This article was written in collaboration with members of secretariate who have interviewed over 1000 chairs between them.
Many say that it is the chair who makes the Model UN conference. A bad chair leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth and makes us feel like we wasted our weekend. A good chair can leave us inspired, energized and with a drive to be better at future Model UNs and life as a whole. For this reason, every secretariat wants to have the best chairs at their conference.What makes a best chair? Sometimes it’s experience, sometimes it’s gravitas and sometimes it is that perfect blend between a teacher's, a captain and a judge. However, some first time chairs are not less impressive due to common sense, clear judgement, intuition and a drive to do right by the delegates and themselves.
They say finding a good chair is like finding the love of your life, it’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it.
Mathew Kielstra, USG Chairing 2015
When you receive an email inviting you to an interview you know that your application was successful, so far. An interview for a Model United Nations chairing position is in many ways like any other job interview. However, in some ways a Model UN interview is different in that it requires you to show knowledge about the rules of Model UN and intricacies of the game, as well as good judgement, a cool head and interpersonal abilities. The following guide will give you many options of questions that are commonly asked and some tips for how to come better prepared and how to show that you are qualified, both academically and as a responsible team player who can show empathy and good judgement. It should be noted that newer chairs are not expected to know everything in the academics department but enthusiasm, openness and willingness to learn are often enough to show the secretariat that they want your Model UN career to start at their conference.
Knowledge of current events Basic understanding of the United Nations Understanding of Model United Nations Knowledge of the Rules of Procedure
Method of taking notes / tracking debate Criteria for choosing awards
Room management Methods of making delegates feel included and comfortable
How you deal with uncomfortable situations
How you deal with uncomfortable situations
How you deal with uncomfortable situations
Many of the above questions are less exciting to prepare for than “Superman vs. Iron man,” but they are generally what you need to be ready for.Most aspiring chair do not prepare for specific questions so this list alone can give you a leg up. Study the list carefully and have general ideas of the answers ready. Make sure they are not robotically rehearsed so that you can speak naturally, comfortably and confidently.However, to really nail the interview, you will need to follow the strategies below to go beyond just answering the questions above to really make an impression and ace the interview.
1. Identify Your USP
A USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is what makes you unique. This is important because most Undersecretaries of Chairing / Academics / Personnel interview many candidates and sometimes many many candidates. Usually, at the end of the interview the chairing staff need to go back to their notes to remember the applicants, with the exception being those who stand out.
Sometimes your USP will be your voice or the way you dress. However, better USP’s are if they are impressed with your academic abilities, work ethic of a memorable story. When you can wow them in some way that sticks out that already moves you to the top of the list.
2. Know the Position You’re Applying For
Get to know the job Model UN position that you’re applying for. There is a difference between being a head chair and a first-time trainee vice chair / co-chair. Knowing how many chair positions are open per committee can help you prepare yourself to best fit one of the positions.
Don’t prepare to be just a general chair but think where within the mechanism you see yourself fitting. When you interview, frame your answers so that you show your specific fit for the type of chairing, and possibly committee, that you are aiming for.
3. Know What Makes You An Excelent Fit
Most committees want at least one main chair who is very experienced and can manage the room well. For advanced rooms, the conference may want two strong chairs and a strong vice chair. International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court positions generally want delegates with experience in those committees, or law students. The same goes for crisis committees.
If you interned at UNESCO, are did the World Health Organization three times, this could justify why you are uniquely suited for that specific room. Make sure to convey that during the interview. What makes you special? Whatever it might be, know it and wave it into your responses.
4. Know the Conference
Some Model UN conferences focus more on the social aspect, some of the city, some on the quality of the chairs and some on their similarity to the United Nations procedure.
No matter how prepared you are to talk about yourself or your chairing experience, not knowing the essentials of the conference you’re interviewing for conveys a lack of interest and preparation. You can’t show an USG chairing how you’ll fit at the conference until you know the conference.
Before your interview, see if this Model UN conference is known for anything specific. Most of the time they will simply want the best chairing staff they can find. Make sure you know the basics and prepare to answer accordingly.
