The International Organisations of Geneva

Posted on 21 February 2007 by LegalBeagle

The International Organizations
The international organizations – the United Nations, the World Intellectual Property Organization, The World Health Organization, The International Labor Organization, etc… – are a world unto themselves, unique workplace environments governed by a logic all their own. Because these structures do not actually have to earn, through market competition, the budget monies they spend, their structures reflect a mode of functioning common to government and international civil service, and one needs to consider this carefully before embarking on a strategy for seeking employment therein. Most of these organisations are situated in Geneva, which is considered a highly desirable place to live.

Employment at the International Organizations is highly sought after because it is much more highly paid than private sector employment, the working conditions are excessively advantageous (i.e., 6-8 weeks annual vacation leave), and no Swiss working permit is necessary.

All the International Organizations have websites, and on those websites they post their job offerings. As a rule, one can apply directly from the Organization’s website by filling out a lengthy questionnaire that some bureaucrat in the HR department was paid half a year’s salary to design and which appears to have been obviously largely copied from elsewhere. You may be annoyed by this, but admit it: you wouldn’t be applying for a job there if you weren’t yourself attracted by the prospect of being highly paid to do very little. So don’t complain and listen up: if you apply via the website and don’t vigorously follow up with phonecalls and try to identify and speak with the actual principals in the department that is hiring, you will have little chance. Remember, you should expect and adopt contingency plans for incompetence all along the line. In the International Organizations, if you don’t do the job (regardless of whether the job is someone else’s responsibility), it is unlikely the job will be done.

To find work in Switzerland at an International Organization, one must take a different approach from that taken when seeking a job in the private sector. In the private sector, who you are and what you can accomplish and produce are the primary elements on which you will be assessed. However, in the international organizations, where competence is the exception rather than the rule, the prospective candidate will be judged excessively on his ‘paper accomplishments.’ It is therefore extremely important to dedicate preponderant efforts to one’s curriculum vitae and to the ‘legend’ one will ultimately project in an interview. In this environment, it is very common to exaggerate and misrepresent whatever cannot be easily verified.

An example of this practice can be seen in the career of Kamil Idris, who rose all the way through the ranks of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to become its Director General.

The Case of Kamil Idris
WIPO Geneva When Idris joined The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1982, he understood right away that his age and ‘experience’ would be an obstacle to acceding rapidly to a high post, or perhaps any post at all. Professional grade positions within the international organisations are classified according to levels from P1 through P6 (at P5 one enjoys already diplomatic privileges) and then from D1 through D3. The Sudanese Idris, who looked somewhat older than his 28 years, changed his birthday from 1954 to 1945, thereby becoming 37 and gaining 9 years of fictitious paper experience to put on his c.v. Since his fictitious experience was mainly in various government offices in Sudan, who in WIPO would possibly check it? His impressive c.v. with its creative credentials allowed him to slip into WIPO at the high professional grade of P4, which carries a tax-free salary of approximately $10,000 / month.

The same high level of HR competence which permitted Mr. Idris to enter WIPO would have permitted him to remain with his fraudulent credentials undetected had it not been for M. Idris’ own irrepressible desire to escape WIPO’s inflexible rules for retirement. To avoid having to leave his well-paid Director-General’s post, he fortuitously ‘caught’ the error in his birthdate roughly 25 years after the fact. It now behooves him to become 53 rather than 62.

To Seem is To Be
The moral of this story is that within the international organizations, to seem is to be. To enter into this highly comfortable and insulated world, you need to prepare carefully your strategy and paperwork, and you need to be in it for the long run. While it is possible to move from the private sector to a position within an International Organization, it is practically impossible once you have been working inside an International Organization for more than a couple of years to move into the private sector: the widespread assumption is that you are lazy or incompetent.

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