MSF staff vests hang out to dry at the site of the emergency measles vaccination team in Baboua.

Recruitment Zone spring 2021: How MSF recruits staff and how you can prepare

Welcome to the spring 2021 edition of the Recruitment Zone newsletter. The Recruitment Zone helps connect professionals in Canada with opportunities to join Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s humanitarian medical action around the world. We are always seeking skilled medical and non-medical experts who can help us provide healthcare to people affected by crisis, conflict, disaster or neglect.

MSF works in more than 70 countries worldwide and our approximately 45,000 staff come from all over the globe. About 90 per cent of project staff are recruited locally, in the countries where we work. The remaining are hired internationally.

What are MSF’s steps for recruiting staff to work abroad?

In 2020, 269 Canadians went on an international assignment with MSF. Of those, 59 were working abroad with MSF for the first time.

If you have been thinking of working with MSF for some time, you have likely wondered what the recruitment process looks like and what you can expect if you decide to send in your application.

The recruitment journey to work for MSF takes anywhere from three to six months from application to departure. That is, you should apply three to six months before your date of availability. Because of travel restrictions and other hurdles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process may currently take a bit longer than usual. You may find it different from other experiences – if you are accepted as a candidate you still must go on to a competitive pool and a matching process for assignments.

The MSF recruitment team responds to all applications, providing feedback whether or not you make it to the next stage. After initial screenings including a short phone call with a recruiter, applicants who meet the criteria complete a technical test (non-medical profiles) or technical validation based on self-assessments (medical profiles). They then move to an interview. Successful candidates are invited into MSF’s onboarding process, which includes learning more about the organization and our work, trainings and administrative preparation, all of which is currently done virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Receiving a confirmation of assignment is the last step before departure and often requires the most patience. It is a competitive process based on the needs of our medical projects and determining which candidates are the best fit. It is also a period of information sharing on the role, context and security considerations.

“Beyond the technical skills needed to do the job well, candidates need an additional level of preparedness and reflections on the particular challenges of MSF work,” says Catheryne Gagnon, MSF recruitment officer.

“This is not a process we rush. It requires patience both in the selection part and in the wait to find an assignment that is a good fit.”

What competencies are we looking for?

Our recruiters use a mix of behavioural and competency interviewing questions tied to specific competencies required for the position.

Flexibility. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances, tasks, responsibilities and, often crucially, people. MSF is an emergency environment with many factors you can’t control. Demonstrating teamwork is important, being able to cooperate with others as you work towards a common goal. We work as multicultural and multidisciplinary teams. Being driven by results also matters, having the tenacity to achieve objectives and goals within a set process and timeframe, and constantly seeking to improve your own actions. The core of MSF’s work is ensuring our patients get quality healthcare and that our support is about people’s needs.

MSF is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion in our hiring practices and in our medical care, while acknowledging historical biases we are actively working to address. Our staff work in a multicultural environment and need to understand the context in which they work, to help support patients as well as their team. They are committed to the MSF principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality.

Language skills are valuable. French is an asset as MSF works with many Francophone communities. Working proficiency in English is essential. Proficiency in other languages is an asset, including Arabic and Spanish.

How can you best prepare to apply to MSF?

Quite simply, do your research. Gather information and read as much as you can long before you apply. Watch our recruitment videos and information sessions and read through the MSF website. When you are ready to start the process, make sure you understand the role you are applying for as well as the working and living conditions of an MSF assignment.

Come to your interview with examples of your skills centered on your own experiences. Highlight your transferable skills. Be prepared to tell us how you dealt with and responded to different situations, how you think they best prepared you for the challenges of working with MSF.

“As professionals working on assignment with MSF, most of us understand the challenges we will face in our work,” says Aniela Markowiez, who worked as deputy HR coordinator with MSF in Lebanon. “But I was unprepared for the level of stress the job entails.”

“I wish I could have anticipated the recruitment questions about stress and anxiety when linked to unpresented and prolonged situations in a volatile work context. Thankfully, MSF provides great psychological resources and support prior, during and after each assignment.”

If you think you have the skillsets, you can commit to a six- to 12-month assignment and you want to support people in need of access to healthcare, we want to hear from you. Visit our website today and review the application process to join out talent pool.

Thank you for your interest in MSF and for supporting our humanitarian medical care.

We look forward to receiving your application or answering any questions you have.

The MSF Canada Recruitment Zone Team