This first issue will focus on students and early career individuals who have interned or volunteered for the UN. In future articles, we will also interview some volunteers and more mid-career level UN employees and collaborators.

Although we only asked three questions to this issue’s interviewees, we were delighted to see two familiar yet different takes on work with the UN. Of our interviewees, Omar Imran worked in the testing and examination section of the UN Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM). Katja Maria Luostarinen, meanwhile, worked with the strategic planning and staffing team, also in the UN OHRM. 

The first question we asked our interviewees was to tell us a bit about their work or a particular project while at the UN. Here’s what they had to say.

Omar Imran: I interned at UN headquarters in New York from February through August 2017 while completing my master’s degree in I-O psychology at Baruch College. I was in the UN’s Examination & Testing Section within the Office of Human Resource Management. My main role was item writing, item review, test building and post item analyses, as well as coming up with new ideas and procedures to enhance the overall assessment process. My team valued research-based initiatives and innovation. I even came up with an idea for a new project that I lead. The project was analyzing items that performed poorly in the post test analyses and theorizing why these items performed the way they did. This involved analyzing the items across tests and years to find any overlaps in wording, content, difficulty, length, etc. For example, including the supervisor in an item can especially affect responses in high power distance cultures. From the theories derived from this analysis, I updated the dos & don’ts list to item writing and rewrote the poorly performed items to account for the theorized reasons so they could be used for future tests. While at the UN, I was also involved in other aspects of I-O psychology such as conducting job analyses and being a part of the overall selection process. My team always challenged me to learn and do new things and made sure the work that I was doing was worthwhile. They made the work relevant to my passions and seeing the results of my hard work was a satisfying accomplishment.

Katja Maria Luostarinen: I worked in the strategic planning and staffing team in the HR department, starting during the pilot of a new selection system. Starting with the POLNET job family my team expanded to the other job families as well. During my 3-month term, I was involved with the whole selection and recruitment process, from initial sourcing to eventual hire. Reflecting on my time there, the thoroughness of the process leveraged the best practices I learned through grad school. The bulk of my work was moving applicants through the process on various fronts like language skills, and other KSAOs. My interaction also included a lot of applicant interaction including HRIS tracking, interviews, and updates on their applications. I also worked on a gender distribution data analysis gathering data from the last 3 years. I analyzed gender distribution across various hiring stages, by gender, and through the lens of other applicable variables as well. Based on this data, I identified what key issues are related to gender parity, which matched the Secretary General’s initiative to improve gender parity gaps in the application process and job variables.

We then asked Katja and Omar for advice they had on others interesting in working with the UN. They offered a few remarks on their experience and how to get connected.

Omar: The United Nations is the most diverse organization in the world. You will be working with people from all walks of life. The best thing you can do when joining the UN is to have an open mind and be prepared to learn many new things. Ask a lot of questions and take on initiatives. Look for new ways to help the organization progress. The environment is always welcoming, and you will always feel a part of the organization.

Katja: I highly recommended the UN’s attention to detail, presence, and best in class human capital practices along with their respect for other IOs and professionals there. I was surprised how relaxed the HR department was; people were jovial and joking with casual attire though this may vary by team. Consequently, if you want to work in a narrow scope, the UN is a great fit; however, it’s not the best for a prospective generalist.

For those looking to apply to positions, language skills (I’m fluent in French) were a big plus on the application. With regards to fit, much of the work is process oriented and individuals will not always have a view of what is happening overall. Also, you should keep up with the world news and political events, particularly with UN mission deployments and priorities to have a better idea where their personnel and programming needs are.”

Finally, we inquired what about how their experience with the UN shaped their development as an I-O.

Omar: Working at the UN has helped develop me as an I-O psychology professional in many ways. By working alongside other I-O psychologists, I was able to learn new concepts, procedures and software, especially in psychometric analysis. From SPSS to Winsteps, working at the UN was my first exposure to building tests and analyzing the results. I was able to learn a lot at the UN that has helped me grow professionally and that I use in my current work at the examination unit for New York City. By having a helpful team in a wonderful organization, I was able to practice and gain I-O knowledge at the UN that has made me more well rounded.

Katja: One of my key learnings was the importance of creating a solid process. Having a transparent, transferable process that is clear to others helped in the recruitment process, aiding in interdepartmental communication and engaging with clients. Creating accompanying communication structures has helped in my current role of HR manage at a FinTech start up. It also prepared me to work on a diverse team and remotely with other global partners as well.

We hope that you have enjoyed this first installment of our interview series on I-O psychologists in the UN. Already, we can see the diverse set of people involved at the UN and the wide range of I-O psychology expertise that is in use and needed every day there.  Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities whether you are still in grad school, looking to volunteer outside your career, or even would like to work for the UN directly.

We’d like to extend our thanks to both Katja and Omar for taking the time to talk with us and share their perspectives!

The SIOP UN Committee is supported by the gracious efforts of the following committee members, interns, and emeritus volunteers: Lise Saari, Julie Olson-Buchanan, Aimee Lace, Dan Maday, Deborah E. Rupp, Drew B. Mallory, Ines Meyer, John C. Scott, Lori Foster, Mark Poteet, Mat Osicki, Nabila Sheikh,  Stuart Carr, and Walter Reichman.

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