5 Steps to get a job in the United Nations

Your United Nations Career: Tips for Your First UN Job Application

Updated in 2024Intro: As an aspiring professional in the impact sector, you may be considering a career with influential organizations such as the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To assist you in navigating this competitive landscape, we've put together a comprehensive guide that highlights key strategies and practical advice for submitting your first UN job application.

This guide will be divided into two parts:

  1. Scoping Opportunities
  2. Navigating Your First United Nations Job Application: Tips for Success

Part 1: Scoping Opportunities

Embarking on a career with the United Nations (UN) is a dream for many, driven by the desire to contribute to global peace, security, and development initiatives. The UN's mission to maintain international peace, protect human rights, and support sustainable development resonates with individuals eager to make a meaningful impact. However, navigating the UN job application process can be daunting for first-timers. Here are essential tips to guide you through your first UN job application, setting the foundation for a potentially rewarding career within this prestigious organization.

1. Understand the UN System

The UN is a complex organization with multiple agencies, funds, and programs, each focusing on specific areas such as health (WHO), children (UNICEF), refugees (UNHCR), and food security (WFP). Before applying, research to understand where your skills and interests best fit within the UN system. This understanding will help you tailor your application to specific agencies and positions that align with your career aspirations and values.

2. Meet the Basic Requirements

Each UN job listing has specific requirements, including education, work experience, language skills, and competencies. Ensure you meet these basic requirements before applying. The UN often looks for candidates with at least an undergraduate degree, proficiency in one of its working languages (English or French), and relevant professional experience. Highlighting your ability to work in multicultural environments can also strengthen your application.

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3. Tailor Your Application

Generic applications rarely stand out. Tailor your resume and cover letter to the job you're applying for by emphasizing the relevant experience and skills that match the job description. Use the UN's competency framework to guide how you present your experiences, demonstrating your abilities in areas such as teamwork, communication, accountability, and creativity.

4. Highlight Your Commitment to UN Values

The UN places a high premium on integrity, professionalism, and respect for diversity. Your application should reflect your commitment to these values. Include examples of how you've embraced these values in your professional or volunteer work, such as leading projects in diverse teams, contributing to community service, or engaging in continuous learning.

5. Prepare for Competency-Based Interviews

If your application progresses, you'll likely face a competency-based interview, a critical step in the UN's selection process. These interviews assess your ability to apply your skills and knowledge in scenarios aligned with the UN's values and job-specific competencies. Prepare by reviewing the UN's competency framework and think of concrete examples from your past experiences that demonstrate these competencies.

6. Be Patient and Persistent

The UN job application process is known for being lengthy and competitive. After submitting your application, be prepared for a waiting period that can span several months. Use this time to continue building your skills, networking, and possibly exploring volunteer opportunities that align with the UN's mission. Persistence is key; even if you don't succeed on your first try, each application is a learning opportunity that brings you closer to your goal.

7. Leverage Networking and Continuous Learning

Networking can be a valuable tool in your UN career journey. Connect with current and former UN employees through professional networking sites, UN association events, or relevant seminars and webinars. These connections can provide insights into the UN's culture, tips for your application, and sometimes information about upcoming opportunities. Additionally, pursue continuous learning opportunities, including UN-related online courses or language classes, to enhance your candidacy for future roles.

The first part of our guide focuses on "scoping," which refers to the actions you take when searching for potential employment opportunities. To successfully scope out job openings, you must understand career development paths, recognize potential challenges, and stay informed about macro trends that influence talent and skill demands.

At this stage, consider your competition and career aspirations. Making informed personal decisions will help you effectively scope opportunities and maintain a targeted focus.

Generalist vs Specialist: Defining Your Role

When considering UN careers, it's important to note that program or thematic career paths may offer limited options for generalists. The UN primarily seeks thematic experts, such as those specializing in climate change mitigation or child protection. However, generalists may find opportunities in operations and administration, which involves finance, logistics, and HR management.

Assessing Your Risk Tolerance

If you're interested in working for the UN in challenging countries, consider the risks you may face. While volunteer or junior specialist roles may be available, internships are typically not offered in non-family job locations. Pursuing opportunities in these complex environments may accelerate your professional development.

Monitoring Macro Trends and Funding Flows

Stay informed about macro trends and funding flows to anticipate new program proposals. For instance, the ongoing war in Ukraine may not attract substantial funding indefinitely. Once the conflict ends, rebuilding efforts will require diverse skills and expertise. Learning the Ukrainian language now may position you as a unique candidate and increase your opportunities in the next 10-15 years.

Understanding Quotas

As you explore potential roles, research the quotas organizations offer their full-time employees. This information can be useful when applying for a new position within the organization.

In this second part of our comprehensive guide, we delve into the process of creating and submitting your first job application for the United Nations (UN). Following these steps will increase your chances of standing out and securing your desired position.

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Navigating Your First United Nations Job Application: Tips for Success

In this second part of our comprehensive guide, we delve into the process of creating and submitting your first job application for the United Nations (UN). Following these steps will increase your chances of standing out and securing your desired position.

Understanding Minimum Requirements

Before applying, carefully review the minimum requirements for the position. The UN receives numerous high-quality applications, so meeting these prerequisites is crucial. If you don't meet all of the requirements, consider pursuing internship or volunteer opportunities. Focus on building the necessary skills and qualifications instead of applying for jobs that may not consider your application.

Evaluating Desired Requirements

If you meet the minimum requirements, assess the desired requirements for the position. Identify which ones you fulfill and take note of them. The more requirements you meet, the better your chances of securing the job. If you lack certain qualifications, consider working on them, as they will likely be relevant for future positions.

Preparing Your P11 Form in Advance

The UN uses the P11 application form across all its organizations. Though typically completed electronically, some internships may require alternative formats. Utilize the P11 form whenever you're asked to submit a resume. Recruiters are familiar with this format, and using it will help you stand out.

Leveraging the T-Table and CARL Techniques

Two effective application writing strategies for UN positions are the T-Table and CARL techniques. The T-Table method helps you identify key points in the job description and craft your application accordingly. The CARL framework is an efficient structure for presenting your experience:

  • C: Context - the situation or task at hand
  • A: Activity - the action you took
  • R: Results - the outcomes achieved by your actions
  • L: Learning - lessons learned from the situation

For higher-level positions, the CARL method may be more suitable, with the "I" representing the impact achieved following a successful task.


Securing your first job at the United Nations is an ambitious goal that requires preparation, patience, and a deep commitment to the organization's mission. By understanding the UN system, tailoring your application to reflect the UN's values and competencies, and embracing continuous learning and networking, you're taking significant steps towards a fulfilling career at the forefront of global efforts to create a better world. Remember, each step in the application process is an opportunity to learn and grow, bringing you closer to making your contribution to global peace, development, and security.

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