Interning at UNHCR London November 2, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, Uncategorized, international development , add a comment
I recently visited the UNHCR’s regional office on the Strand in London to meet with a couple of their interns, Kate Mason and Kim Bridger
The UNHCR offer a range of six month unpaid internships across a range of sectors such as fundraising, external relations, legal relations, finance and administration. Details at http://www.unhcr.org.uk/about-us/jobs-and-internships.html
How did you hear about the internships?
Kim – well I came across the work of the UNHCR on my degree (French and European Politics, University of Leeds). I came across the internships when I looked up their website.
Kate – I took a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies (University of Exeter) and similarly to Kim became aware of them through my interest in refugee issues.
Would you say that an interest in refugee issues is a crucial requirement?
Kate – definitely. Not just that but I think some previous experience as well. For example I’m on a fundraising internship. Before I was able to get the UNHCR internship I had already got quite a lot of experience volunteering in fundraising for a small ngo.
Kim – I agree. I also had some experience of the UK asylum scene and in addition had done an internship with a member of the EU parliament. For my internship – external relations this was pretty key experience. We have to know how legislation is created and how parliament works.
Tell me about the application process
Kim – I would make sure you address very clearly every aspect of the job description – even to the point of creating sub headings in the letter. If you don’t the exact experience then make sure you show the relevance of the experience that you do have. And if you get interviewed remember that as far as the interviewer is concerned they are starting with a blank sheet of paper – they won’t remember your application so you need to sell yourself all over again.
Kate – although there is an application form the CV and covering letter is really important. Be clear that you know what the role is and make sure you present evidence that you can do that job. Although they are internships you do get quite a lot of responsibility and you need to convince them you have what it takes. We see far too many very general letters – some of them clearly cut and pasted from other applications and some making references to the UN rather than to UNHCR.
Tell me about your internships
Kate – after my ngo experience I realised that, for me, fundraising was a good area to focus on. I like the fact that the work is clearly measurable and you can quantify results. What is good about this fundraising internship is that I’m getting experience of things like fundraising from ‘high net worth individuals’, corporations and trusts and foundations . At the ngo it was much more focusing on individual giving. The other aspect of the role is that even though its called fundraising you do have to use other skills. For example if we are doing emergency campaigns on Syria or Sudan then designing a campaign requires you to research the issues properly. You also have to be a campaigner. Writing a strong appeal needs good writing skills. The internship has really clarified for me what I enjoy and what I’m good at. I’ve learnt a lot about writing proposals and about the trust fund landscape. So, for example I know now how to pitch proposals depending on the Trust’s concerns and how to judge the amount of effort and customisation proposals need. You also learn a lot about the way corporations are engaged with the sector. And of course my knowledge of the UNHCR has been transformed. I think fundraising should be of more interest to people wanting to work in the sector – I think people get put off because they think its all about money and you have to be highly numerate. I’ve got no more than a maths GCSE (the same as George Osborne)
Kim – I’m on the external relations internship. This means I monitor external sources for material relevant for UNHCR. For example what is happening on social media – things like Twitter, Facebook but also and more importantly what is happening in parliament and how that will impact on our work. I produce daily reports on all this. In the long term I want to work as a policy analyst and this internship ticked all my boxes. And in fact it has really paid off as I’ve just landed a job with DEFRA doing exactly this. In fact today is my last day! The programme as a whole though has been really good. You don’t get paid but you get a lot of support and training. There are lots of career events and I’ve been able to ask really experienced people to look over my applications.
Your can read more about UNHCR and internships on our Careers Tagged site http://www.careerstagged.co.uk/resources/unhcr/all/popular/1
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) April 21, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, international development , 2comments
I met up with Liz Harris who is a War Studies Masters student at King’s College and also works for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I first came across ICRC when I worked for SOAS. They were regular visitors there, recruiting students with the demanding combination of skills they need for operatives in their field operations. Here is what she told me.
“One of the ICRC’s tasks – as laid out in the Geneva Conventions – is to visit persons detained in situations of armed conflict. These could be prisoners of war, insurgents or civilians accused of taking part in hostilities. Our role is to inspect and monitor the conditions of detention and treatment of the detainees, to see that they are in line with international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict.
