While the application requirements for entry-level positions at international organizations (IOs) often might seem discouraging, by and large, international organizations like to invest in young people and recruit them as their staff. For this purpose, many IOs, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank Group (WBG) and UNICEF have established special recruitment programs designed only for young professionals.
To prepare you for the 2020 application cycle, we have drafted an overview of the requirements you need to fulfil to be accepted, and also share with you some personal insights that will give any young human rights professional a head start for the next year’s application round.
The UN Young Professionals Program (YPP)
Young human rights professionals who want to pursue a career as international civil servants with the UN ought to take the annual YPP exam, which usually takes place in September or October. However, a big obstacle for many people is that not all nationalities are eligible to participate in the program. More precisely, the list of eligible nationalities is edited and republished each year in April, and it depends on which countries are considered to be under-represented among the UN personnel.
Once your nationality is on the list – which for some might take years – you must also be under 32, fluent in English or French, and have at least a first-level university degree relevant to the exam subject. For instance, in the 2017 YPP exam, the subjects offered were: Management and Administration Network (MAGNET), Political, Peace and Humanitarian Network (POLNET) and Public Information and Conference Management Network (INFONET).
Essentially, a whole bunch of non-Human Rights Law degrees can be of relevance here, but in the coming analysis, we focused on the POLNET exam, the only one available online.
What does the exam look like?
After you have submitted an online application and it was rendered successful (i.e. no incomplete sections, make sure that you fulfill the language criteria), you will be invited to sit through a 4-hour long exam online. The exam requires candidates to read through large pieces of text in a short period of time, and then analyze and critically respond to those texts. Reading lists will be made available in the online UN library well in advance. It is a reasonable amount of documents which you can surely read at least once before the exam, if you wish.
Young professionals who took the 2017 YPP exam report that, in fact, very few questions are knowledge-based, and the test itself is not designed to check the candidate’s knowledge of the UN system. That said, the UN materials, in addition to your own knowledge and skills should suffice for you to be as ready as anyone else. Our young professionals believe that a useful way to prepare for the test would be to practice reading quickly, and be familiar with the writing style of official UN press releases and publications.
More information and sample questions for each exam subject are available on the official website.
The World Bank Young Professionals Program (YPP)
With a similar logic, the WBG run their YPP on annual basis, where some young human rights professionals who, for instance, want to work on poverty issues, might find their place, too. Unlike the UN program, this YPP does not include an exam, but instead evaluates top candidates based on an interview.
Before you get there, you need to be a citizen of one of the 189 member states of the World Bank, younger than 32, fluent in English and another WBG’s working language (desirable), hold a PhD or Master’s degree and have work experience in a field relevant to the operations of the World Bank Group, including social sciences, public health, education and economics.
If your online application is satisfactory, then you will be invited for an interview sometime in November or December. The interviews cannot be done on Skype, and are scheduled at the WBG Headquarters in Washington, D.C., or in their Paris office.
The interview is in fact composed of two parts: an hour-long individual interview with a panel of three senior technical experts in your field of expertise, and the assessment center done with another four candidates, where you will both as a group and individually be asked to work on an international development case study.
Candidates from previous years report that the interview questions are both technical and behavioral, and are based on your past experiences. The WBG themselves say your past performance will be heavily evaluated because it is a predictor of your future behavior. As a tip, you should prepare a list of many situations you handled professionally and make sure that your voice is heard and not only the voice of your current or past team. Furthermore, you should also come up with a list of 4-5 really good questions about the position.
If you are successful, you will be admitted into a two-year program, during which you can expect to boost your professional experience, do field work with other colleagues, and communicate with different clients directly to better understand their problems. You will also receive training through a variety of activities such as cohort discussions with WBG leaders, e-learning, and network opportunities. In addition, you will be assigned a Young Professional Buddy from the previous year’s group before you begin, a Technical Buddy to help you through your very first weeks, and a WBG Mentor in your second year.
The application process opens in June. To stay updated, follow us, or visit the World Bank’s YPP webpage.
UNICEF’s New and Emerging Talent Initiative
The New and Emerging Talent Initiative (NETI) has been run by UNICEF for ten years. The program requires somewhat more work experience (five years) than other two YPPs, but it essentially follows the same logic. If your application is successful, you will enter a two-year program and have a fixed-term P-3 position.
You can apply if you hold an advanced university degree, you are proficient in English and have working knowledge of another UN language, and if you are willing to be placed in any UNICEF office worldwide, some of which might not be family duty stations.
The application process
Each year, UNICEF advertises Generic Vacancy Announcements where NETIs are needed in a variety of functional areas, including human rights, child protection and gender equality. The application process begins with a submission of your online application, which consists of your resume, a cover letter and filling in a multiple choice questionnaire. Shortlisted candidates are then invited to take part in different online assessments, including separate verbal and written examinations relating to both technical and motivational questions. A panel of technical experts will then finalize the shortlist of candidates, and invite few selected ones for a telephone or Skype interview. The format of the interview is not known at the moment, as it changes depending on the position, but is likely to include both competency-based questions, and a technical presentation.
Once your NETI application is successful, the job itself is not guaranteed. Like with the UN YPP, you will be placed in the Talent Group for a period of three years, during which you will be considered for both NETI and non-NETI fixed-term and temporary positions. If selected for a fixed-term position, you will participate in a two-week preparation seminar at UNICEF’s Headquarters in New York, to familiarize yourself with the organization and your functional area.
Although this may sound overwhelming, UNICEF ensures that NETI professionals have all the support they need during their assignment. That said, as a NETI, you will not only have continuous meetings with mentors and coaches to help you maximize your performance within the organization, and you will also be assigned a supervisor in your duty station.
UNICEF’s NETI program clearly requires a bit more professional experience in the field, and it is a long recruitment process ahead. Nonetheless, previous generations of NETIs claim that it is a unique opportunity that gives access to international partners, so in that sense, it is a long-term investment in your human rights career. You can stay updated about NETI opportunities by through UNICEF’s job mail subscription portal.
Other opportunities worth considering
Other international organizations which work on human rights in more indirect ways also run similar programs for young professionals.
- UNESCO irregularly has an open call for their Young Professionals Program (YPP) for candidates from under-represented and non-represented member states. You need to be under 32, fluent in English or French with a relevant university degree (social sciences, culture, communication etc.) and, and have working knowledge of another UN language. The calls for applications are issued through National Commissions and Permanent Delegations of the unrepresented countries. Stay updated on the official website.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has been running their WHO Fellowship program since the very beginning. With the aim of assisting developing states to build their capacities in different technical areas and scaling up the production of qualified health personnel, this Fellowship is worth considering for all young professionals who want to work on human rights issues in this capacity. Consult your Ministry of Health for further information.
- The OECD Young Professionals Program will be open again in 2020. Young Professionals work on a variety of issues related to economic and social development, and can contribute by monitoring, forecasting, reporting or doing analysis. Candidates are assessed based on organizational needs, their academic background, professional experience and candidate’s personal preference. More specific requirements include an advanced degree, a minimum of two years’ full time professional experience, and nationality of one of the OECD member states.