5. Research your USG Chairing
Model UN is not a large community. Chances are that someone you know knows someone who has worked with whoever is hiring the chairs for the conference. While not always essential, knowing if this person is a stickler for Rules of Procedure, or requires all chairs to take notes on the delegates speeches could be the difference between acceptance and rejection or getting the spot you want in the committee you want.
The secretariat member in charge of selecting the chairs is usually one of two things. They are usually either a final year student / active member in their society or area merit based import from the larger Model UN community. If they are a final year student / active member it is likely that someone delegates or chaired with them at previous conferences. You can also ask other chairs who were on the same staff. If they are Model Un celebrities, of sorts, it should be even easier to find people who know them.
Once you find a reliable source, ask them what types of delegating they respect, tips about their chairing style or whatever else comes to mind. Just because it is Model UN does not mean that preparation should be taken any less seriously than for an internship interview. Sometimes you will get more out of a Model Un conference and should definitely have more fun.
6. Prepare Follow-Up Answers
Follow-Up Answer are the answers to questions that usually beg a second question after your initial answer. For example, if you say you are especially good at writing guides for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the interviewer might ask for an example of a topic you chose that shows this to be true.
Taking this step to the next level is answering questions like “What are your strengths” with a strength that begs a follow up that can lead into a story. This type of preparation will help you develop your USP, avoid awkward silences and minimize uncertainty. Having Follow-Up Answers will also build your confidence prior to the interview and have you more prepared for surprises.
7. Practice, Practice and -- wait for it – Practice!
Even after completing steps 1 – 6 you know that you, and everyone else interviewing to be a chair, can already expect some of the questions what will be asked. The difference is going to be the preparation. A unique and position-specific response will be what gives you the competitive edge. This does not mean you should memorize answers, but you should know certain points of reference about yourself and general lines of answers for different types of questions.
If it’s one of your first times, “mock interview” yourself. You can even video your responses and rinse and repeat until you are able to speak comfortably and confidently. Videoing yourself may feel awkward at first. Keep in mind that most Model UN interviews are on skype so some of your presence, and nervousness might be hidden while other parts may be enhanced. All this may seem strange but it will pay off during your interview.
Not being relaxed during the interview could undermine all of your preparation. It is essential to be yourself and show the best parts of you. Also, if the interviewers feel you are nervous in front of them how will you manage in front of 47 delegates in the Human Rights Council.
Showing nerves or anxiety appears cannot compare with a relaxed smile and genuine self confidence. Starting with a smile will not only boost your confidence but also put others at ease and is a simple trick to start off on the right foot.
9. Stay Positive
While seemingly obvious, staying positive can be difficult when trying to show that you have a good academic understanding, as well as people skills, experience and everything else you are trying to get across. Also, Model UN chairing staff are often experiences Model UNers, which means they have experience reading people. They also have conference experience and could ask you specific questions about an issue that happened in a committee you were part of a semester ago. However, even in these cases, where you are telling a story that doesn’t show you in the best light don’t panic. Being able to say these things in a straightforward manner is exactly what they want to see in you. Show the interviewers that you can maintain a positive attitude even as you show Model United Nations expertise, and they will see the flexible, talented and resilient individual they’re looking for.
10. Honesty is the Best Policy
If the member of the secretariat will have a way of getting to the core of who you are. They will often have a sense of reading people and may also have a talent for asking the right questions. In either case it is important that you approach the interview with honesty.
Chairing a MUN committee effectively is not easy or simple. The secretariat often understand that we all need to get our start somewhere and are looking for good genuine people, not a checklist of answers. Do not focus on what they want to hear. Instead be genuine about why you are a good candidate by being the real you.
Truth of the matter is that even after these 10 steps interviewing is still tough. Sometimes it is difficult to show who we are in a face to face chat so all the more reason to be nervous about a 10 minute skype interview.
Remember that in the end we are all here to have fun and help each other move forward within the complex Model UN family that we are part of. Also, these same interview techniques will help with further interviews in life. Model UN is a safe place to practice all of the things stated above and you will find the process getting easier with each interview. For those reading this, whether it is your first interview or you are a veteran who just wants to see it all in one place, stay calm, focus on the prize and make your interview a great one.