Back UNHCR Interview Questions: Core Values and Competencies

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an organization that demands the highest standards of integrity, professionalism, and respect for diversity from its staff. Preparing for an interview with UNHCR means understanding the core values and competencies that are pivotal to their mission. In this article, we explore some of the most popular interview questions that reflect these values, offering insights into what UNHCR looks for in its team members.

Core Value: Integrity

Integrity is at the heart of UNHCR's mission, requiring a deep commitment and respect for all individuals. Here are some questions to anticipate:

  • Professional or Ethical Dilemma: Expect to discuss a time you faced a tough ethical decision at work. Reflect on your feelings, the specific situation, and how you resolved it.
  • Defending Organizational Decisions: Be prepared to describe a scenario where you defended an unpopular organizational decision, emphasizing your approach and what you might have done differently.
  • Observing Unprofessional Behavior: You might be asked about times you witnessed unethical conduct, focusing on your response, the implications, and your likelihood of taking action.

Core Value: Professionalism

Professionalism in UNHCR involves demonstrating resilience and knowledge in challenging situations.

  • Overcoming Obstacles in a Project: Share experiences where you navigated through difficulties to achieve success in a project, highlighting the challenges and your specific actions.
  • Working Under Pressure: Describe how you handled working under intense pressure and the lessons learned from these experiences.
  • Implementing Ideas Despite Opposition: Discuss a time when you successfully convinced others to accept your idea in the face of strong resistance.

🚩 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐍𝐨𝐰: 𝐏𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐓𝐞𝐜𝐡𝐧𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐬 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐚 𝐣𝐨𝐛 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐔𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐍𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐍𝐎𝐖!

Core Value: Respect for Diversity

Respect for diversity is critical in UNHCR's global mission.

  • Collaboration Across Diverse Backgrounds: Be ready to provide examples of how you have worked effectively with people from various backgrounds and the importance of such collaborations.
  • Considering Different Perspectives: Discuss instances where you had to consider viewpoints different from your own and what you learned from these experiences.

Core Competencies

UNHCR also evaluates candidates based on specific competencies like accountability, teamwork, communication, and commitment to continuous learning.

1. Accountability:

  • Challenging Policy Decisions: You may be asked about times you went against policy, focusing on your reasoning and the consequences.
  • Taking Responsibility: Be ready to discuss instances where taking responsibility for your actions was crucial.

2. Teamwork and Collaboration:

  • Effective Teamwork: Reflect on your role in a highly effective team and the key elements that contributed to its success.
  • Balancing Personal and Team Goals: Expect questions about how you handle conflicts between personal objectives and team goals.

3. Communication:

  • Influential Communication: Prepare to talk about situations where your communication skills significantly impacted a scenario.
  • Explaining Complex Concepts: You might be asked to describe times you had to explain complex ideas to others, emphasizing your approach and the outcomes.

4. Commitment to Continuous Learning:

  • Proactive Learning: Share experiences where you actively sought to expand your knowledge and the impacts of this pursuit.
  • Keeping Up with Industry Advances: Discuss how you stay updated with the latest developments in your field.

5. Client and Result Orientation:

  • Assessing Client Needs: Be prepared to talk about your experience in understanding and meeting client needs, especially in complex scenarios involving multiple stakeholders.

6. Organizational Awareness:

  • Engaging with Diverse Teams: Describe times when you successfully involved various colleagues or partners in a project and the strategies you used to ensure buy-in.

Interview Questions


Demonstrates the highest level of commitment to and respect for persons of concern to UNHCR, partners and colleagues in all aspects of work and ensures that personal professional behaviour is of the highest standard.

Q. Tell me about a time when you faced a professional or ethical dilemma at work.

 What was the specific situation?

 How did you feel?

 How did you resolve the dilemma?

Q. Please give an example of when you had to defend an organizational decision to others who did not agree with the viewpoint.

 What was the specific situation?

 Why did you defend the situation?

 What did you say/do that was particularly effective?

 What might you have done differently?

Q. Tell us about a time when you observed others working in an unprofessional/unethical manner.

 What was unprofessional or unethical about their behaviour?

 What did you specifically do about their behaviour?

 What were the implications of taking action?

 How did you deal with the possible consequences?

 How likely are you to take action compared with your colleagues?

🚩 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐍𝐨𝐰: 𝐏𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐓𝐞𝐜𝐡𝐧𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐬 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐚 𝐣𝐨𝐛 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐔𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐍𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐍𝐎𝐖!


Behaves in a way which is appropriate to a UNHCR staff member, demonstrating self-control, perseverance, and resilience in the face of pressure or adversity, and demonstrating knowledge on relevant subject matter and skills.

Q. Tell us about a project where you achieved success despite some obstacles making it difficult for you to proceed as planned.

 What was the goal of the project?

 What were the challenges you had to overcome?

 What specifically did you do to ensure you were successful?

 Would you do anything differently another time?

