OECD Young Professionals Program: What you need to know

OECD Conference Centre in Paris, France. Photo by: Victor Tonelli / OECD / CC BY-NC-ND

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Young Professionals Program shares many similarities with its counterparts at other international organizations — save for the application cycle. While the World Bank and others hire young professionals every year, OECD only does so biannually.

In 2017, OECD is scheduled to hire its new batch of young professionals. As such, anyone interested to compete for one of the assignments may expect an announcement sometime in the fall of 2016.

They may also expect some stiff competition. For the 2015 cycle, the program received roughly 7,000 applications for 19 assignments.

To find out how candidates can stand out from the crowd, Devex spoke with Gemma Abraham and Agathe Leclet, who coordinate the OECD Young Professionals Program.

Eligibility and evaluation criteria

Young professional applicants to OECD need to be nationals from the organization’s 34 member countries. If they're applying for the 2017 edition, they should be born on or after Jan. 1, 1984.

Candidates must also have strong proficiency in either of OECD's official languages, French or English. If they are only fluent in English, for instance, they need to have working knowledge in or be ready to learn French, and vice versa. Knowing more languages would be an advantage.

OECD likewise seeks candidates who have:
• Graduate level degrees relevant to the work of organization, such as in data collection and policy analysis.
• At least two years of relevant full-time professional experience.
• Excellent quantitative and analytical skills based on their educational achievements.
• Understanding of country policies, institutions and reform processes.
• Qualities attuned with the organization’s competency framework.

Successful candidate profile

While a master’s degree is required, a doctorate can provide a competitive edge. Of the 21 people who were hired for the 19 assignments in 2015, 11 have doctorates and 10 have master's degrees. The 2013 batch had 18 young professionals: 12 with doctorates and 8 with master's degrees.

According to Abraham, there are certain attributes that set candidates apart, beyond the advanced degrees and analytical thinking skills. One is versatility or the ability to operate in different OECD directorates. Another is motivation, which is measured by the candidate’s preparation for the application and interviews, and demonstration for how the program ties to their professional goals.

“Motivation is really what makes the difference, if someone is energized by what we offer,” the OECD senior human resource business partner told Devex.

Lectet, an OECD HR business partner, also noted the importance of networking skills as well as the ability to work in teams and on their own.

Selection process

The application period normally begins in October and runs for four to eight weeks. Candidates indicate three assignments they are interested in and OECD’s human resource department reviews all of the applications for an initial screening.

In 2015, after the first screening, only 2,300 of the more than 7,000 applicants, made it through to the next phase, which involved a review by the hiring units. From this group, only 476 received invitations to take an online written test. The two-hour exam comes with two questions that aim to gauge the candidate’s technical knowledge, analytical thinking abilities and drafting skills.

If a hiring department has too many good candidates that pass the exam, OECD sometimes conducts phone interviews to trim the number of people to invite for panel interviews in Paris. In 2015, 132 people got into the this short list.

The panel interviews take place simultaneously to make sure that candidates have ample opportunity to be interviewed by hiring managers. Lunches are arranged where officials from different directorates talk about their work and help candidates get a better understanding of OECD’s day-to-day work environment.

Before selecting the final hires, OECD performs reference checks. This takes place around March of the program year.

During the program

Those hired under the two-year program receive a monthly salary at A1 levels (ranging from 4,428 euros to 4,561 euros in 2016, or $4,969 to $5,117) and enjoy perks similar to other employees at the organization, including family, expatriation, rent and education allowances.

OECD matches young professionals with mentors, typically middle managers in the organization, and arranges monthly sessions where young professionals can discuss what they would like to improve on, challenges they may face, and seek guidance on how they can succeed in the organization.

Support for the YPs also includes networking opportunities within and outside OECD, for example through a  buddying program, with fellow-Paris resident, UNESCO, and with former YPs within the OECD.  A training program that’s specifically aimed to equip the young professional with competencies that are important for them to reach the next step in the career ladder, such as like writing, interviewing and presentation skills is also available.

"We do provide them with the tools to actually understand the organization and develop key skills for their success," Lectet said. “It's important for us to track career progression.”

For many, the YPP is a stepping stone to a long career within OECD. From the birth of the Young Professionals Program in 1987 to date, 82 continue to work at OECD. Many of these alumni are now directors.

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About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

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