Hiring Humanitarian professionals in COVID times

COVID-19 has radically changed recruitment in humanitarian agencies… or has it? The advent of the COVID-19 virus has led to dramatic changes in the way humanitarian staff work, with most staff having to work from home and the downscaling of fieldwork.

With regards to the HR function, recruitment has had to be conducted remotely with the use of telecommunications technology such as ZOOM, WEBEX and Teams.

 It does not seem, however, like there has been a sweeping freeze in recruitment as one would have expected – a quick search on the UN JOBS website on the 26th of May 2020 shows 1,806 open positions being advertised and from informal discussions, with HR colleagues only one organization seems to have implemented a complete freeze on recruitment. 

In addition, OXFAM recently announced a major restructuring resulting in their withdrawal from 18 offices globally and the laying off 1,450 staff in part, due to the “financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic”. Apart from this, it would appear most humanitarian organizations are still recruiting, albeit remotely. Of course, this may change as the impact of COVID-19 continues.

An argument could be made that the move to remote recruitment may disenfranchise potential candidates who may not have access to reliable internet connectivity, but this is a topic for another blog. 

Recruitment in most humanitarian agencies typically follows the following cycle: –

  1. Needs definition and identification  
  2. Sourcing (e.g. advertising)
  3. Screening (level 1 screening typically done automatically by an Applicant Tracking System – ATS)
  4. Shortlisting of candidates
  5. Selection broken down into
    1. written assessment
    2. Interview
    3. Hiring – Offer
  6. Onboarding

Each of these stages can and have in the past, been done with very little physical interaction with candidates. For over a decade, humanitarian organisations have been using tools such as Skype to conduct interviews.

As an example, in 2011 I was recruiting international staff for an international NGO in Haiti; the entire recruitment process (including on-boarding) for international staff was conducted remotely. We only got to physically meet the new staff member when they reported for their first day of work! 

Furthermore, organisations increasingly are looking at potential candidates’ online profile, scouring the internet for publicly available information on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Be sure to read my upcoming blog on social media review and branding to learn how to maximise on your online presence. 

As broadband and mobile connectivity have become ubiquitous, there has been an exponential increase in the use of technology in the recruitment process including the conducting of “person less” video interviews – where candidates log in to a website and have to record themselves responding to a number of questions. 

The responses are reviewed at a later stage by a panel who in most cases are sitting in remote locations. An example of this automated video interviewing solution is SONRU. I personally know of a number of people who were recruited in this manner.

From the foregoing, it is somewhat surprising that there has been incessant chatter about how COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how humanitarian agencies conduct their recruitment. Based on my research and experience, it appears that most humanitarian organisations have been to a large extent performing remote recruitment, perhaps not at the same level as pre-COVID, but pretty close to it. 

In my view, the aspects of the recruitment process adversely affected include physically reporting for work at the designated work location. Due to COVID-19 induced lockdowns and travel restrictions, some humanitarian organisations have resorted to having new hires working from their “home location” or in some cases from the locations where they found themselves “locked down” in at the time of hiring. 

Another recruitment activity that has been impacted by COVID-19, is the requirement for medicals prior to starting employment. Access to testing facilities combined with a desire on the part of the candidate to minimize exposure makes it extremely difficult to facilitate pre-employment medicals. From a recruitment perspective, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of utilization of appropriate technological tools in the recruitment process, but it has not changed the process itself. 

The pandemic has, however, impacted other HR processes especially those that fall within the employer-employee relationship, such as leave policy. An intriguing issue right now is the mandatory quarantine period being enforced by most countries and its implications on leave especially if a member of staff travels. 

Questions related to whether the time spent in quarantine constitutes part of the leave or whether the organisation is liable for payment of quarantine facility bills should their employee is placed under mandatory quarantine have no easy answers. I will tackle these and other questions related to working from home and flexible working arrangements in an upcoming blog on COVID-19 impact on the broader HR functions. 

To conclude, in my view HR recruitment in the humanitarian sector has not radically changed as a result of COVID-19.  Career opportunities still exist within the UN agencies and a plethora of NGO’s. It would be good to heed our mantra at HUMHR, “Panic not, but Prepare” during these uncertain times. We can work with you to help ensure that your career marketing documents are excellently written and walk with you on your career journey.  Our next blog will discuss the skills needed in a post-COVID-19 world.

