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How to get a job at the UN

At some point in their academic or professional careers, those with a strong moral compass, a desire for international humanitarianism and an optimistic hope for peaceful coexistence have at least once considered joining the United Nations. Unfortunately, that thought process usually ends at the “consideration” point, because most people aren’t sure of where to begin to even get a foot in the door at the UN. Not even the UN’s own website makes it entirely clear what all is available to you. It may surprise you to learn that this is not as difficult a feat as it may seem, and there is ample opportunity at every turn for you to become a part of this prestigious organization.

Read more: 5 free United Nations online courses you can take anywhere, anytime

There are a few basic requirements to getting into the UN, so before you begin looking at specific opportunities, it is important that you have the following: a command of at least one working language, which include English and French; an advanced degree from a university; ideally prior work experience; and professional experience depending on the level at which you hope to enter. It doesn’t hurt to know another language outside of the core UN languages, but that isn’t a requirement for most of the available jobs. If you’ve ticked off these boxes, you can begin to explore more specific opportunities within the UN.

UN Internship Programme

The Internship Programme is perhaps the simplest programme to enter because it has the lowest level of entry requirements to join. There are more than 4,000 interns in New York alone, demonstrating how simple it may be to get in while showcasing numbers that have grown exponentially in recent years. To become a part of this programme, you need a master’s degree or Ph. D., but you may also qualify in some instances if you are in your last year of a bachelor’s programme. In most cases, your internship will last between two and six months.

While you don’t get reimbursed for expenses as an intern in most cases, we only recommend to apply for the paid internships. There are groups working to change this to help get internships better pay, both in the United Nations and beyond. In some cases, you will find autonomous programmes within the UN that pay their interns well. Furthermore, there are different national internship programmes that are funded by national governments that will help the intern receive pay for their time.

Read more: United Nations Paid Internships and UN Organizations that pay an internship stipend

UN Volunteer Programme

Similar to an internship programme, the volunteer service requires low-entry skills. There are more than 7,700 volunteers across 86 countries involved in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations as well as assisting in international development projects, and many of these projects come from various developing countries.

The programme allows you to gain knowledge that can be transferred to work in other similar fields. It is important to note that the UN makes clear that any potential volunteers have a better chance of being accepted into the programme if they have diverse technical and professional backgrounds, and there are certain backgrounds and areas of expertise where certain volunteers are valued and requested more often. It also goes without saying that those who apply for and become volunteers within the United Nations should be prepared to be sent off to various regions of the world, and the ability to adapt to fast-changing working and living circumstances is a necessary skill.

Short-term contracts lasting a few months and long-term assignments that extend past 12 months are available as a volunteer. Those volunteering must be at least 25 years old in order to get financial support, an annual leave, a volunteer living allowance and basic insurance.

Junior Professional Officer Programme

More competitive than the intern and volunteer programmes, the JPO position is sponsored by local governments and is available if your government offers this opportunity. Positions within these programmes are more competitive in nature than the other two choices previously mentioned, and the participants are assigned to one of the country offices that play a role in assisting developing countries.

Junior Professional Officer positions are each funded by the officers’ national governments, and those who successfully apply and are accepted will be given a one-year fixed-term contract that will often be renewed for an additional year-long contract at the end if the performance of the officer is deemed satisfactory. There are certain governments that even offer assignments for as long as four years, and the pay that you will receive will align with those who are in entry-level positions within the United Nations.

JPOs are offered one-year contracts that can be renewed for those who are younger than 32 years of age and have a master’s degree or an equivalent degree in a discipline that is related to development. A minimum of two years’ experience working as a paid professional in a relative field is also required, especially if that experience comes from working in a developing country. Written and spoken proficiency in one of the three official working languages of the UN, including French, Spanish or English, is often required. Soft skills like strategic, critical thinking and a commitment to the work of development are a plus.

Young Professionals Programme

Through the YPP, young professionals can begin a career serving as a civil servant on an international level. The position requires an entrance exam and follows up with professional development programmes once successful applicants have begun their work at the United Nations. The programme also has the highest level of skills required to join the field.

In order to begin your path toward becoming a Young Professional within the UN, you need to make sure that your country is currently participating in the annual recruitment exercise, because participants change from year to year. Once you have confirmed this, you will need to carefully review the different job openings that are available for the exam area that you have an interest in. You can find these job openings listed on the YPP website.

Finally, you can begin to apply to the job opening of your choice through the online application portal known as Inspira. The application will be looked over to determine whether or not you are qualified to take the exam for obtaining the position. If you are successful applying, you will receive a notification that states you have been invited to take the exam to hopefully advance into the position within the United Nations that you have applied for.

The Young Professionals Programme is similar to the Junior Professionals Officer Programme in that applicants must be younger than 32 years old. Candidates must also have at the very least a first-level degree from a university in a field that has relevancy to one of the exam areas. These areas include Public Information, Finance, Administration, Statistics, Legal Affairs and Social Affairs. You must also be fluent in either French or English. The requirements are overall a little less intensive than the formal position, but while work experience isn’t mentioned directly in the requirements, it will help set you apart from other applicants in the field, especially when there are many to choose from.

As you can see, although you rarely see the opportunities at the United Nations displayed in a clear and straightforward manner, there are a variety of different positions you can apply for. The first two items mentioned, being the volunteer and internship positions, are the ones that will better suit those who aren’t entirely sure if a career in the UN is the right fit for them. The Junior Professional Officer and Young Professional Officer positions may be better suited for those who know that they want to gain a career at the UN.

Sometimes, even if you know exactly what sort of work you want to do for the United Nations and are qualified for a position, the nature of such work is competitive enough that it will require plenty of dedication, effort and persistence to ensure you land the job. Whether you are striving for a simple internship position or want to be a part of the Young Professionals Programme, patience and passion will take you a long way on your path toward your goals.

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About the author

Human Rights Careers

Human Rights Careers (HRC) aims to help human rights students, recent graduates and young professionals to pursue a career in the highly competitive field of human rights.