Please help me make sense of the UN YPP’s MCQ section (yes, this will be that kind of blog post).

So, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m keeping this blog post as a draft and will schedule this to post at the exact time the exam commences (during which all our phones and gadgets will be confiscated/paper-bagged by the exam committee). I’m planning on posting a bunch of stuff I drafted in October–November 2014 anyway (on the occasion of my blogging anniversary, which I celebrate in December every year—this year I’ll have been blogging for 15 years… In three years time, I’ll have Empty Nest Syndrome and the two of us will be just like the elderly couple in that William Trevor story in the Haruki Murakami anthology… Oh wait).

It also won’t be imported to Twitter until after the exam starts. Because it otherwise would be irresponsible of me: I don’t want to be responsible for changing the behaviour of other examinees (for instance, by demotivating them into studying less hard) and cause them to stress-out prior to the exam, or risk having the exam committee change the format of the MCQ section last minute (while applicants have prepped for the exam in the currently-known format). Not that I’m deluded enough to think I’m influential enough to make the latter happen, I just don’t enjoy feeling like a callous, kiasu person.

Okay, why am I suddenly reminded of the bittersweet-symphony funeral scene on “Cruel Intentions” now? Ugh. Never mind: By the time this blog entry is posted, I’ll be sitting in an examination room just starting on the MCQs and précis writing section for the GP.

So, I didn’t pass the exam in 2012

Let’s be clear on this: I took the 2012 exam and I didn’t pass. But I don’t beat myself up over not passing because…

Stats! Gotta love stats! Stats give one life!
Stats! Gotta love stats! Stats give one life!

It’s one of the few things in life that I can forgive myself easily for failing and some of the most supportive people in my life have told me that just getting convoked is an honour/achievement in itself. I was extremely invested in 2012, but that was just unreasonable and irrational behaviour.

I’m kind of ‘meh’ about it this year, to be honest. And I don’t think I’ll have much time to study this time due to work commitments, but apparently I’m still invested enough to draft this blog post—if only to at least bring to the attention of the exam committee what’s wrong with the process:

The 2012 MCQs were just impossible. Like, humanely impossible (as in, passing the MCQs requires luck due to the impossibility of trick questions). I’m about 99.99% certain I didn’t get pass the GP’s because of the MCQs, because the 2012 précis writing text was ridiculously easy. Literally they’d insert the definition of “child soldiers” (something along the lines of, “under-aged children recruited by militia/non-state actors to fight”) whereas my study group and I were studying synonyms and rephrasing of big words. The précis writing was a joke, while the MCQs were not humanely possible to answer.

See, this is why I’m scheduling this blog post until after the actual exam starts. I don’t want to mislead applicants into thinking the précis writing section to be as easy as the 2012’s exam only to have a harder text to work on this year. Personally, I’m anticipating changes because it looks like the YPP is handled by new people as I’ve noticed a difference in the way the application process is handled.

So, there: I failed. And I most likely won’t even pass this year’s exam either…

And yet I keep coming back for more…

Like, sometimes I don’t even know why I keep coming back to the UN. The first UN YPP exam I took after:

  • A UN agency internship where I personally witnessed what I perceived to be homophobia/biphobia;
  • A class trip to UNOG where I witnessed what my classmates and I perceived to be sexism in the boys’ club—way to lose one’s innocence;
  • And let’s stop pretending preferential treatment to donor states in the context of staffing/employment doesn’t happen—because you can deny it and keep it off-paper all you want, but the patterns are there. And don’t even get me started on the JPO;
  • The list goes on.

Sometimes I don’t even know why I bother.

Sometimes it feels like a pathetic gambling addiction.

Sometimes I feel like those women (and some men) who keep coming back to their abusive partners out of some sort messed-up codependency issue, and I’m too smart to be that girl! And yet I keep applying to the UN YPP despite the disillusionment, and will likely keeping doing so until I grow too old for it.

But I can assure you that this isn’t about me being bitter over not passing the exam year after year. It’s not about me winning or losing, I’m just concerned and I don’t think the way the UN’s running the YPP is working in its best interest.

Cut to the chase already, Ms. Djojowasito… You’re rambling like a self-effacing senior UN bureaucrat with their self-deprecating banter

Okay, so the 2012 UN YPP’s MCQ section’s questions were lame (I wouldn’t know about the 2013 exam, though, because Inspira hated me that year). Not just talking about the trick questions, but the questions in general (in case you haven’t seen the questions some members of the Facebook group remembered, you can take a look here and here). The much-discussed-and-debated [at the study groups on Facebook] trick question at the 2012 UN YPP is a great illustration of what’s wrong with the kind of questions the UN is asking applicants:

Which is older: the Arab League (both established AND protocol signed in 1945) or Organization of American States (charter officially signed 1948, but idea conceived as early as 1800’s and circa 1890 the organization that would eventually be renamed OAS was established. And no, it doesn’t work like League of Nations versus the current UN because the original was not disbanded and replaced, but merely renamed).

