Hiring for NGOs. Recruiting for the greater good

Last updated:
July 14, 2021
December 22, 2021
min read
Lukasz Zelezny
Table of contents

It’s nearly impossible to turn on the TV, open up a newspaper, or scroll through social media without being inundated with notifications of natural disasters or humanitarian crises- sometimes even both. Although the world isn’t falling apart, sometimes it can feel like it is.

Luckily, more and more people are wanting to use their careers to have a positive influence on the planet and society, and are turning to NGOs to achieve that. Across the world, the number of internationally operating NGOs is around 40,000 according to current estimates from the NGO database. One of the most well-known NGOs, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, has been providing medical care to people in distress, since 1971. To date, the organization has worked in almost 80 countries and has multiple offices around the world.

Merel Olgers, Recruitment Coordinator & Career Management Specialist at MSF in their offices in Amsterdam, explains how the NGO recruits to carry out its social mission and how their hiring process compares to the private sector.

How many recruiters and hiring managers work at MSF?

There are two recruiters and four career managers working in the Dutch office. The career managers guide employees after their first mission for MSF and support them with the next steps in their career, development goals, and training.

Besides that, we’ve got recruiters working around the world who contribute to our pool of employees. For example, a doctor recruited for DWB from Canada can be recruited for a job in the Congo.

How many job applications do you typically receive, and what are you looking for in a candidate?

We can get up to 150 applications each month. As we’re working in conflict areas, where circumstances are often more difficult than a regular position at an office job, we look for candidates who are able to work effectively under pressure and show resilience when encountering challenges.

On the location of a crisis, a candidate may find themselves in a situation where they’re unable to receive assistance from their peers, therefore perseverance, personal flexibility, and professional knowledge are essential criteria.

What questions do you ask candidates to decide if they fit the role?

We ask questions focused on the candidate’s motivation and the organization’s expectations. Depending on the job level and role, we have competence-oriented questions. For various roles, a psychometric test is also part of the selection program. When deciding on whether a candidate is a fit for the role, we mainly focus on behavior and competencies throughout the application process.

Do you have a different or unique approach in your recruitment process compared to private companies?

Before a candidate starts the role, there’s a one-week introduction program in which extensive training takes place to prepare people for situations and circumstances that they may encounter in the MSF work field.

Besides that, I think that we have a clear recruitment process that is comparable to other private companies.

How do you promote your employer brand?

We regularly organize webinars and events such as information evenings for potential new employees. We also organize sessions for professionals who already work with us to broaden their knowledge.

How does your recruitment process contribute to the mission of MSF?

Our mission is to give aid to people in need. We offer medical assistance to people in conflict areas, natural disasters, and outbreaks of fatal diseases. We do not exclude anyone or allow ourselves to stop. We are and remain impartial, professional and goal-oriented.

We recruit in almost all of the countries in the world, we’ve got a great diversity of nationalities and cultures. This contributes to our goal of providing medical assistance to those who need it, regardless of origin, religion or other beliefs.

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