Talent pools are an increasingly popular approach to recruitment in global development. Photo by: WFP

Over the past few years, an escalation of global humanitarian emergencies has put an increased demand on the World Food Programme to respond in these situations, and hire and deploy its people in a more agile way. To allow the organization to meet this growing demand, WFP is launching a talent pool to find qualified professionals for a range of international and fixed-term positions across many sectors including program policy, supply chain, finance, security, nutrition, vulnerability analysis mapping, and communication to name just a few.

The Future International Talent Pool — or FIT Pool — is part of a new hiring approach anticipating staffing needs so that when that need arises, the organization will be in a position to respond almost immediately explained Pilar Cortés, WFP’s chief of talent acquisition and talent deployment. “WFP has a very special mandate and also a very special culture,” said Cortés, explaining that this new approach will help the organization find “the right people with the right skills.”

Talent pools are an increasingly popular approach to recruitment in global development and one which lends itself to organizations hiring for humanitarian and emergency response where reducing time-to-hire is key.

Dina El-Kassaby, regional communications officer for WFP based in Cairo, is excited for the new initiative, which is designed to attract skilled and motivated candidates. “Bringing in new people with different experiences and different backgrounds to add value to the organization — this is only going to help us achieve our goal of zero hunger quicker,” she said.

“Bringing in new people with different experiences and different backgrounds to add value to the organization — this is only going to help us achieve our goal of zero hunger quicker.”

— Dina El-Kassaby, regional communications officer, WFP

Gender parity across WFP

The announcements will be published all through the year and an alert can be created so the announcements are not missed. One of the first announcements of the FIT Pool aims to find professionals for communications, security, and procurement roles at P2, P3, and P4 levels. Entry-level professionals with a minimum of three years of relevant experience can apply for P2 level positions, those with a minimum of five years of relevant experience can apply to P3, while P4 posts are designed for mid-level professionals with eight plus years of relevant experience.

WFP eventually aims to have FIT pools for almost every function, said Cortés, while aiming for gender parity across the organization. “We are trying to increase the number of female recruits, particularly in functions where traditionally we were recruiting more male candidates,” she said.

Security, information technology, and supply chain are some of the functional areas where the organization is hoping to attract more female applicants.

Carina Pena, a security officer for WFP’s Latin America and the Caribbean regional bureau, said that while there are plenty of women in managerial positions throughout the organization, she is the only woman overseeing security at a regional level.

Based in Panama City, Pena is responsible for the safety of staff working throughout the entire LAC region — something she said was “critically important” in enabling them to provide life-saving assistance. In a region that experiences high rates of violence, including gender-based violence, Pena said that being a woman in such a role posed a number of challenges, including the need to change the public perception of what security personnel should look like. However, she added that being a woman has also proved to be something of a “superpower” in helping to build trust and bring teams together.

El-Kassaby also encouraged female professionals to “take the risk and put themselves out there,” given the fact that women are statistically less likely to apply for roles where they don’t completely match the job description. El-Kassaby travels frequently and often to dangerous situations but said she has never at any point felt disadvantaged as a woman and believes the workforce will only benefit from the addition of more motivated and creative females.

Resilience and team spirit are key

A strong interest in humanitarian work and a shared passion for WFP’s mandate to eradicate world hunger are the first things the organization looks for in a candidate. But working with the organization, often in extremely challenging situations, takes a “special type of person” said Cortés — someone who is resilient, adaptable, and solutions-oriented.

The work requires “a lot of stamina and adrenaline” said Pena, who provides solutions on issues ranging from access to areas controlled by violent groups to the logistics around hurricane response. As a security officer, you have to “be informed and respond quickly [and] be prepared to be there with the people supporting their colleagues in the field,” she explained, highlighting that having to remain agile keeps the job exciting. “It is also a privilege to have the opportunity to help people with something so critically important.”  

El-Kassaby covers the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia where she brings visibility to WFP’s work while highlighting the issues facing civilians in emergencies. Flexibility and the ability to work well as part of a team are two key qualities for working in an emergency context, she said.

FIT Pool recruitment

WFP is currently looking for professionals with experience in programming, administration, and nutrition. The deadlines for applications vary depending on position throughout June. New vacancies for the FIT Pool will be announced by functional area throughout 2018, including finance, human resources, monitoring and evaluation and announcements for vulnerability analysis mapping, and monitoring and evaluation and vulnerability analysis mapping roles to follow in September with more to be released.

Candidates with a relevant advanced degree, fluency in English, knowledge of another official United Nations language, and availability for global deployment are encouraged to apply or sign up for an alert.  

“A lot of the time, you really have to step up and do other things that aren’t exactly in your job description,” she explained. “We work as a team, so sometimes being flexible is really key to delivering results.”

This is also what makes the work so dynamic and there is “no such thing as a typical day in the life of a WFP communications officer,” said El-Kassaby, explaining that the role can involve drafting press releases, speaking with media outlets to highlight the WFP’s work, travelling to the field to document and photograph operations, and capture the stories of the people that the organization is helping.

“It’s very rewarding since I do get to have access to the people that we support,” she said. “Many of these people are in remote places, cut off from the outside world and don’t necessarily have a voice — so I take it upon myself to make their voices heard and to ensure that their plight doesn’t remain in the shadows.”

Working with WFP

If selected for further review, applicants will undergo a rigorous assessment, including screening against the job requirements; a technical test; a video interview; a language assessment; and a panel interview. The organization is not only looking for candidates with strong technical and soft skills, but those who are also a good cultural fit.

“The atmosphere is a very stimulating work environment and people are very results oriented,” said El-Kassaby, who started as an intern with WFP six years ago. “Staff are encouraged to participate, to try new things, to think of new solutions for our ultimate goal, which is finding an end to world hunger.”

Reporting regularly from conflict-affected countries such as Iraq and Syria, El-Kassaby said that one of her biggest challenges is dealing with the emotional aspects of building friendships and becoming invested in the well-being of the people she meets there. Dedicated staff counselors are available for those returning from missions, which she finds very comforting, but the support of other colleagues and a sense of family within the organization is important too.

“You don’t feel like you’re alone. You’re being exposed to some of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, but the staff stick together [and] support each other,” El-Kassaby explained.

Pena agreed that team spirit and a shared goal are part of what “creates a different work environment” at WFP.  She described the teams she works with as being “like a kaleidoscope” — coming from different parts of the globe, different cultures, and different technical areas. This diversity and experience has “enriched” the organization and ultimately, said Pena, “you are all part of a crew, working for the same purpose.”

Click here to find out more about WFP’s FIT pool.

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