I can understand you asking which countries are classified as LDC, which countries are non-permanent members of the UNSC in a given year, which peacekeeping missions are ongoing, latest member state… I can even tolerate you asking us which micro-state just submerged in past fortnight!

But establishment years?

Marlon Brando is not impressed
Marlon Brando is not impressed

What next, 243 types of tobacco ash? I don’t think you should even be asking about Nobel Peace Prizes, honestly. And with all due respect, and may Dag Hammarskjöld rest in peace, but you can’t serious be asking us which Secretary-General passed while in office? Come on!

I’ve always kind of imagined the P1–P2 position would entail getting down-and-dirty, gaining field cred (if not working at the grassroots level, probably the person responsible for dealing directly with local populations in the field on a day-to-day basis, reporting to the head office people). So… Why are you asking applicants all these ‘ivory tower’-ish questions? Because beneficiaries care what year some obscure-to-them regional organisation was established? Right.

I get studying organisational history in school—good to know, lots to learn from it, and that stuff can be truly fascinating. I personally, I absolutely love that stuff! My father got me a copy of Stanley Meisler’s “United Nations: The First Fifty Years” during a business trip and it is a juicy book to relish. Fascinating stuff!

But these are not questions you want to be asking as part of a recruitment process.

What kind of zombies are you aiming to hire by asking such questions?!

Like, why would you want employees that know that have those kinds of facts memorised instead of people who can think on their feet, who are creative, rational, and have excellent problem-solving skills and come up with brilliant solutions?

Ironically, these skills are tested in the SP (essay) section that doesn’t get checked before you pass the passing grade for the GP (which consists of these MCQs and the précis writing test).

See, this is why makes so little sense to me:

When one purchases a computer or gadget, what do they buy? They mostly pay for hardware specs and software. They do not buy data (the buyer/owner inputs relevent data, based on their specific needs). Hiring employees is essentially the act of acquiring brain power, a set of skills, and relevant applicable knowledge/experience in a person. You’re not supposed to hire them for their knowledge of irrelevant data which do not reflect their abilities that are useful to you. In fact, in some cases, employers should be the ones providing the data for the recruit to process.

Here’s second example: Imagine UN YPP applicants as actors. Inspira is a talent agent (its algorithm weeds out actors in its roster who do not fit a certain age range, look, and lack required skills to submit to casting directors). The written exam as a casting office. Now, auditions are meant for actors to demonstrate their acting abilities (you’re given your sides, and given a chance to demonstrate how you interpret the script). So imagine if casting assistants (as the MCQ section) were to stand at the door, like bouncers, and quiz you on things like, “who won an X award for Y category in Z year?”

Uuuh... Lemme think... IDK, that guy who thought indigenous peoples are more important than a stupid little meaningless-to-humanity golden paper weight?
Uuuh… Lemme think… IDK, that guy who thought indigenous peoples are more important than a stupid little meaningless-to-humanity golden paper weight?

And imagine if you couldn’t answer the casting assistant’s questions, you wouldn’t be allowed in the casting room. Now, explain to me how that’s a solution to making a great film or good telly?

At least Ravenclaw’s door knocker asks thought-provoking questions that test your reasoning, not a load of mind-numbing useless dates (and the door knocker’s questions/riddles don’t come in a format that allows the lucky-yet-foolish to pass through).

You see why I’m having such a hard time understanding the choice of questions for the exam? Unless this is what you’re trying to achieve in your recruitment:

I mean it sucks to not pass an exam, but at the same time, when I don’t pass, I don’t feel too bad because getting called back to the next level (the oral exams/interview) would have meant that I’ve passed from been tested for all the wrong things anyway.

Merits

To be fair, though… Not the entire exam was ridic and I did really enjoy answering some of the 2012 Social Affairs questions like, “what is the difference between gender and sex?”

So it does have its redeeming qualities. LOL.

Mia’s Surprisingly Not-So-Evil Motivation

This blog post is a suicide mission (see: the part where my kamikaze soul points out how I perceive the UN to be can be a workplace that can be homophobic/sexist too). And judging by the very existence of the MCQs, HR probably prefers to hire the submissive rather than the subversive…

Which is to say, that the UN might want to decide to blacklist me from employment in the future after reading this. And that’s kind of fine by me. Kind of… But I thought it would be worth it.

