Working for the ICRC: committed professionals and people
ICRC policy on human resources, and information useful for future employees
Challenges, requirements and constraints
Those who work for the ICRC must have great personal and professional qualities. ICRC staff work in complex situations that are often out of the ordinary and sometimes dangerous. They must be efficient, humane, display great integrity and maturity, demonstrate their motivation for humanitarian action and have a solid potential for personal development.
Availability and flexibility
Professional experience and complete training at the outset are sine qua non conditions for employment at the ICRC. Experience of life and the ability to cope with difficulties will also help staff meet the challenges of humanitarian work.
ICRC staff are willing to go anywhere at any time and are flexible. They respond to priorities that may shift from one minute to the next. They are able to handle the unexpected. They have the capacity to adapt quickly to new constraints.
Expatriates are accustomed to uncertainty. They cope with sudden changes in their professional lives that have repercussions on their private and social lives. They must be in a position to leave for any place at any time, as the situation requires. Field missions comprise risks. Everyone must limit those risks as much as possible, by scrupulously following ICRC security rules.
Other qualities required for employment at the ICRC include knowing how to work as part of a team, a fondness for contact with people from all walks of life and any background, and the ability to make decisions and act independently, to manage individual stress and tense situations.
While at the ICRC, staff members acquire skills that will stand them in good stead throughout their professional lives.
A multicultural staff
ICRC staff are men and women whose origins, nationalities and life stories are extremely diverse. All are motivated by a shared desire to serve a common ideal. It is thanks to this diversity that the ICRC can deploy all the facets of its operations, for which it needs specific competencies.
More than 90 nationalities are represented among the employees hired locally by ICRC delegations in the field. They bring to the ICRC their skills and their intimate knowledge of the environment and the local culture. They enable the ICRC to root its activities more firml in the reality of a country.
Policy of openness
In the past ten years, ICRC expatriate staff have become increasingly diverse as a result of the application of a policy of " internationalization " .
Until the early 1990s, ICRC expatriate staff were exclusively Swiss, for historical reasons relating to Switzerland's leading role in the founding of the Red Cross Movement. That policy also met the ICRC's need to be perceived as an organization whose vocation was strictly humanitarian in nature in a world that was deeply divided politically and ideologically.
Switzerland's policy of neutrality at that time enabled ICRC Swiss staff to earn the confidence of all. The ICRC was thus more easily able to carry out its protection and assistance activities for the victims, in most contexts of war and violence.
Developments in international relations have lessened the need for exclusively Swiss staff. The ICRC has therefore gradually developed a policy of openness in the recruitment of expatriate personnel.
In 2003, 49% of newly hired delegates were not Swiss. Among expatriate staff, 52% are Swiss and 48% come from 94 other countries.
The fact that its personnel is becoming increasingly diverse has not done away with the need for the ICRC to be accepted in the fraught environments in which it acts. Personnel bearing certain passports cannot be assigned to certain conflict situations. For political reasons, certain nationalities may be negatively perceived by the authorities of a State or the leaders of an armed movement.
If the ICRC wants to be effective, it must make allowances for those realities in its recruitment, assignment and long-term human resources management policies. It must also ensure the security of its staff members and guarantee the independence of its activities.
Ensuring the relevance and effectiveness of ICRC action on behalf of the victims requires a variety of professional skills.
Certain skills are requisite from day one for all staff. Others are acquired gradually, over time and with experience. Some are required only of specialists in specific fields.
ICRC staff must not jar with the environment in which they work or with the organization's values. This requires respect for other people, sensitivity to the working environment, motivation and personal commitment.
All ICRC staff master, to varying degrees, a number of basic skills required to perform their mission: the ability to work as part of a team, to adapt and to learn; a sense of responsibility and independence; the ability to represent the organization; an aptitude for analysis and synthesis.
These skills have been identified on the basis of years of experience. The ICRC endeavours to hone them among all staff members, to varying degrees of sharpness, depending on the specific requirements of their posts.
Certain components of humanitarian action require specific expertise. ICRC specialized staff have technical skills acquired out side the organization, in financial management, war surgery, logistics, languages, etc.
Several competencies are specific to the ICRC's mandate, its activities and its programmes. They are therefore acquired only within the organization (law and principles, protection, assistance, the promotion and dissemination of humanitarian principles, cooperation with partners from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement). It naturally falls to the ICRC to give its staff the means of acquiring these institutional competencies, which are developed through an ongoing training programme in the course of each staff member's career with the organization.
Personnel responsible for overseeing the work of others develop managerial skills: heading a multinational and multicultural team; planning; organizing and evaluating activities; communication and the capacity to network; negotiation; the management of security. These skills are usually exercised in difficult contexts and must therefore be perfectly mastered.
