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United Nations Jobs: Understanding Competency-Based Selection Processes

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United Nations Jobs: Understanding Competency-Based Selection Processes

April 7, 2021

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

UN Competencies

Most selection processes within the UN System look for specific competencies that are considered important in future employees. Known as competency-based recruitment, these processes will require from the candidate not only the main UN competencies but also a set of different ones according to the job opportunity.

The selection process for jobs in the UN will look for competencies in candidates according to the type of opportunity being offered and the agency, fund, program, or organization that is advertising it. These competencies will be tested all throughout the selection process and you should pay special attention to them when writing your cover letter and being interviewed.

But what are these UN competencies? How can the competencies desired by the United Nations be understood? Can they be developed?

This article is specially tailored to answer these questions. It’s just a small sample of all the information covered by our eBook “Landing your dream job at the United Nations“. Get a copy today!

In pursuit of its mission, the OpenIGO network has developed a comprehensive eBook, as well as support and guidance services, with the aim of highly increasing your chances of success in these competitive selection processes. These services include revising your UN Jobs application documents (Curriculum vitae/Resume, Cover Letter) and a mock interview, as per the original UN Jobs model.

We have already helped dozens of candidates become UN Professionals and we can also assist you in passing this competitive selection process!

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UN System Jobs: Products & Services

What are competencies?

As a concept, “competency” has guided the recruitment of people at intergovernmental organizations such as UN System’s institutions for a long time. This concept is comprised of a set of four elements, known by the acronym KSAV: Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes and Values.

Knowledge: Know-how. This refers to the set of theoretical and technical skills which an individual can consciously access in order to carry out activities. This knowledge may be learned through courses, specializations, training and capacity-building, etc.

Skills: Knowing how to do something. This is the practical and productive application of knowledge. It results from practice, making mistakes, training and application, etc.

Attitudes: Wanting to do. Attitude means being able to employ knowledge and skills (called technical competencies) in order to achieve established goals. These are behavioral competencies that drive an individual to want to perform, overcome challenges, and innovate.

Values: These are the fundamental principles that orientate how an individual behaves. These principles influence a person’s decision-making and professional results. For this reason, an organization seeks people who have values consistent with their own.

Understanding UN Competencies

Preparing for a competency-based selection process firstly requires understanding how the organization perceives competencies and values. So what are the competencies and values adopted by United Nations’ organizational culture?

The UN defines values as “shared principles and beliefs that underpin the organization’s work and guide actions and behaviors of staff” and competencies as ““skills, attributes, and behaviors directly related to successful job performance”.

Core ValuesCore UN CompetenciesManagerial UN Competencies
Respect for DiversityPlanning and OrganizingEmpowering Others
AccountabilityManaging Performance
CreativityBuilding Trust
Client OrientationJudgement and Decision-Making
Commitment to Continuous Learning
Technological Awareness

Each competency has their own set of positive and negative indicators. It’s important to pay attention to those when writing your cover letter, crafting your CV and answering questions during the interview!

It is crucial to show the recruiters that you display the positive indicators for the UN competencies the job position requires. Let’s take a look at the positive and negative indicators of one very common competency listed in UN job openings:


UN Competencies

Teamwork is defined as “working within an established team; supporting colleagues; sharing responsibility for decision making and results; encouraging other to contribute; collaborating with colleagues across work units, departments, or divisions”. What are, then, the positive and negative indicators of this competency?

The positive indicators are:

• Works collaboratively with colleagues to achieve organizational goals.

• Solicits input by genuinely valuing others’ ideas and expertise; is willing to learn from others.

• Places team agenda before personal agenda.

• Builds consensus for task purpose and direction with team members.

• Supports and acts in accordance with final group decisions, even when such decisions may not entirely reflect their own position.

• Shares credit for team accomplishments and accepts joint responsibility for team shortcomings.

As for the negative indicators, they are:

• Rarely offers support to colleagues.

• Prefers to work alone.

• Emphasizes achieving personal goals.

• Shows limited consideration of the ideas and input of others.

• Is prepared to ignore/disrupt majority decisions.

• Takes the credit for team accomplishments; passes on responsibility for team limitations.

Can you develop a competency?

Some people may decide not to apply for a vacancy, believing that they do not have the competencies the organization desire. However, the majority of studies indicate that competencies can be developed!

The idea of learning and/or developing competencies grew after concepts of competency, such as KSAV, were established, since these elements can be developed. Therefore, learning competencies can be understood as the process through which an individual changes their behavior in specific situations by acquiring new knowledge.

There are many ways to develop a competency, such as reading; listening and observation; courses and training; practical experiences; and mentoring and coaching programs.

OpenIGO Network has carefully developed Coaching services for professionals looking to kick-start their international career at intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). Our award-winning team is composed of human resources experts, professionals with extensive experience at IGOs, and researchers from the best universities in the world. We will assist you in developing and strengthening the required UN competencies for opportunities across the UN System.

Access our online store to find out more about it:

Coaching and Mentoring Services

By having access to this information and much more from our eBook, you will certainly have a head start over other candidates!

With that in mind, check out our eBook, “Landing your dream job at the United Nations”, which will help you land your dream job at the United Nations System. It will introduce you to the complex world of the United Nations and it will guide you through all the stages of the selection process. Access:

eBook – Landing your dream job at the United Nations

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