“Due to the ICRC’s strict adherence to neutrality, the organisation does not take local people into prisons as a matter of policy. Generally speaking, members of detention teams should also not originate from the countries they are sent to work in – or even from neighbouring countries, although this is decided on a case by case basis and is dependent on regional political dynamics. This means the ICRC has a constant need of expatriate interpreters with the right profile and nationality, that can speak the relevant languages.
“It’s not a traditional interpreting role, though, as they are often expected to work alone during detention visits as well as having to interpret for ICRC delegates.” says Liz. “Therefore, while language skills are essential, so are other qualities such as being able to inspire the trust of detainees in what can be very tense situations. ‘Interpreters’ should also be prepared to take notes and to help with compiling reports, if asked. Our knowledge of the countries and regions that we work in means that we are often asked to advise other expatriate staff on various cultural issues.
“It is a challenging job, there is no doubt about that. You might be working in a dangerous place, dealing with people in crisis. But it can also be immensely rewarding and utterly fascinating, particularly as the ICRC has privileged access to places and people beyond the reach of other organisations.”
I asked Liz what she looks for when recruiting
- Language skills – “A good level of speaking and understanding in the nominated language, if not absolute fluency. Languages currently in demand are Arabic, Pashto, Farsi/Dari and Hindi/Urdu.”
- Character and motivation – “You should be strongly motivated by humanitarian work and must be able to withstand stress and work well in a team. The ideal age is between 25 and 45, although there can be some flexibility for older people. “ More details can be found at: http://www.icrc.org/eng/who-we-are/jobs/vacancies/index.jsp
Working in Human Rights May 5, 2010Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, international development , add a comment
Someone posted a question on our getting into international development Facebook site about working in Human Rights and international development. The bottom line was ‘is it better to do a law conversion course or an international relations masters with a human rights emphasis?’
Guess what? No straightforward answer to this. Lots of people working in the field of human rights don’t need a legal background. A seminar we put on at SOAS a little while ago had speakers from Human Rights organisations who were taking on many different roles. For example policy, research, education, campaigning and grantmaking and fundraising. A masters with elements of development, human rights or law together with the usual practical experience of volunteering and internships could provide an entry point for careers in this area. On the other hand lots of organisations working in the field of human rights do employ people who are either qualified lawyers or who have something like a masters in law – an LLM. For example the staff list of Article 19, a humans rights organisation that was recently advertising for an intern shows staff comprising around 50:50 law and non-law. Many, though not all, staff who weren’t professional lawyers had some kind of postgraduate law qualification (www.article19.org/about/staff.html ) Of course a significant number of law professionals work in human rights with law firms working for legal aid firms with a reputation for human rights work. At the SOAS event we heard from a lawyer who works for Pierce Glynn on issues such as asylum, housing and refugee status. For example helping to secure the right to stay for the Afghanis who forced their plane to land in Britain a few years ago. Other lawyers work for higher profile firms such as Bindmans who have a reputation in the field. They have been involved in the case against Pinochet and, less fashionably, the appeal of Peter Sutcliffe against his indefinite detention in Broadmoor.
Careerstagged.co.uk – a new search engine. Search for human rights and then add other tags eg international development
Overview by colleagues at University of Kent – www.kent.ac.uk/careers/workin/humanrights.htm
Section on human rights and international development – including podcasts http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/output/Page651.asp
Business and Human Rights January 26, 2009Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, internships, skills , add a comment
The most popular blog on this site is a piece I wrote about analytical skills. I talked about how an understanding of what employers means by certain skills and why they are asking for them will make applicants much better candidates. A current research volunteer advert from the Business and Human Rights Centre (BHRRC) reminded me of another case study I wrote last year which talks more about what employers means by this and other skills
I spoke to Joe Westby from BHRRC about why they were asking for certain things and what they meant by things such as research skills and ‘self initiative’.
‘Research and analytical skills’ have very particular meanings for BHRRC in terms of the opportunity on offer. By ‘research’ they are looking for those who are aware of the different sources of information concerning business and human rights. By analytical skills they mean the ability to understand which articles and reports from the range of material available and make good judgments about what category to tag the information with.
