Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

Job Levels at International Human Rights Organizations (UN, OSCE, IOM, ICRC)

Major international organizations (IOs) working in the field of human rights employ people from all over the world with different levels of experience and education. To ease the process of hiring new staff members, IOs operate within job levels systems which delineate the minimum amount work experience and other relevant qualifications needed for a particular position. Being familiar with these levels will help you as identify vacancies that are the right fit for you and consequently increase your chances for success.

Here is a brief guide to job levels at four major human rights IOs.

United Nations Job Levels

The UN employs a great number of people, not all of whom are human rights professionals. That said, candidates with a variety of skills and degrees can find a way to contribute to the UN goals. Knowing the job levels in the UN will help you decide which category you belong in and what sort of positions you should be seeking to land your perfect UN job.

The UN differentiates among the following staff categories:

  • Professional and higher categories – marked with P or D

Professional staff members are recruited internationally. Typically, candidates are expected to have at least an undergraduate degree, combined with work experience. Some positions, however, require an advanced university degree which cannot be replaced by extensive professional experience.

Depending on the work experience needed, professional job vacancies are categorized in seven different job levels:

P-1 No work experience required. These positions are rarely advertised and are normally reserved for candidates who passed the UN Young Professionals Program.

P-2 Minimum 2 years of work experience.

P-3 Minimum 5 years of work experience.

P-4 Minimum 7 years of work experience.

P-5 Minimum 10 years of work experience.

P-6/D-1 Minimum 15 years of work experience.

P-7/D-2 More than 15 years of work experience.

Please note that D-1 and D-2 levels are the highest possible levels in the job level structure at the UN. They are designed to recruit Directors in charge of managing a particular program within the organization.

  • General Service – marked with G, TC, S, PIA, LT

The UN also advertises job posts that fall under the broad umbrella of General Service (G) in eight different job networks, including peace and security and legal matters. These vacancies call for administrative, clerical, and technical support to the UN.

Furthermore, building management and printing staff positions are characterized as Trades and Crafts (TC), Public Information Assistants with (PIA), Language Teachers with (LT), and Security with (S).

Candidates typically need to pass the General Service Test to qualify for one of these positions. There is a separate test for Security Officers.

  • National Professional Officers – marked with NO

National Professional Officers are recruited locally. The requirements are the same as for internationally-recruited professionals, meaning that all candidates must have completed at least an undergraduate university degree.

National Professional Officers are hired at five different levels:

NO-1 Minimum 1 to 2 years of work experience.

NO-2 Minimum 2 to 3 years of work experience.

NO-3 Minimum 5 years of work experience.

NO-4 Minimum 7 years of work experience.

NO-5 Over 7 years of work experience.

  • Field Service (FS)

Field Service staff are usually recruited internationally. The entry requirements are not so strict when it comes to the educational background (High School diploma may suffice); however, extensive field experience and mobility are needed for these positions.

Field Service jobs are advertised at four different levels:

FS-4 Minimum 6 years of work experience.

FS-5 Minimum 8 years of work experience.

FS-6 Minimum 10 years of work experience (decreased to 5 years for candidates with an undergraduate degree).

FS-7 Minimum 12 years of work experience (decreased to 7 years for candidates with an undergraduate degree).

  • Senior Appointments (SG, DSG, USG or ASG)

Senior appointments are the highest positions in the UN Secretariat. They are not typically advertised, but qualified candidates are appointed.

Secretary-General (SG) is appointed by the General Assembly, upon the Security Council’s recommendation.

Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) is appointed by the SG in consultation with Member States.

Under-Secretary-General (USG) is appointed by the SG. These positions are designated for Heads of Departments.

Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) is also appointed by the SG. These positions are designated for Heads of Offices.

Job openings at the United Nations are advertised on the Careers webpage.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Although it is not a part of the United Nations system, IOM follows the same job level system. That said, IOM’s compensation system, too, is in accordance with the International Civil Servant Commission’s guidance.

IOM job levels are somewhat more simple than those in the UN, as their vacancies fall under one of the two categories –  Professional or General.

  • Professional (P, D)

Staff members who are recruited in this category normally have international expertise in an area relevant to IOM’s work. Positions are offered at levels P-1 (no work experience needed) to P-5 (minimum of 10 years of work experience necessary). In addition, IOM also has available vacancies for Directors at D-1 level (minimum 15 years of work experience needed).

  • General Service (G)

Candidates who have the necessary skills and expertise to provide the organization with administrative, financial, or technical support are recruited under the General Service category. IOM advertises General Service positions at the following levels:

G1 No work experience is necessary

G2 Minimum 2 years of work experience is needed.

