Meet John Thomas – Operations Chief for Human Resources – International Organization for Migration

June 24 2014 by Alix Vazeux


We would like to share with you the brilliant experience of the Operations Chief for Human Resources at the IOM. In the interview, Mr Thomas explains what drives him in his day-to-day life in the International Public Sector and what challenges you might face working for such an organisation. 


Please tell us about your background? What did you do/study before moving into the International Public Sector?

Before joining the IOM, I was with the IMF in Washington, DC. Prior to that, I worked in HR in the private sector. My undergraduate studies were in Computer Science and Graduate Studies in Human Resource Development. This combination has been very useful because it helped me use information technology in HR and be a system thinker.


How did you first get into the International Public Sector?

It was by chance in a way – I was in Malaysia doing well in a Telecomms business. I was introduced to the world of International service by a close mentor of mine. He said “why don’t you try a new field?” By chance, I saw an ad in the Economist. There was no social media fifteen years ago – so I relied on email and websites for my research. The IMF came back to me and that’s where it all started.

Would you do the same again?

Oh yes! You know why? Because I think that having some private sector experience and joining the public sector after that puts a lot of perspective in what I do now. The private sector is very profit oriented – it’s all about the bottom line. In the public sector, you are working towards a cause – a mandate you are trying to fulfill which is not just tied to economic gains. You are making a difference on a global scale.


What single fact would surprise people the most about you?

People who don’t know me well think I am very serious and goal oriented, but I do have a sense of humour! Also, I remember going for one of those psychometric tests and the result was a very unusual profile. The lady who was facilitating was quite fascinated! I just didn’t fit into any of the boxes.


What drives you in the morning?

To do something good. I always think of what is ahead of me in the morning, the organsiation I work for, the people I lead and the tasks I need to complete.


Proudest achievements with your organisation?

I have been with the IOM for the last three years. The team is what I am most proud of – and our work to support a field based organization. There are so many crises, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Iraq… I am proud of the work we do that contributes to supporting the beneficiaries affected in these and other countries. 7. Nicest fact/surprise from your organization? The most surprising fact about our organization is how fast we move, especially when there is a crisis. For an organization with 9,000 employees, we are still capable of moving very quickly – when there is a need, we are always there. We are not top heavy – there are only 200 people in our HQ in Geneva. Our focus is on being decentralized and supporting our people. 8. What do you look for in candidates? I look for passion – for people who are not just driven by bonuses and cash incentives. You get paid well, but you have to be passionate and motivated to help. You are here to provide a service. Sometimes you are called upon to work in dangerous and hardship posts. To be willing to commit to that kind of challenge, you have to be motivated by more than money.


Funniest or most unusual answer to an interview question?

When we were interviewing someone to work in a crisis situation following a major natural disaster, they asked “What are the shower facilities like?” This was a place with no infrastructure left – and they clearly hadn’t grasped the implications of going to work in such an environment. Creature comforts simply can’t be a priority at a time like that, but the difference you can make is huge.


Most inspiring remark/answer from a candidate?

One candidate described the work we do as “Unselfish love.” He was remarkable because he got to the heart of what we are doing.


Words of wisdom for your future applicants?

For candidates who are interested in joining the IOM, look at our website and see what we really do. We are not just based in DC – you need to understand the places where we work. Keep trying – even if you don’t get in first time, you might be lucky sometime in the future. Also, do your homework – some candidates don’t even read the terms of reference and job description. Ask questions, come prepared for the interview.