What I admire about Médecins Sans Frontières

5 min | News
Profile of John-Bethall.jpg

John Bethell

February 29, 2012

Why Médecins Sans Frontières has a world-class 'Employment Brand'

I admire Médecins Sans Frontières enormously. I admire them for their humanitarian mission, for their no-nonsense attitude towards getting things done but most of all I admire them for their courage. 

Medecins Sans Frontieres

What fascinates me the most as a professional recruiter is how they manage to attract people with their employment proposition. I am acutely aware of what you might call the “fill-ability” of a vacant role.

So, how do they do it?

This usually boils down to a couple of key factors:

  • How attractive is this role given the salary, job satisfaction, work conditions, location, perks, etc?

  • How tight are the selection criteria? i.e. how wide is the likely pool of candidates based on the mandatory skills and experience required, and how high is the quality bar set by the employer?

Considering these factors Médecins Sans Frontières appears to defy gravity, breaking many of the rules of workforce supply and demand. Their staff are called upon to work in challenging conditions and their extremely rigorous recruitment process rejects far more applicants than they accept. And yet, at any one time Médecins Sans Frontières has over 24,000 field staff helping people caught in crises throughout the world.

At Wavelength, we have been raising and donating money to Médecins Sans Frontières for a few years now. Recently we offered to help them find Australian doctors willing to join their ranks. We advertise a lot of medical jobs but I can barely remember a campaign that stimulated more interest and excitement amongst our doctors.

What is the “magic sauce” that allows Médecins Sans Frontières to attract people so successfully?

I attended a Stephen Covey seminar a few years ago where Stephen asked the audience, “How many of you think that you have a high level of employee engagement in your organisation?” It was a room full of enlightened, ‘highly effective’ people - the majority raised their hand. He then re-phrased the question as a hypothetical, “If you told your staff on Friday that, from next week they would be working unpaid, how many of you would have a full office on Monday?” Not so many volunteers now (no pun intended).

I genuinely believe that the CEO of Médecins Sans Frontières is one person that could confidently keep their hand up in that room. Even Google does not have that kind of employment brand despite the gourmet lunches and rivers of M&Ms.

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