The United Nations is the global hub for international relationships, diplomacy and public policy. If you’re pursuing a career in human rights, a paid internship at one of their locations is a great way to gain valuable experience, network with people and gain insights into the job life at the UN. Interns get the opportunity to attend conferences and meetings, participate in research and analysis, and take on other tasks that ensure smooth processes in the office. Paid internships at the UN are also quite competitive, so what are some tips on landing a coveted spot?
Before we get into the tips, there are some logistics to be aware of: To be eligible for an internship, you have to meet certain requirements. You must be either enrolled in a Master’s or Ph.D programme; in the final year of a Bachelor’s programme; or within one year of graduation from either of those three degrees. You must have excellent command of either English or French, and be neither a child nor a sibling of a United Nations Secretariat staff member. You should also know that most internships last between 2-6 months and that most internships at the UN are still not paid. When you search for suitable UN internships make sure you only apply for those that are paid. Further details are available on the official website. Now, let’s get into the tips.
#1: Know what kind of internship you want
Depending on where you land, UN internships can be very different. On the website, you’ll see a list of UN locations such as Austria, United States, Chile and others, and clicking through them gives you more information on those internship programmes. Consider location when you’re searching for an internship. If you know you want to focus on a specific UN programme (such as the WFP, ILO, FAO, UNICEF or OHCHR), you can apply on those specific websites for available internships. Spend some time scouting out the different programmes, so you are familiar with how everything is structured and what’s available. This will allow you to apply to internships with the best fit for your passions and goals. Note that paid internships are not offered in every programme. We have created a list of UN internships offering a stipend. If there are no paid internships at the United Nations available you may also want to consider other options of paid human rights internships.
#2: Start your application early
You can never start an application too early. If you anticipate wanting the option of a UN internship down the line while you’re early in your studies, start building a resume of skills and experiences. Do as much research as you possibly can, and learn all about the UN’s programmes, agencies, goals, and figureheads. Try to find people who have gone through the internship application process, and reach out. Talk to people at your university who may have connections or at least knowledge of the UN. Thinking ahead and preparing gives you the best chance at landing an internship in the future.
#3: Know what makes an application stand out
There are certain things that recruiters will look for. Knowing what they are can help you highlight them in your application. The UN normally uses competency based interviewing based on the principle “if you could do it in the past, you will be able to do it in the future”. Make sure you connect your experiences and skills with the requirements listed in the job descriptions. The UN is also interested in candidates with diverse experiences and backgrounds, i.e. experiences with topics and issues the UN cares about. If you don’t have such a background, that doesn’t mean you can’t get an internship. Recruiters also value candidates with exceptional academic records and coursework that really shows their dedication to the goals of the UN. If you want a UN internship, be sure to study hard and choose relevant classes. If you would like to deepen your knowledge in a specific field relevant for a UN application, consider taking an online course offered by top universities or UN agencies.
#4: Find relevant work
Your grades and background are important to an internship application, but any work you do in addition can also contribute to making your application a success. Volunteering, Activism and Jobs at non-profits and organisations focused on human rights can help your application stand out and show you are committed to the type of work the UN does. This work experience can also help you find a career-relevant job during your internship. Bear in mind that in most cases the UN won’t arrange a work visa, so it’s up to you to get all that paperwork sorted out if you plan on working during your internship.
#5: Nail the interview
If your application impresses, you move on to the next stage, which is the interview. This is not a casual, unstructured process. UN internship interviews are intense. You will be asked to do a variety of challenging tasks, such as reading reports and case studies in preparation for analysis during discussions. What exactly you need to do depends on the details of the internship, which is why it’s so important to research in depth about the agency you are applying to. If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. Keep your head up and don’t give up that easily!