For a living, William Davis pitches United Nations projects to the United States government with hopes of securing funding — but at a talk Thursday, he gave a straightforward account of what it takes to work for the agency.
Davis, director of the United Nations Information Center in Washington D.C., explained the U.N.’s operations to group of about 70 students in the International Room of Sterling Memorial Library. He also shared information to help students decide which branch of the U.N. might be best for them when applying for jobs.
Though Davis admitted that the process can seem overwhelming, he assured students that working for the U.N. is not out of reach.
“It does happen,” Davis said. “People get jobs by the thousands.”
The organization exists as a collection of independent funds and agencies, Davis said, which can be daunting to those who want to work for the U.N.
Davis says that to break through the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude that applicants may encounter, experience — preferably an advanced degree, specified interests, a target region and human connections — is key.
“Remember that the U.N. is a system,” Davis said. “When you approach that dream job at the U.N., don’t be that starry-eyed poli-sci major who just says, ‘I love the U.N.,’” but lacks the skills needed to work there.
He recommended that applicants work for nongovernmental organizations active within a sphere of U.N. operations to attract the notice of agency employees. He also recommended that applicants develop specialized skills, such as Web design, fiscal management or translation skills, which are highly prized.
Davis said he worked as a member of the State Department’s national council staff before joining the U.N., adding that his ability to interact with Congress effectively was attractive to the agency.
“The U.N. had a need for someone to explain the United Nations to Americans — to speak American to Americans,” he said.
He also said that even as a “Washington desk jockey” at the U.N. Information Center for five years, he finds his job rewarding because it directly contributes to efforts to save lives.
Filip Savatic ’11, former vice president of the Yale International Relations Association, said he appreciated Davis’s directness and honesty.
“Hearing someone say it the way it is, is always nice,” Savatic said, adding that he hopes to work for the U.N. some day.
Allison Bybee SPH ’11 said Davis provided “really good insight to the possiblities that exist” within the agency.
The talk was hosted by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
Correction: March 25, 2011
An earlier version of this article stated that Davis worked as a member of the State Department’s national security council staff before joining the UN. He in fact worked as a member of the White House’s National Security Council Staff, and separately worked for the State Department in their Bureau of Legislative Affairs. Also, his job is to explain UN’s work to Congress, not to secure funding. Additionally, due to an editing error, an photo previously accompanying this article online was misidentified as Davis.