"How to Find a Job in the Humanitarian Sector in Geneva - Insights, Tips, and Benefits for Ukrainians

job in switzerland

What makes working in the humanitarian sector appealing? It's a highly practical and dynamic field where you can realize your potential and grow professionally. Moreover, through such work, you can feel that you are influencing global history and have a global connection with the world.

In this column, I will discuss the opportunities and peculiarities of employment in the public sector in Geneva, as mentioned in one of the episodes of my podcast 'What Else Was Possible?' We spoke with Svitlana Nidzvetska, a global health specialist who works in Geneva. She is involved in educational and volunteer projects, has experience working with the World Health Organization and the World Bank, and has participated in various research projects.

How is the humanitarian sector represented in Geneva?

Geneva is often called the world's most compact metropolis. It's a very small city but boasts a significant presence in the humanitarian sector. Over 40% of Geneva's residents are foreigners who do not have Swiss citizenship, representing hundreds of cultures and nationalities and countless organizations. From here, the League of Nations, later renamed the United Nations after World War II, began its journey in the early 20th century. Geneva is the second headquarters of the UN after New York. Many critical negotiations occur here, although they may not always be visible to the average citizen, such as talks regarding conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and more. Geneva is also home to approximately 180 country missions to the UN, 40 international organizations, and 430 non-governmental organizations, including the WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Federation and Committee of the Red Cross. Even considering job prospects, the humanitarian sector in Geneva is highly interesting because it provides one out of every ten jobs in the city. It truly is a global center, albeit a small one.

How can an average person land a job in this sector?

Connections are essential but different from how we typically think of them. Networking is highly valued in Switzerland, where people from various industries and backgrounds come together, meet, and build connections. There are countless platforms for this purpose, such as Facebook groups, websites like 'Internation' for informal exchanges, and 'Glocals' for finding various events. Networking is also cultivated within workplaces, where team members are encouraged to get to know each other, share their skills, and collaborate. Communication on LinkedIn is equally important. To find a decent job in Switzerland, having an attractive LinkedIn profile is crucial, as it's the primary recruiting tool here. In general, it's considered acceptable to add someone to your contacts, reach out directly, and ask for recommendations, references, or career advice.

Sending an email is another approach. It should be a concise message: "My name is X. I have experience doing Y in Ukraine, and I saw a job vacancy on your organization's website. I believe you may be able to provide me with some insights or direct me to the appropriate department. Thank you sincerely." This approach is similar to cold calling and may not always work, but it's a free and low-risk method. The worst that can happen is not receiving a response. Svitlana's experience, where she got a job by writing a few emails and leveraging email chains to connect with the right people, can be inspiring. You only need an email address from the organization, and it's worth noting that in Geneva, you have many chances to come across someone who can guide you in the right direction.

Of course, there is also the conventional route of applying for job vacancies on an organization's website. It can be a lengthy process with high competition, but it's worth a try.

There are also recruiting agencies that mainly offer short-term contracts and often take a percentage. However, this can be an excellent opportunity to enter the system, get acquainted, see everything firsthand, and prove yourself. Later, you can transition to a permanent contract."

What should Ukrainians know?

In reality, it can be quite challenging to compete in the global arena after purely national experience. You may sometimes feel like you're falling short, but I advise taking that first step. Once you're in the field, you'll realize how competitive you can be. My experience in various international organizations attests that Ukrainians are among the best employees. We possess several advantages: our education, diligence, persistence, proactiveness, language skills, and ability to find unconventional solutions are highly valued in many major corporations. Additionally, due to the constant instability in our environment, we are often willing to take unexpected initiatives, which is valuable. At the same time, we know how to play by the rules.

If you're struggling to find a job, should you consider internships?

Any opportunity to enter an organization is valuable, even unpaid internships or volunteering, even a one-day project. However, internships are more relevant for young people. There are usually restrictions in large organizations – a person applying for an internship must have a connection to a university, either as a student or a recent graduate (let's say, within the past year). This ensures a fair process because, for example, having a 35-year-old and an 18-year-old in the same position would create unequal conditions. Therefore, older individuals might consider volunteering.

What languages are necessary in this field?

First and foremost, English is essential. You need to improve your English or learn it if you don't already speak it fluently. However, that's not always enough, so it's worthwhile to know other languages for long-term prospects and a competitive edge in the job market. In Geneva, French is crucial, but it's not limited to this city. Many French-speaking countries are involved in the humanitarian sector, especially in Africa, where French is in demand.

Similarly, Spanish is important because there is much humanitarian work in Latin America. It's excellent if a person can speak both French and Spanish since the languages are quite similar. Additionally, international organizations have plenty of work in Ukraine and projects oriented towards Moldova, Poland, Romania, and beyond. Therefore, proficiency in Ukrainian and Russian is an advantage, along with knowledge of the local culture and environment.

What educational opportunities are available in the humanitarian field?

Start by assessing your skills, desires, and abilities. This will help you understand what you may lack and need to improve. For example, you can obtain a certificate in project management, which is relatively straightforward but offers significant advantages. Of course, improving your language skills is a must. In Switzerland, adult education is highly developed. You can study after work, evenings, or weekends to continue earning while learning. This is known as Advanced Studies or Master Advanced Studies. Many courses are available, offered by institutions like the University of Geneva, engineering schools, and more. However, pursuing another master's or bachelor's degree at the University of Geneva, Lausanne, or elsewhere requires more commitment, resources, and time. There are also specialized institutes for diplomatic studies, such as the Graduate Institute, which trains professionals in international relations and law. Many of Svitlana's colleagues in the humanitarian sector graduated from this institute, often referred to as the 'pathway to the UN.'

General advice for those seeking employment in the humanitarian field:

  • Believe in yourself and your competencies.
  • Don't hesitate to seek help, build connections, and network.
  • Remember that the job search can take 3 to 6 months to a year due to global competition, so don't give up or get discouraged.
  • Consider your time in Geneva as an opportunity to gain valuable experience, whether you decide to return to Ukraine or move elsewhere. It will always be a significant asset on your resume.

We wish you success in your job search and endeavors!


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