Last week I attended the Career Development Roundtable in London, a gathering of human resources and recruitment professionals from international organizations and development banks. We discussed issues like the challenges and benefits of mobility, how to attract talent from program countries, leadership in a multicultural environment and performance evaluations.
One topic that frequently arose was how challenging it is for professionals to transition out of a large public sector institution like the United Nations to other employers like NGOs, consulting firms and the private sector. Many attendees echoed the sentiment that a long resume at the U.N. can at times be a liability when job hunting in other sectors. In his opening remarks, Lord Mark Malloch Brown, former UNDP secretary-general, described how he managed to move from the public to private sector, but added that he sees many of his former colleagues struggling to do the same.
Often called upon to help foundations, NGOs and companies headhunt new talent, Malloch Brown recalled that groups “wouldn’t even shortlist U.N. people” for the jobs.
Those who have built careers within the U.N. have performed in conflict and post-disaster scenarios and taken on massive challenges like global poverty and maternal and child health. But these attributes can often be overshadowed by perceptions of inefficiency, bureaucracy and lack of innovation or results.