Why rosters and pools at the UN tend to fail

Of all rosters started, only a vanishing few are active. Why is that?

Over the past 20 years, the UN has established many rosters and pools, of which today a vanishing few are functional and active.

But why does it seem that UN rosters and pools never fly?

In this article, I share some of the roster and pool challenges that I have encountered. These challenges are not one-sided for the UN but equally relevant for NGOs, IFIs, and multilateral organizations.

One common general mistake is that the organization starts with a too-large roster project. Today the organization has no rosters no pools, but now they intend to quickly go all in and implement rosters for every function at every grade in every office.

I always recommend organizations to start small, with one roster, and then when it works start the up-scaling. A lasting roster requires structure and engagement both from colleagues and candidates, if the scope is too large, you risk losing engagement and fail.

I will also provide some examples of how you can mitigate these risks and ensure better and more effective rosters.

As Impactpool offers both candidate outreach and an impact-tailored pool management software, I am often invited to meet organizations in the early planning stage of their roster launch. Most of the pools are built from scratch, meaning the pool/roster is created for succession planning or growth reasons.

It is less common that I see an organization establishing rosters of candidates interviewed and alternate recommended for a job. However, when meeting organizations, this is the roster type they strive toward. 

In this article, I will write about how most rosters are established and why a vanishing few of them stay functional and active.

I can see that many rosters’ projects are started when organizations discover that their different departments repeatedly recruit similar profiles (e.g. Communications Specialists). The creation of the roster is motivated by saving transaction costs, labor costs, and time through joint recruitment efforts.

This type of roster is commonly built by creating and classifying a generic job description.

  • The job is advertised and by the use of some targeted outreach campaigns, diverse candidates apply,

  • The candidates are received and screened by HR,

  • Shortlisted candidates are then rigorously assessed. The assessment often goes beyond the normal process and includes psychometric testing, verbal reasoning, interviews, etc.

  • For some organizations, the candidates are even brought to the final recruitment and selection board for approval. When this happens, we usually are 3-6 months from when the generic job advertisement was first published.

So far, the roster project is alive and functional, but it is at this stage many rosters start to shake. The recruitment process has created a long list of strong candidates, but what to do with them now?

  • How to maintain the information that they are available and interested?

  • How to engage with the candidate without creating wrong expectations?

  • How to maintain their resumes updated?

  • How to share their profiles with other recruiters, but at the same time respect fundamental data privacy protection?

  • How to search the candidate's profiles practically?

For most rosters, the organization's solution to the above list is to create a list in an excel sheet, and when that list is created, you have reached the final last straw for the survival of the roster.

The roster will be declared dead within the next few months. 

Are you building or preparing to build a roster of silver medalists in your recruitment?

Several organizations conduct many interviews per year, but only a few I have met, have a workflow in place to roster interviewed and recommended but not selected candidates, the silver medalists.

If you plan to start this type of roster in your organization, I have a few pieces of advice.

The first one is linked to the need for a roster policy and/or guidelines. Ensure that you have worked through a clear roster policy. In my view such a document must at least include information about:

  • Who is the owner of the roster?

  • Who administers the roster?

  • What admin roles have permanent access to the roster and what organizational functions may have temporary access to the roster?

  • What type of access is granted, view, or view/edit?

  • What candidates should be invited to the roster?

  • Who invites candidates to the roster? (some organizations have an appointment board, is it the secretary of that board or someone else?)

  • What application data should be in the roster and is there any type of applicant data that will be added (interview reports, passports, health records etc)?

  • When is a candidate invited to the roster? If it is a roster of the silver medalists, how far after a concluded process must a candidate be added to the pool (I have seen cases of rosters that have died because all units have kept their silver medalists to themselves, away from the corporate roster).

  • Can one book candidates from the roster? If yes, how is a candidate booked, how many candidates can be booked simultaneously by the same hiring unit/recruiter, and how to signal to other recruiters in the organizations that a candidate is in the ongoing process?

My second tip refers to the previous part of this article: get yourself a roster management tool. Don’t go with excel. 

If you are a user of the HR module of a larger ERP vendor, make sure that the vendor defines a roster similar to how you define it. Often they don't, among international organizations a roster is defined as a list of pre-assessed and endorsed candidates that can for a certain time be hired for similar positions without a new competitive process.

Chances are that the roster definition of your ERP provider is more of what international organizations define as cluster recruitment. When you ask if the vendor offers rosters, they say yes. When you then check, they don't. The UN Secretariat is a good example of this, according to ChatGPT Inspira was launched in 2011, and ever since then, the secretariat has without success invested large funds in customizing their Peoplesoft application for rosters.

When choosing the tool, don’t only look at the filters and search, but also at the pool access . Ensure that you choose a tool where your HR team can control access to the pool. The HR team should, without having to involve a whole IT department, be able to grant simple temporary access to a hiring manager to search the pool for candidates (here is one challenge of Inspira, no one who needs access can access it).

Make also sure that you can message the candidates and that the roster is searchable on both the job and candidate levels.

I am sure, when the roster is filling up, you would like to know for what job a specific candidate has been rostered and be able to search for the candidate's nationality, gender, language skills, experience, education, skills, and country experience. You may also want to search if the candidate has experience working with a certain organization.

The picture above shows the search console of the Impactpools roster management tool.


It may sound obvious, but when you start to populate your pool, make sure that the tool offers the ability for the candidates to decide whether they want to be on the roster. The tool should also allow candidates to leave the roster when there is no interest. 

A successful roster is a living document, make sure to choose a roster management tool that allows the candidates to update their profiles with new experiences, new field assignments, etc. 

If you would like to discuss rosters in your organization, I am happy to meet. I never say no to an opportunity to learn. Just drop me an e-mail at henrik(at)impactpool.org or use the contact form below.