Fruzsina Straus graduated from the M.A. program in 2007. After working for an NGO at UNHQ for the past 10 years and consulting for UNDP, she recently began working in the field for the UN Secretariat as part of the UN Young Professionals Programme (YPP). She is a successful candidate of the 2012 YPP Examination in Social Affairs, and took up her first posting with the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Lebanon in April 2014. She currently resides in Beirut with her two young children.
For those Diplomacy Alumni who are interested in the YPP program, it is important to recognize that this can be a lengthy and challenging process, but it can be a good option for entering the UN system. Fruzsina has graciously agreed to share some of the valuable lessons she’s learned about the YPP process as well as her experiences managing the work/life balance that many of us struggle with while chasing our career goals. If you have any additional questions about the YPP application process or other questions for Fruzsina she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At what point did you know you wanted to try the YPP route of entering the UN Secretariat system? What motivated this decision?
I had always wanted to work for the UN, and had looked at the YPP (then NCE) several years ago but either my country, Hungary, was never on the list of participating countries or it was not offered in a subject I knew. Around the time the 2012 YPP application deadline was approaching, I looked at the website and realized that not only was Hungary participating that year, but the exam was offered in Social Affairs, Economic Affairs and Political Affairs – all areas I could have taken it in. Finally, since I was fast approaching the 32-year age cutoff, I decided immediately that I have to try and I applied.
You completed your Masters at the School of Diplomacy while working for the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) in New York and continued to work there after graduation. Can you talk a little bit about how your experiences at Seton Hall and WFUNA prepared you for the YPP?
WFUNA and Seton Hall both had a lot to do with preparing me for the YPP. As a WFUNA staff member I was already working on social and economic issues, going to UN meetings, talking with delegates, reading through documents. I knew what the priorities were, I knew where negotiations stood, I had access to information, I understood the system, and I had personal connections to people who I could discuss these issues with.
My educational background was also very helpful, because the School of Diplomacy places great emphasis on providing its students with opportunities to engage with the UN, to meet and learn directly from UN staff and diplomats, dialogue about UN topics with world leaders, experts and practitioners, and to gain practical experience at the UN through internships with the UN or organizations within the “UN community” (like WFUNA or UNA-USA), and participating in initiatives like the UN Intensive Summer Study program. These experiences give you a good “insiders” perspective that is great for the YPP.
What were the most valuable skills, experiences or character traits that you believe made you successful in the YPP application process?
First you need to be convoked for the exam, which requires a strong profile (resume) on Inspira. Theoretically only a BA in a related field and no specific experience is required, but in reality all successful YPPs I know have several years of professional experience related to the UN (UN General Service staff, NGO, government, foundation…etc.) and Masters degrees. As far as my background is concerned, I think having a Masters in Diplomacy/ IR was a good foundation, especially when coupled with my work experience with both an NGO and as a consultant for a UN agency.
For the written portion, the most important thing – in some ways even more important than your subject knowledge- is to have very strong writing/ drafting skills. You need to be able to summarize complex issues, and write in a very direct, logical, concise, clear and straightforward manner. And you also need to be fast!
As for the verbal exam. It is essentially a standard UN competency-based interview via Skype. The UN careers website provides very detailed and clear information and training on competency-based interviewing, making it very easy to be prepared.
Once you are on the roster the hiring manager is only supposed to call you for an “informal” talk. But really, it’s an interview, and in some cases it is even rather formal and with a panel. I had a phone interview with the person who is now my supervisor, the Chief of my section at ESCWA. It is essential to do background research. Read the position description very very carefully, google your interviewer if possible, learn as much as you can about the Organization/ Division/ Section that you are interviewing with. Also, it’s good to have smart questions prepared for the “do you have any questions for me?” part that inevitably comes at the end of every interview. And of course, send a thank you right away! My boss recently told me that after the interviews for my position he had narrowed it down to two candidates. Me and another person. He was undecided between us until his inbox pinged with my thank you email. The other candidate didn’t send one, so he chose me at the last minute.
Thanks to Fruzsina Straus for answering the questions, and to Emily Pease for transcription!