Q. Describe a situation where you had to work under pressure.

 What was the reason for the pressure?

 How did you deal with it?

 What was the outcome?

 What did you learn from this?

Q. Tell us about a time when you were successful in getting one of your ideas acted upon despite strong opposition.

 What made you successful?

 Why was there opposition?

 Why was it important for you to get this idea accepted?

 Is there anything you would do differently another time?

Respect for Diversity

Shows respect for all persons equally without distinction whatsoever of race, gender, religion, national or ethnic origin, language, marital status, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, disability, political conviction, or any other distinguishing feature (e.g. HIV status).

Q. Give an example of a situation in which your work entailed bringing together people from a wide range of backgrounds and ideas.

 Why was this important?

 What was your method for encouraging/ensuring this collaboration?

 What was the outcome?

 Would you do anything differently another time?

Professionalism can also be used as a Competency to reflect a particular expertise needed for a position

Q. Describe a situation that required you to consider a different perspective to your own when exploring an issue.

 What did you learn from the experience?

 How do you think you could improve your ability to see issues from a different perspective?

 How do you rate your ability relative to your peers?

 What do you see as key to effectively viewing issues from an alternative perspective?

Q. Please tell us about a situation in which you pursued a course of action which had to take into consideration the sensitivities of external parties.

 What were the issues?

 What did you specifically do to handle the situation?

 What was the outcome?



Assumes responsibility for the delivery of high quality outcomes, in both good and bad times, upholding the values and principles of UNHCR; demonstrates the ability and drive to maintain focus on positive outcomes for persons of concern despite difficulties this may pose for self and team. Demonstrates security awareness.

L1 - Sees tasks through to completion with professional integrity

L2 - Makes decisions appropriate to the position and takes responsibility for professional obligations

L3 -Works to support directly reporting staff in the fulfilment of their responsibilities; monitors delegated tasks; client focus (clients at this level are both internal and external)

L4 - Carries out an effective management of resources under shifting priorities to meet expected results at or above UNHCR standards; external client focus

Q. Tell us about a time when you went against a policy?

 Why did you do that?

 How did you handle it?

 What were the repercussions for you?

Q. Can you give an example of a time when it was particularly important for you to take responsibility for your actions

 What had you done that required this action?

 Why was this important?

 How did you make this known to others?

Teamwork and Collaboration

Demonstrates the ability to work effectively with colleagues and partners from different backgrounds, cultures and functions, to achieve shared goals and optimize results

L1 -Participates in team/unit projects, performs assigned work

L2 -Engages well with peers and immediate work group to ensure overall team assignments are successful as needed

L3 -Actively promotes a sense of team by one's own actions; ensures staff contributions are recognized

L4 -Works to ensure the best possible environment for collaboration and knowledge sharing, leading by example

Q. Describe a time where you worked in a highly effective team.

 What was the reason for its effectiveness?

 What was your role within the team?

 What did you contribute towards it being effective

 What key elements would you wish to find in any future team you work in?

Q. Tell us about a time when your personal objectives were at odds with those of other members of the team

 How did you react?

 What was the outcome?

 How do you balance competing personal and team goals?

Q. Give an example of a time when you had to deal with a conflict within a team?

 What did you do to resolve the situation?

 How did you rebuild rapport within the team?

 How did you assess the success of your efforts?

Q. Please tell us about a time when it was important to build relationships with other members of the team.

 Why was this important?

 How did you approach this task?

 What challenges did you face?

 What advice would you give others wanting to foster more collaboration in a team?

🚩 𝗗𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿 𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗚𝗲𝘁 𝗮 𝗝𝗼𝗯 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡! 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗡𝗘𝗪 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗚𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡 2024 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝘀𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗨𝗡𝗛𝗖𝗥, 𝗪𝗙𝗣, 𝗨𝗡𝗜𝗖𝗘𝗙, 𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗦𝗦, 𝗨𝗡𝗙𝗣𝗔, 𝗜𝗢𝗠 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀!


Is sensitive, compelling and clear in formal and informal communication, which encourage engagement and contribution to improved outcomes for all the involved stakeholders. Demonstrates behavioural flexibility in engaging colleagues, partners and persons of concern of different cultural backgrounds, gender, or with different objectives; has well developed listening skills; explains complex matters in an informative, inspiring and motivational way

L1 –Listens and conveys information clearly

L2 –Engages in daily communication with peers and immediate work colleagues successfully

L3 –Pursues open channels of communication with other teams and relevant partners, and actively promotes ideas and manages information flow.

L4 –Identifies and shapes the area of responsibility’s message to internal and external partners; implements communication strategy

Q.Tell us about a situation where your communication skills made a difference to a situation?

 What was the situation?

 How did you make that difference?

 What specific techniques did you use?

 What feedback did you get on your effort?

Q. Please describe a situation where you had to explain something complex to a colleague or client.

 What was complex about the situation?

 Which problems did you encounter?