I normally wouldn’t criticise an employer in public like this. Like, normally, if I see something racist or culturally-insensitive, I’ll just alert a superior in private or in MS Word comments. But discreetly alerting superiors is only possible when you’re already employed by said organisation. And I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m biting the hand that feeds me (I’ve worked as a contractor for two UN agencies and interned for one in the past).

I generally like to make the organisations I work for look good and I don’t publicly humiliate them, so I typically do the criticising behind-the-scenes, but…

How do you criticise an entire recruitment process and make sure you’re heard? That’s why Kate Monster on “Avenue Q” sings, “the internet is really, really greeeaaat…” Ahem!

I’m posting this not to mean, it’s supposed to be constructive criticism. Because I know and trust the UN does try to improve the process and learns from their mistakes. For instance:

  • In 2012, applicants have been warned to submit applications before nearing deadlines as Inspira tends to get overloaded during YPP season. I’m sure most of us can understand if the UN doesn’t have a budget to ensure Inspira performs (this file was on the State Department’s site, okay? It’s called “Google”, don’t sue me) better during ‘peak season’, but at least they’re addressing it and managing by encouraging applicants to submit applications before the deadline nears.
  • In previous years, a load of applicants complained about not receiving their convocation/rejection letters. This year, they’ve included a link to a Google form in their email for applicants to confirm that they have received their emails.

HR in fact is trying to make improvements to the process. My understanding is that they currently want to “eliminate” the GP, but is keeping MCQs (which would then be shifted as part of the SP). My suggestion would be: Ask better questions? Even if the MCQs are JO-specific, please don’t ask pointless questions?

And please don’t let that grading miscommunication mishap thing that happened to my friends in India happen again. That was awful and devastating for them, it was my friend’s last year/chance qualifying too.

I wouldn’t have bothered posting this blog post if I didn’t think the UN could somehow benefit from it (unlike the lost cause that is the Indonesian film/television industry who refuse to improve casting processes and insist on carrying on with discriminative practices like forcing talent to reveal their biological age because they’re too lazy to use their imaginations like proper creative workers). I’m posting this for your consideration.

The UN pisses me off but I don’t actually hate it enough to self-destruct and become a source of my schadenfreude. Because what I do when I really hate something or someone is, I don’t criticise them, leave them be, and instead I quietly watch them crumble. But I’m not doing that now. I guess I kind of care. I’m only doing this because I love you.

I will sit the exam any year I’m convoked—and I will apply every year Indonesia is a participating country, and will take it seriously. But seriously, you guys, I had to say this. I probably won’t pass again this year, and I won’t until I get too old for the YPP. But the least I can do is make the process a little better. Consider this rant my contribution.

Also, can UNESCO please stop pouring so much its energy, focus, and resources into the past? Sure, preservation is nice. But I really think they should be preventing what’s to come in the future. They should start talking about diversity, representation, and issues like myopic Hollywood’s whitewashing in modern-day film/television. But I digress—that’s an entire this-pisses-me-off-big-time issue for a another separate blog post.

So, jah. To quote “Burn After Reading“:

“Report back to me when it makes sense.”

And 2,994,896,001 points for Ravenclaw.

Note: Brando GIF is not mine. If it's yours, let me know. I'll credit.

December 3 and December 4 updates!

This:

Why. The rules keep changing every year and this email came in at around 22:00–23:00 Western Indonesian time on December 2, 2014. I can’t even. Naturally, I email them:

Dear Person-in-Charge:

Are the email with my application number and the conviction letter two different things? I thought the email was my convocation letter? I only received an email without an attachment.

Best regards,

-Mia

The PIC forwarded the email and CC-ed me. And then:

Dear PIC,

Thank you for forwarding the concern to your colleagues. Please find attached a photo of my printed-out email. As you can see, the email ends with “please print out and bring this letter with you to the examination” (with no mention of attachments). That implies that the email is considered the convocation letter. So I assumed the email is the letter.

I know this wasn’t the case in 2012 where they actually attached a PDF to print out, but there have been changes in other areas of the application process in 2013 and 2014, and I assumed this was simply a change.

Hope that helped.

Best regards,

-Mia

So there. Another issue, please. For everyone’s sake. For everyone’s own good.

December 4:

I think I’m totally going to get away with this blog post:

Ahahah! I still remember some of the questions from the exam. I might type them up later in MS Word and upload it here (along with the checklist/instructions they email). The MCQs are part of the SP now (they’re JO-specific, not the general “International Affairs” stuff). The questions are more relevant, but there are still establishment years… The bane of my existence.

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