Because the ICRC carries out a variety of activities, its staff members have a wide range of knowledge and professional experience, and may have expatriate or local status. No matter what their occupation, however, all staff work in the service of the same mission.
Two categories of occupation
There are two categories of occupation at the ICRC:
occupations requiring technical or academic training that are also practiced elsewhere: surgeon, doctor, nurse, agronomist, orthopaedist, secretary, mechanic, interpreter, IT technician, etc.;
occupations that are learned and exercised only at the ICRC, in connection with its specific activities: field officer, delegate, protection coordinator, head of delegation, etc.
Activities performed exclusively by expatriates
In situations of war, the ICRC does sensitive work that places its personnel at the heart of the underlying political, social, religious or ethnic tensions. Its activities must be carried out by people who are not connected to the situation or its history and have no stake in the outcome. This is why certain activities are performed exclusively by expatriate staff. In sensitive areas, expatriate status is the only means of guaranteeing free and independent action.
This policy is also intended to ensure that staff are not seen as being partial and are not subjected to pressure. It avoids burdening national staff with responsibilities that could have legal consequences for them or pose a risk to their lives and those of their families.
Occupations exercised exclusively by delegation employees
Many ICRC activities require in-depth knowledge of the country and an intimate understanding of the environment, its networks and its players. Expatriate staff do not possess that knowledge or understanding. Occupations requiring those specific competencies are therefore exercised by delegation employees, who are hired because of their local roots. Since they were raised in the context, they are familiar with all its subtleties.
Not all ICRC activities require the presence of expatriates. For many technical occupations, the ICRC turns to the skills available on the local labour market.
In their various occupations, ICRC staff may be called on to conduct widely varying tasks that can be divided into two categories:
basic ICRC activities, in particular those set forth in the Geneva Conventions, such as:
the protection of detainees and civilian populations,
the re-establishment of family ties and the tracing of missing persons,
the provision of food and material and medical assistance,
the promotion of international humanitarian law;
support activities that enable the ICRC to discharge its mission. These are essentially tasks relating to administration, financial management, information,
interpretation, logistics, transport and telecommunications.
Following a period of activity with the organization, ICRC staff may be called on to exercise management responsibilities. The period in question varies from one person to another, with staff members becoming either managers specialized in one of the ICRC's activities, or managers with no specialization.
The occupations in brief
Occupations relating to basic activities (detention, tracing, assistance, health, dissemination)
- Visiting delegate, tracing delegate, economic security delegate, dissemination delegate
- Sanitary engineer
- Tracing field officer, relief field officer, dissemination field officer, health field officer
Occupations relating to support activities (administration, finance, logistics, communication, transport)
- Administrator (business management and organization)
- Administrator (financial management)
- Relief administrator
- Medical administrator
- Construction specialist
- Air traffic coordinator
- Flight coordinator
- Inform ation and communication delegate
- Information field officer
- IT technician
- Telecommunication specialist
Managers of basic activities
- Protection coordinator, relief coordinator, medical coordinator, dissemination coordinator, head of personnel
- Head of protection sector, head of communication sector, assistance programme leader, medical programme leader
Managers of support activities
- Administrative coordinator
- Head of finance sector
- Head of administrative sector
- Information systems administrator
- Head of delegation
- Head of subdelegation
- Regional delegate
- Head of operational region
- Non-specialized delegate
- Head of division
A strict recruitment process
The ICRC is always eager to recruit fresh talent - people and skills that will further its mission, the success of which depends largely on the motivation and professionalism of ICRC staff. The ICRC must always be able to call on appropriate people who can be rapidly deployed. Because of the special nature of working conditions in conflict zones, expatriate personnel are quite naturally rotated. Every year, therefore, the ICRC hires about 300 people for expatriate duties. During the same period, about 200 staff members will leave the organization after several years'experience, giving a new direction to their professional lives. Local personnel are recruited as a function of the conflict situation, of developments in it and of the possibilities for ICRC action.
Applicants are carefully scrutinized
The ICRC goes about recruiting its staff with great care. It takes account of the heavy responsibilities they will have to shoulder and the conditions in which they will work. It carefully screens and selects from the 5,500 applications it receives every year for expatriate work.
During the recruitment process, the applicants'professional profile and skills and their personal qualities and experience are assessed. The process comprises as a minimum the followings steps:
the establishment of a personal file (curriculum vitae, letter of application, copies of diplomas, testimonials and documents, references, an extract from police records);
one or several interviews with one or several ICRC representatives (administrative and/or operational staff);
Depending on the post the candidate is applying for, the procedure comprises other steps, such as an assessment or technical tests.
Criteria and procedures
The recruitment criteria and procedures differ for expatriate posts and delegation employees. Expatriates are recruited by the Human Resources Department at ICRC headquarters in Geneva. National staff are hired in the field, under the responsibility of the ICRC's delegations.