What every Humanitarian worker needs to know about their CV content

Your resume answers the question “Why are you the best person for the position advertised”

In the last blog, I gave you the 5 tips for writing that winning resume. As promised in this blog we will chat about content construction. Ensure that those two or three pages are packed with value-add information. This is the information that answers the question, “Why are you the best person for the position?”

Who am I?

The first things on your CV are

1. Your name

2. Contact information.

Remember this is your brand so ensure that you use your name consistently across all your career marketing documents i.e. your CV, LinkedIn profile, Facebook, etc. Social media branding is very important in today’s job search world. I will talk about this another time.

Your name should stand out. So, you want it to be bold. To achieve this, use a larger font than the body of the CV. A size 16 or 18 should do the job.

This may seem obvious, but I will say it anyway. Ensure that your contact information is correct “in the present”. You don’t want to miss that invitation to an interview because you forgot to update your email address. Or because you used your “home” phone number in Kenya when you are currently deployed in Bangladesh.

The headline tells the recruiter or hiring manager in a short statement who you are. Some examples are:

What should be in your content?

Professional Profile/Summary

Here you will write a brief summary of your experience, skills or value add. Begin by highlighting in a short 2-3 sentence paragraph or bullet points what you have to offer.

Areas of expertise/Skills

You will dig deep into what you are best at in this section. Point out 6 to 8 skills, focusing on the keywords in your particular area of work.

For instance, an Emergency Preparedness Expert would include:

  • Crisis Management
  • Program Development
  • Proposal Writing
  • Health Security Emergency Preparedness
  • Early Warning Systems
  • Emergency Risk Management

These are the things you want to indicate to show that you are aware of what the job entails and capable of meeting the job requirements.

Career Summary/ Experience

This section is where you should “show off” your experience and qualifications. Go back 10 years and use reverse chronology, starting with your current employment. It is important to highlight your accomplishments. Do not waste your time regurgitating your job description. DO this instead!

Spend some time for each position you have held answering the question “What is it that I am most proud of? Select about 5 accomplishments and describe them using the Situation- Action- Result model.

Below is an example taken from a former client’s resume. By quantifying the work and modifying the language, you add weight and context to the statement:

[Before] Managed in-country budgets.

[After] Oversaw in-country budgets (up to 4 million pounds annually) with current budgetary oversight of 15 million Euros in 3 countries in the West African region.

Education and Professional development

This is your opportunity to display that doctorate in Public Health or International Development.

Also, use this section to show that you didn’t learn in college but that you have been consistent in your professional development activities. Talk about how you attained that leadership certificate. Include that you are emergency preparedness ready, having attended the Humanitarian Emergency response training. Any other useful and relational qualifications should be included here, to demonstrate that you are the right fit for the job.

Professional Development

There is a lot that goes into writing that winning CV. I cannot go into it all in a single blog especially without going through an actual resume to build on the points. Things such as

  • Sentence structuring,
  • The use of action verbs,
  • Turning passive into active sentences

To round this up,

  1. Start with a bold introduction that includes your name and title. Use your up to date contact details
  2. Your professional profile should capture the bulk of your experience and skills at a bird’s eye view.
  3. Maximise on the use of keywords to demonstrate your experience and appreciation of the job requirements to show your areas of expertise
  4. Your career summary should be in reverse chronology and speak to the achievements you made during each assignment
  5. All your educational and professional development training especially outside of college to show your commitment towards self- improvement and consistency in your file.

Click here to download a customisable CV template and create your own CV now.

Should you have any questions, you can contact me on batje@humhr.org. I will be happy to answer your specific questions. The first 3 people to reach out will get a free CV review.

Author: Batje Chibafa, HumHr Managing Partner

Batje has over ten years’ experience in multi-cultural experience in Human Resources, implementing Organizational Development HR strategies across all facets of the HR function. Proven history of success implementing strategic improvements, creating productive business partners, and providing value to organizations. Demonstrated strength in evaluating processes and determining cost-effective solutions to increase efficiency and improve accuracy. Has excellent organizational development and facilitation skills with a passion for positive change.


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