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Matthew Haynes
/ Categories: TIP, 564

Working for the United Nations: More Perspectives of SIOP Members

In the January issue, the SIOP UN team presented its first article that shared the inside perspective of SIOP members who have worked with the UN as interns or volunteers.  As promised, in this follow-up article, we present insights of SIOP members who have worked as staff members for the United Nations.  

Our format is very similar to the previous article in that we ask three broad questions to our two interviewees. Both of the interviewees are SIOP members who have been actively engaged in the work of the SIOP UN team.  Aimee Lace is a former UN staff member with UNITAR who is now a doctoral student and one of our SIOP team’s interns who has worked on our Innovation and Learning Series.  Leila Regina El-Hage is a current UN staff member with the Human Resources Services Division who has been a key liaison for our committee and collaborator on the Innovation and Learning Series.

First we asked our interviewees to tell us about your background and how it led to your work at the UN?  This is what they had to say.



Aimee Lace: Interestingly enough, my background in the UN led me to I-O psychology!  I studied both psychology and global studies in college at the University of Minnesota, and have always been fascinated by the intersection of these two fields.  Going back and forth between global public policy and social psychology courses, I was struck by the value added that a psychological understanding of leadership, teamwork, and conflict resolution in particular can have in the international relations sphere. I worked at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in Geneva after college, and my experience there deepened my curiosity about how to help people work together better, particularly in complex environments, so that their important objectives could more easily be accomplished.  Now, as a doctoral student at Columbia University, I love taking advantage of (and creating!) opportunities to leverage psychological insights throughout the United Nations system.

Leila Regina El-Hage.  I hold a master’s in Organizational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and spent most of my career as a human resources management consultant for a multinational organization in the Middle East and North Africa. Prior to that, I worked in leadership development within a semi-public organization in Dubai. While this provided me with a broad range of human resources expertise across organizations and industries, I still longed for a more globally impactful career. Being half Lebanese, half American, and having grown up moving between the US, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates no doubt played a big part in this goal. Although I found my consulting work rewarding, I was always on the lookout for ways to leverage my experience and make a greater impact. I was browsing SIOP’s job network when I discovered there was a talent assessment specialist position at the United Nations within the Office of Human Resources. I happened to be in New York for a consulting project and was able to interview immediately. The rest is history!  

Next we asked our interviewees to share a bit about their work at the UN and how their I-O psychology background has prepared them for this work.
 
Aimee Lace: Since leaving full-time work with the UN to start my PhD, I’ve continued to work on and off as a consultant for UNITAR in the areas of social development and peacekeeping training, including the topic of leadership in complex environments.  My training in I-O psychology complements the extensive on-the-ground experience of my colleagues in international affairs, as my knowledge of empiricall backed frameworks and techniques helps participants make sense of their experiences and think innovatively about new approaches to take. 
 
Leila Regina El-Hage: Thanks to my background in organizational psychology and more specifically, my international experience delivering various assessment projects, I joined a team of I-Os responsible for providing assessment and selection services to the global UN Secretariat. One of my many projects was developing and administering the pilot (to over 6000 applicants) of an innovative automated self-report screening tool. This required me to work closely with multiple stakeholders throughout the organization to ensure alignment with policy, and ultimately, the tool’s configuration in the UN’s talent management system. I have also provided offices and departments with customized assessment solutions for their selection needs, including case studies, situational judgement tests, and psychometric tools. Moreover, I’ve delivered trainings on test development and quality assurance across multiple duty stations including in Switzerland, Austria, Chile, and my home country of Lebanon. I’ve also been coordinating the UN‒SIOP Innovation and Learning program, which promotes I-O in the UN. At the moment I am coleading a surge team responsible for the recruitment of ±100 development coordination positions in order to support the Secretary General’s reform agenda. 

Finally, we asked our interviewees if they had some advice to share for others who are 
interested in working with the UN or with humanitarian work psychology more generally?

 
Aimee Lace: A piece of advice a mentor once shared with me was that incorporating I-O psychology into the UN in new ways requires an entrepreneurial mindset.  UN staff and diplomats may not necessarily know what I-O psychology is, but they do feel acutely the problems that we are equipped to address.  Therefore, strong skills, creativity in communicating them, and good doses of patience and persistence are critical when seeking to enter the UN system.  In addition, on a practical level, taking time to learn more about the UN, its structure, and its mandate can help you navigate potential opportunities, and, for those who have them, language skills and experience abroad can also be assets when seeking to enter the system.  

Leila Regina El-Hage. Patience, persistence, and a bit of serendipity are key ingredients to finding a career in the UN. You never know when a need will arise for a special I-O-related skillset. As the organization is uniquely dynamic and diverse, there are a lot of exciting opportunities to streamline processes using innovative tools and methodology for which an I-O background is particularly well suited. The organization regularly recruits interns, consultants and temporary positions for specialty assignments involving statistics, testing, human resources and talent management. SIOP is a great resource for these kinds of positions and we are working to leverage this channel as much as possible to bring the relatively unknown field of I-O into the UN. Although experience in the development and humanitarian world would most definitely be an asset for many positions within the UN system—especially the agencies, funds and programs—you’d be surprised how often technical expertise from outside of these fields are sought. In conclusion, I would also say a healthy dose of comfort with uncertainty is your best friend when applying and working for the United Nations. If you are adaptable and resilient in this constantly evolving organization, you’ll find a way to contribute to its vision and mission.  

We would like to express our gratitude with Aimee and Leila for sharing their unique perspectives on their UN experiences.  As you can see, I-O psychologists arrive at the UN from a variety of pathways (or in some cases are brought to the field of I-O psychology from their work at the UN!).   If you are interested in getting connected with the work of SIOP at the UN, please be sure to check our page on the SIOP website (http://my.siop.org/Advocacy/SIOP-and-the-United-Nations).  Also, be sure to look for UN job postings on SIOP’s JobNet.   If you are interested in learning more about how to find other volunteer and job opportunities at the UN, please read Saari et al.’s (2018) TIP article, “I-O Psychology at the United Nations: Job and Internship Opportunities.”

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

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