 How did you deal with them?

Q. Describe a time when you had to adapt your communication approach to suit the group you were addressing.

 Who were you addressing?

 Why was it important to adapt your approach?

 How did you ensure you were understand?


Q.Please give us an example of where your listening skills proved crucial to an outcome.

 Why was it important?

 What did you do to make a difference to the outcome?

 What do you consider the main elements of effective listening?

Q. Tell us about a time when you were asked to summarise complex points.

 What were the circumstances where this was necessary?

 What did you do to ensure your summary was accurate?

 How did you verify this?

Q. Please tell us about a situation where it was important for you to show empathy?

 What was the situation?

 Why was this so important?

 What did you do to ensure the other party understood?

Q. Please give an example of when it was important for you to clearly communicate an organizational objective.

 Why was it important?

 What factors did you feel were important to address?

 How did you make sure you were understood?

 What was the outcome?

Q. Please give an example of where one of your reports was negatively received.

 Why was this?

 From whom did the criticism come?

 Did you feel it was justified?

 What did you do as a result of this?

Commitment to Continuous Learning

Recognizes the importance of continuous learning and sharing as key components for organisational flexibility and responsiveness to a constantly evolving environment

L1 -Exhibits self-awareness and need for development

L2 -Takes time to assist others with their needs, encourages growth, builds confidence

L3 -Allocates resources for professional development opportunities for staff, encourages coaching and knowledge sharing across units and with partners

L4 -Cultivates a learning environment for staff to operate in; making efforts to share his/her own insights and knowledge when appropriate

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Q. Tell us about a time when you proactively decided to expand your knowledge on a certain subject.

 Why did you do this?

 What did you need to do to make this happen?

 What was the result of the action you took?

 What feedback did you receive?

Q. Describe a situation when colleagues sought your advice or experience.

 What had you done to be an authority?

 To what extent could you answer their questions?

 What was their reaction?

 How did you ensure that the information you gave was up to date?

Q. How do you keep up with advances in your field?

 How important is it for you to keep up to date professionally?

 How much time do you spend doing this?

 Which specialist or technical magazines or journals do you read?

 What other methods do you use to keep up to date?

Client and Result Orientation

Understands and exceeds client needs. Ensures overall provision of quality service to internal and external clients, including persons of concern to UNHCR, through the effective management of internal and external resources to achieve results.

L1 -Works with and sets up effective relationships with clients

L2 -Contributes to successful outcomes for clients using basic project management

L3 -Focuses and drives toward meeting the client's needs

L4 -Uses position to lobby and advocate for clients

Q. Give an example of when you had to assess a client’s needs. (e.g. refugees/ IDPs)

 How did you ascertain their real needs?

 How well did you manage to meet those needs?

 Who else did you involve? (How did you involve other stakeholders?)

 What skills or tools did you use?

Q. Give us an example of a situation where you had to integrate into planning a wide variety of stakeholders’ needs or interests (explicit or implicit).

 Why was this necessary?

 How challenging was this?

 What steps did you take?

 What was the outcome?

Organizational Awareness

Understands and builds formal and informal systems within a global organisation to produce desired results. Identifies and understands relationships, constraints and pressures affecting others, and especially persons of concern, by building support and developing political acumen

L1 - Uses formal hierarchies to get tasks done

L2 - Builds support for projects and initiatives

L3 - Uses critical thinking to identify solutions through inter-relationships

L4 - Demonstrates comprehensive understanding of how the organization functions along

with well-developed political acumen

Q. Describe a situation where you needed to involve various colleagues from other sections across divisions or from within the office (or external partners or clusters).

 How did you identify that need?

 How did you ensure buy-in from all involved?

 How successful were you?

 What feedback did you receive?

Q. Describe a time when you failed to engage at the appropriate level in your organisation.

 Why was this?

 How did you handle the situation?

 What could you have done differently?

🚩 𝗗𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿 𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗚𝗲𝘁 𝗮 𝗝𝗼𝗯 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡! 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗡𝗘𝗪 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗚𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡 2024 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝘀𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗨𝗡𝗛𝗖𝗥, 𝗪𝗙𝗣, 𝗨𝗡𝗜𝗖𝗘𝗙, 𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗦𝗦, 𝗨𝗡𝗙𝗣𝗔, 𝗜𝗢𝗠 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀!

Q. Please describe a situation where you needed to build consensus across a very diverse audience (e.g. with colleagues with partners or clusters).

 Why was this important?

 How did you identify key players?

 What specifically did you do to engage them to realize your goals and objectives?

 What challenges did you face?

 What was the outcome?

In conclusion, preparing for a UNHCR interview requires a thorough understanding of the organization’s core values and competencies. Reflecting on your experiences related to these areas will not only help you in the interview but will also give you a deeper insight into whether your professional values align with those of UNHCR. Remember, authenticity and genuine reflections are key in demonstrating how you embody these essential qualities.

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