Meet Antonio Fidalgo, Head of Talent Outreach and Acquisition at UNHCR

June 24 2014 by Alix Vazeux

Hear what Antonio Fidalgo, Head of Talent Outreach and Acquisition at UNHCR has to say about the challenges of his work and how this affects their recruitment process. It’s a great interview – we highly recommend you to take a look at it before deciding whether or not you have what it takes to work for UNHCR.

Please tell us about your background

My undergraduates studies in Portugal were in clinical psychology and I then obtained a Masters in organizational psychology which took me to the US. While there, I became interested in cross cultural management and behaviour which led me to an international career. I was hired by the IMF where I was involved in organisational development work including training. This was followed by a role heading up their recruitment of experienced economists. That’s what gave me a real taste for recruitment.

Along the way, we worked on modernizing the recruitment function and outreach. I really enjoyed all the change and had the chance to introduce a number of innovations. I then left and did my own consulting internationally including working for the EIB on recruitment branding. It was a very rewarding experience.

Then I started using new tools for searching and selecting candidates such as social media platforms so I became stationed in Washington DC, working for companies in Africa and Europe. In particular I helped the Institute of Economic Transformation in Ghana hire some senior people as part of setting up the organisation. I also did some work for the African Development Bank. Around that time, UNHCR asked if I was interested in improving their recruitment function. I came here last year to launch the Young Professional Program then I came to Budapest to set up a new unit called Talent Outreach and Acquisition.


Would you do the same again?

I have a preference for working with entry level people – you can see how much energy and potential they have. I enjoy guiding them through the organization and giving them the support to help them be successful. They don’t even realize their own potential and all you need to do is give them the right opportunity and support and they can work wonders. Last year we hired 44 people who are now in field locations in many parts of the world where we have emergencies. We brought them in as a cohort to help them develop a sense of belonging. We use Yammer to help them stay connected – they share information and ideas and it has been wonderful. We had 13,000 applications but we managed to shortlist them to 250 and then conducted interviews using tools like gotomeeting. The young people are used to these kinds of platforms and it made the process much more manageable for us.


What single fact would surprise people the most about you?

I was a rollerskate hockey player for many years – there was no ice in Mozambique where I grew up! Also, many people don’t know that I have this expertise in cross-culture management and my background in clinical psychology.


What drives you in the morning?

The motivation here is that we are creating something new. In the last week, I have hired four people to staff this section – two recruiters and two analysts – launching new initiatives, new tools, designing new ways of doing things.


Proudest achievements with your organisation?

I only joined last year – so far, my biggest achievement was to implement the Young Professionals Program. I only had six months to do it. I think that this was a huge achievement given the volume of applications and the challenges with making it happen. When I saw the forty-four young people coming here for the orientation, it was amazing to actually meet them face-to-face for the first time.Nicest fact/surprise from your organization?

The thing that people may be surprised about is the kind of people you meet in the field – and most of our people work in the field. Also, to see how rewarding it is to work with people of concern – refugees and people in situations of real hardship. You can truly see how much difference you can make. It is hard to realise if you are on the outside.

People think that this is “just” another UN agency. But people can see the results of their work in the field which is really important to me.


What do you look for in candidates?

We are looking for people who are talented, young and enthusiastic about a humanitarian career. It is not easy work and it has to come from the heart. We also need people who have some experience and expertise in humanitarian areas e.g. protection, cash based interventions. We require people who are willing to go into the field – sometimes deep field places like conflict zones. We aren’t really looking for people to work at HQ.


Funniest or most unusual answer to an interview question?

The funniest question anyone can ask me is “Where do you want to be in the next five years from now?” Because I have no clue! – we have a desire to control the unknown and this is simply not possible.

In terms of questions that candidates have answered, I have been really surprised to see that some candidates have come to us not knowing that there are French speaking countries in Africa!


Most inspiring remark/answer from a candidate?

One of the candidates who we ended up hiring for this Young Professionals Program said to us “I am not a peace keeper soldier, I don’t have much experience but I have these financial skills that I can use”. Sometimes people come to us who want to save the world and do everything. He was much more modest – I have these skills, can you find a way to use them to benefit refugees?


Words of wisdom for your future applicants?

They have to be serious about humanitarian work – this work comes from the heart. It is not easy. You are working in very remote locations like Chad and South Sudan where there are conflicts. You may live in isolation deprived of things we take for granted so you have to be dedicated to the cause – otherwise you will not have a rewarding experience.