Data input capacity – while this is a fairly straightforward skill and the job specification tells you most of what you need to know it became clear from talking to BHRRC that those who could be enthusiastic about data input (because it involve reading a lot about topics of interest for example) would be stronger candidates.
Initiative – typically this means that it’s a small organisation and they won’t have a sophisticated support mechanism. In this case, however, it also refers to the fact that the connections between business and human rights are not wholly understood. It is a developing area of research and initiative is required because there aren’t many widely accepted templates to work from.
Team Skills – It is possible to bring a too sophisticated understanding of the relevance of something like team skills to an application or interview. It is true that many employers may want you to demonstrate a subtle interpretation of what you feel team work is about. In this case though it just means that they are looking for people who will get stuck in and help out with whatever needs doing.
Impartiality and Balance – this is an unusual criterion in a job specification but it does point up an important feature of job adverts. Even when you understand clearly the skill they are looking for it can really help your case if you can demonstrate an understanding of why they are looking for it. The job spec explains clearly that you need to be able to present information objectively. Most candidates who have written academic essays would be able to claim an impartiality in their approach what is really important about this criterion for the employer is that they aren’t just looking for someone who wants to collect bad stories about nasty old employers abusing human rights. It is key to understanding that they are trying to establish a reputation on objectivity. Someone who understands and articulates that, and the other skills discussed, will be a brilliant candidate.
You can find our more about the vacancy by visiting the JobOnline vacancy service (deadline 5th February). Read the case study in full at careers.lon.ac.uk> employers > a-z > Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Peacebuilding October 31, 2008Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights , add a comment
A couple of events you may be interested in
1) Our friends at Peace Brigades International have their AGM on 26th November. Hear from human rights lawyers from Colombia and Nepal who PBI have been working closely with as they help defend thier communities. The event runs from 7.30 in London. Details on our third sector facebook page at
2) Aiding the world’s poor. There is an open lecture at King’s College London (where I work). This will take place at 5pm on November 19th. The speaker is Roger Riddell, author, former international director of Christian Aid and Research Fellow of the ODI. Details on our facebook page as above.
Finally, we have now posted up our visit report from International Alert. One thing the report didn’t mention is a ‘Peaceworkers self test’. You answer a few simple online questions and it tells you where you are with potential careers in the sector and recommends suitable courses. It was very encouraging because even though I was clearly unsuitable in every respect – ie no experience, no qualifications I was still at ‘level 1′. Which was a nice way of saying I wouldn’t get a job until I had got some more relevant credentials. You can read our report on the employers sections of careers.lon.ac.uk/development and do the self test at http://www.peaceworkers.org.uk/
Understanding Vacancies April 23, 2008Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, skills, vacancies , 2comments
This post has now been updated since it was first published. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre monitors the impact the business sector has on human rights – positive and negative. They don’t have any internships available at the moment but the post has a more general point to make about applications and in any case you might be interested in the work of this international monitoring organisations. Here’s the updated post.
The words employers use on vacancies are superficially straightforward. We all know what team work means don’t we? Don’t we? A powerful application though will be based on a more nuanced understanding of what employers really mean when they use certain words to describe skills and qualities and why they are specifically asking for them. A finance organisation may use the word ‘analytical’ to describe the ability of someone to interpret what is going on in a column of figures while a consultancy may use it to describe the ability to uncover an underlying business issue through looking at reports, interviewing customers and staff as well as numbers. I recently came across an interesting internship with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London on our JobOnline service. I went along to find out more about what they do (collate information on the impact companies have on Human Rights around the world) but also to get some more information on why they ask for certain skills. For example ’initiative’ Joe Westby and his colleagues explained to me wasn’t creating lots of new areas of scrutiny but more about being able to manage yourself. It’s a small team there and they don’t have a human resources department to design a sophisticated training programme. Also the whole focus of their work, the interface between human rights and business, is still developing and initiative may be needed to help shape the way the increasing mass of information available is categorised, ‘tagged’ and accessed. Similarly with ‘team work’. In this case it wasn’t so much about resolving disputes but more about being willing to pitch in. You can read more about understanding vacancies by looking at the resources on the applications page of our site. Use Careers Tagged to find more organisations involved with human rights and you can find more ‘human rights’ opportunities on JobOnline by doing a keyword search using the phrase ‘human rights’