G3 Minimum 3 years of work experience is needed.

G4 Minimum 4 years of work experience is needed.

G5 Minimum 5 years of work experience is needed.

G6 Minimum 6 years of work experience is needed.

G7 Minimum 7 years of work experience is needed.

An important difference between IOM and UN job levels is that IOM offers only two types of contracts:

  • Fixed-term contracts that last for one year and
  • Special, short-term contracts that last from 3 to 9 months.

This organization also tries to maintain a geographical balance among its employees, so their positions are not necessarily limited to IOM member states’ nationals.

Candidates coming from certain member states are eligible to apply for the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) program. This is an early-career placement in either the IOM Headquarters in Geneva or one of the country offices. JPO vacancies are advertised at P-2 level.

Available vacancies at IOM can be found on the organization’s Recruitment webpage.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

One of the major international organizations which do human rights-related work, the ICRC, hires both locally and internationally.

Among the myriad of internationally-contracted positions sought by the organization, the main difference is made between Field Staff and Headquarters Staff.

Field positions are “mobile,” meaning that as a field staff worker, you can be sent on any ICRC mission in the world where there is a need for your expertise. Field positions are roughly grouped in twelve thematic categories:

  • Armed forces, Police and Weapon contamination
  • Communication
  • Cooperation with the Movement
  • Economic and Food Security
  • Field, Protection and Detention
  • Forensic science
  • Health care
  • Human Resources, Finance and Administration
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Languages and interpreting
  • Logistics
  • Water and Habitat

Several professional positions are advertised under each of these categories, depending on the needs on the field.

On the other hand, there is a handful of jobs as well as traineeships which include working from the headquarters in Geneva. Traineeships do not involve fieldwork.

Locally-hired professionals are considered to be “resident” staff. These job opportunities are advertised on specific country pages and such job descriptions do not include missions abroad. It can, however, happen that locally-hired professionals working for one of the National Red Cross Societies can be seconded to the ICRC as “staff on loan” for a mission abroad.

Percentage-wise, most professionals working for the ICRC are considered resident field staff, while headquarters jobs are least frequently available to prospective professionals.

The ICRC does not offer volunteering or unpaid internship positions.

Internationally-contracted ICRC job posts are advertised on the job portal. Resident positions available in 80 countries around the world can be found here.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

OSCE is one of the most prominent international organizations mandated to promote human rights, rule of law, and democracy in Europe and beyond. As such, this organization employs a great number of professionals at several levels.

OSCE advertises vacancies that fall under one of the following categories:

  1. Contracted positions

Contracted positions are fixed-term and they include working at the Secretariat, Institutions, and occasionally field operations. Here, the OSCE also follows the United Nations Common System, offering positions in the categories of:

  • General Service (GS)
  • Junior Professionals:
    • P-1 No experience needed.
    • P-2 Two years of work experience needed.
  • Middle-ranking Professionals
    • P-3 Five years of work experience.
    • P-4 Seven years of work experience.
  • Management Professionals
    • P-5 Ten years of work experience.
    • D Fifteen years of work experience.
  1. Seconded positions

These positions involve working in one of OSCE’s field operations. Staff members are typically nominated by an OSCE member state. Such job vacancies are available in a number of fields of expertise, including Human Rights, Rule of Law, and Political Affairs.

  1. Junior Professional Officer Program

Junior Professional Officer Program is designed to offer young graduates an opportunity to gain experience in the both the Secretariat and field missions. The total length of the program is one year, with equal periods of time being spent in the institution and on the field.

  1. Internships

Internship opportunities are available in the Secretariat in Vienna and Institutions as well as in OSCE missions in Europe and Central Asia. OSCE Internships are unpaid and last between two and six months.

  1. Consultants

OSCE occasionally recruits experienced professionals for short-term consulting and advisory services.

  1. Experts/Young Diplomats Program

Nationals of the OSCE Asian and Mediterranean Partner States are eligible to apply for the Young Diplomats Program. Placements are four-months long.

All vacancies are advertised on the OSCE Employment page.

About the author


Maja Davidovic

Maja Davidovic is a Serbian-born independent researcher and Human Rights graduate. She holds her M.A. degree from Central European University in Budapest, and had previously lived and worked in Greece, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maja mostly researches about women’s rights, child protection and transitional justice, and has been involved with organizations such as MSF and OSCE, as well grassroots initiatives. You may follow her on her newly-made Twitter profile @MajaADavidovic, where she aspires to open discussions on a variety of human rights-related issues.