A glimpse of Swiss nationals' work at UNFPA

cinfo has been mandated by SDCSwiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and SECOState Secretariat for Economic Affairs to provide support to strengthen the presence of Swiss nationals in selected multilateral organisations. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is one of them.

Why work for UNFPAUnited Nations Population Fund ? What do you need to consider when applying to this organisation? Discover more by watching and reading the testimonial of a Swiss national working with UNFPA - get inspired and apply!

Jacqueline Bernhard, Midwife Specialist, UNFPA South Sudan

When did you realise that you wanted to work with UNFPAUnited Nations Population Fund ?

I was at a crossroads in my professional career and someone suggested that I should explore opportunities with UN agencies; However, I had no clue how or where to apply. While browsing, I found information about cinfo and the Forum, a career fair cinfo was organising in Bienne in 2012.
There, I was offered the opportunity to submit my CV for feedback on my employment opportunities. I had the chance to speak with a UNFPA HR professional. The discussion was fruitful, and he guided me on the way forward – and this was my entry point to the UN, more specifically: to UNFPA.

What makes working at UNFPA special to you?

I adhere to UNFPA’s mandate, which helps me - during challenging times - feel that I am doing the right things for myself and the community.
There is a high level of intervention and interaction, which was somehow unexpected for me: Working with Director Generals, and different Ministry’s Officials was not something I had really anticipated before joining the UN.
I used to work with NGOs where it is more about direct implementation. The level of intervention at the UN is less direct and more related to the development of policies and strategies and their implementation. Even though this work may seem more abstract, interactions with host governments are an important component of the job.

Which are the challenges you encounter in your daily work?

There are different levels of expectations about how work is to be delivered; cultural diversity has an impact on the working environment – it makes it quite challenging at times. I have had supervisors and colleagues from different cultural backgrounds, which also has an impact on communication and collaboration styles. Sometimes, you really feel like being on your own! Alliances between colleagues are built differently and one may find her/himself a bit lost. Suggestions are often questioned, and it is difficult – maybe more as a woman - to communicate your ideas since there might be colleagues that want to profile themselves. So: Be ready to handle your frustrations.

What is your advice to those aspiring for a position at a multilateral organisation?
Recruitment processes are extremely slow, which may be unexpected at the beginning. Agencies may change their fund allocation and you might be confronted with the situation that the position you applied for will no longer be filled. Have a plan B in place. Once I learned that I was shortlisted for an interview, I used cinfo’s offer to register for an interview preparation training. cinfo’s coach provided me with useful tips, we also did some rehearsal. That contributed to building my confidence for the interview.

What else should one know?

There is – effectively – a lot of paperwork and reports to read and write – no myth around that; One just has to go with it… If you plan to work in fragile contexts get ready for the unexpected and the worst such as evacuations or being under attacks. It happens and is a life-changing experience.

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