How to Start Your Career at the International Organization for Migration

Erin Bowser and Anke Strauss
November 29, 2021

Having a career within an international humanitarian organization is just as rewarding as you can imagine. It is THE opportunity to directly impact both policy and people in an ever-changing world. And organizations are always on the lookout for skilled individuals to help them to achieve their core goals.

Does my profile match what the Organization is looking for? How do I get a job with the International Organization for Migration (IOM)? What is it like to work for IOM?

These are perhaps some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from aspiring humanitarian workers, looking to launch or make a transition in their career.

If you want to be successful, not only to find a job, but rather to pursue a long-term career with IOM then you need to first undertake some self-reflection. It is important to build a clear picture of who you are and what you want professionally. Consider mapping out your work values (think relationships, helping others, leadership, work-life balance etc.), your professional interests and your specific strengths that include things such as skills, competencies and qualities. Give careful consideration to your (and any family member or dependents’) ability and willingness to be mobile as a career with the IOM entails having to move to different countries around the world.

Remember that careers happen at the point where individual and organizational needs meet.

The basics of your professional profile

What is it that IOM is looking for in prospective candidates? Although this question on the surface seems straightforward, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach in the selection process. IOM’s current workforce includes over 16,000 staff members. This is a large organization by any measure and each staff member plays a critical role in supporting the ability of the IOM to implement programmes for migrants and Member States. The profiles of IOM staff members vary as greatly as the types of programmes that are implemented. However, there are perhaps some inherent skills and traits that are vital for professional success. If you are looking to become an international staff member you must:

  • Have received at least a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree for more senior positions, from an accredited university
  • Be fluent in English and possess working knowledge of one additional UN language (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish)
  • Understand IOM values and competencies
  • Be willing to be mobile

Putting your best foot forward

So, you’ve found your dream IOM job, now what? Before you click the apply button, ask yourself: “Have I done everything that I could to put my best foot forward?” Make a good first impression by clearly highlighting your experience most relevant to the position. There should also be no errors in your documents; spelling, formatting and grammar should be flawless. Be sure to fill in all the fields in the e-recruitment system.

For a CV and cover letter to really shine, they need to be tailored to the position to which you are applying each and every time. We sometimes receive hundreds of applications for one position and those individuals that take the time to carefully draft their documents are by far the most successful.

Be sure to also think critically about what the hiring manager may be looking for: i.e., do this candidate meet the minimum qualifications and competencies. One effective way for your CV to get noticed is to focus on your achievements (how well you did in your job) rather than only the duties (the specific responsibilities) that your carried out. Do you also have a clear understanding of why you are applying for the position and how it fits within your own career goals?

It may be helpful to consider that your CV focuses on your past experience and qualifications and the cover letter is a link between this and your future career ambitions. This is your chance for a personal introduction to the hiring panel. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many individuals are changing career tracks or paths, and this is a good opportunity to upsell your transferrable skills.

Building an IOM Career

Long-term career success is built upon the ability to be flexible, continuously learn, have an open mind and perhaps above all the ability to work well as part of a team while continuing to build on your personal interests and career goals. Remember that a career path is not necessarily a straight line but rather your own unique picture that you build and may include many lines, colors and shapes along the way.

Now it is up to you to embark on the greatest journey of your life.

See here more information on recruitment processes at the IOM:

About the Authors:

Anke Strauss is the Head of Talent Management at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. She joined IOM in 2001 and, among others, has held the posts of Chief of Mission of IOM (Mauritania and Morocco) and Deputy Permanent Observer at the IOM Permanent Observer office to the United Nations in New York.

Erin Bowser is a consultant with Talent Management at the IOM. She first joined IOM in 2003 as External Relations Liaison in Washington, D.C., and has also worked on migration policy and communications for IOM Headquarters, IOM Zimbabwe, and consulted with IOM offices in Ghana and Somalia.

The views and opinions expressed in this think-piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SIPA or Columbia University.