UN Jobs: Very Desirable but Hard-To-Get
Introduction (this article is updated in 2023:
United Nations (UN) jobs are coveted by many due to the organization's global impact, diversity, and the chance to contribute to a better world. However, these positions are also notoriously competitive. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore what makes UN jobs so desirable, and provide you with tips and strategies to improve your chances of securing one.
Why are UN Jobs Highly Desirable?
International Prestige and Impact
The UN is a globally recognized organization that focuses on maintaining international peace, promoting human rights, and supporting sustainable development. Working for the UN means being part of an institution that directly impacts the lives of millions of people worldwide.
A Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
The United Nations workforce is made up of individuals from a wide range of nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds, providing a rich and diverse work environment. This diversity not only fosters personal growth but also enhances the organization's ability to address global challenges.
Competitive Compensation and Benefits
UN jobs offer competitive salaries, along with a comprehensive benefits package that may include health insurance, paid leave, and retirement plans. Employees also enjoy tax-free salaries and allowances, depending on their contract type and duty station.
How to Improve Your Chances of Securing a UN Job
Match Your Skills and Experience to UN Jobs
The UN has various departments and agencies that require different skill sets and expertise. Conduct thorough research on the specific UN agencies that align with your career goals and qualifications. Tailor your application to showcase how your skills and experience make you the ideal candidate for the position.
Gain Relevant Experience
Having relevant work experience in your field will make you a more competitive candidate. Seek internships, volunteer opportunities, or jobs in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have a focus on international development, humanitarian aid, or human rights. These experiences will help you build a strong foundation for a career with the UN.
Network with UN Professionals
Networking is crucial when seeking a job within the UN. Attend UN events, conferences, and workshops, and connect with UN professionals on platforms like LinkedIn. Engage with them to learn more about the organization, the application process, and potential job opportunities.
Demonstrate Language Proficiency
The UN has six official languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Proficiency in at least two of these languages can significantly boost your chances of landing a UN job. Consider taking language courses or acquiring relevant certifications to demonstrate your language skills.
Apply for the United Nations Young Professionals Programme (YPP)
The YPP is a recruitment initiative that targets highly qualified, talented professionals under the age of 32. This competitive program offers a unique opportunity for young professionals to launch their careers within the UN. Prepare thoroughly for the YPP examination and keep an eye on application deadlines.
UN Jobs: The Best Possibilities to Get Inside
Considering that the work at the UN is different, we would like to talk a little more about how you can get UN jobs and what are the advantages of working in this organization. UN is an intergovernmental organization created in 1945 that replaced the League of Nations. It has 193 member countries, headquarters in New York, and 5 regional commissions (ESCAP, ESCWA, ECE, ECLAC, ECA), which serve as the UN regional secretariats. For information: The Secretariat is an international staff working in institutions around the world and performing the diverse daily work of the Organization. It serves other major UN bodies and implements their programs and policies. The secretariat is headed by the UN Secretary-General, and the regional commissions are Executive Secretaries and UN Assistant Secretaries-General.
If you are interested in the United Nations jobs, here we will tell you how you can access its many and varied job offers, as well as internship programs at universities and other opportunities that it offers.
Types of UN jobs that you can get into
There are several main categories of employees in the UN - these are P-staff (professional-staff), G-staff (general-staff), national officers (national professional officer), field-staff.
P-staff are the specialists and international employees who enjoy all the immunities and privileges that UN vacancies give. There are several levels of positions:
- P-2: at least 2 years of work experience
- P-3: at least 5 years of work experience
- P-4: at least 7 years of work experience
- P-5: at least 10 years of work experience
- P6 / D-1 (directorate-staff): at least 15 years of experience (these are department directors)
- P-7 / D-2: over 15 years of work experience.
G-staff is a local state that mainly deals with administrative affairs and technical support. There also exist their special categories, and when you apply for a job, you must go through the necessary steps. The disadvantage of the position: moving from G-staff to P-staff, when you suddenly want to, is extremely difficult. This type is the highest possible on the UN staff list. To fall into their number, the highest requirements are set, but this is compensated by the size of wages and social benefits. All UN agencies have a rotation system, which implies a mandatory change of place of work every two to four years.
The salary (from which accommodation and medical insurance for all family members are independently paid), is calculated depending on the place of work, position, length of service and number of family members, payment of the road to the place of service, an educational grant for children and participation in the pension program. The duration of the employment for such specialists is from 3-6 months for short-term (temporary appointments) and 1-2 years for long-term contracts.
Requirements for candidates on this posts are higher education (usually a master’s degree, but a bachelor’s diploma with additional work experience is also taken into account), work experience of no less than two years (for category P-2, five years for P-3 and seven for P-4). In most cases, the experience is needed abroad and mainly in the UN system or international non-governmental organizations.
📌 How to increase your chances to get a job? 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗚𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗣.
Procedure to apply for the UN vacancies
First of all, register and fill out your profile on the organization’s website, which includes contact information, information about education and previous employment, skills, certificates, and recommendations. It is important to note that in order to apply to several vacancies at the same time at different UN agencies you will need to fill out a profile several times on the websites of these organizations. An exception is the INSPIRA portal, which combines the vacancies of the Secretariat (including peacekeeping and humanitarian missions), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office on Drugs and Crime, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Other agencies that offer the most vacancies include UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP, WHO, and the Office of Project Services (UNOPS) are presented on independent portals and require filling out of the special form on these resources.
Secondly, respond to the vacancy that interests you using the form of the organization’s site. In each case, a cover letter must be attached. Be patient. Due to the huge number of applications (up to 800 candidates from 100 different countries apply for some positions, especially in the Department of Political Affairs) and the complicated bureaucratic procedure, the initial selection can take up to six months.
If you successfully complete the first step of selection, then you will receive an invitation immediately for an interview or preliminary written testing. Both tests usually take place remotely. An interview is always the last step. After the final selection, a successful candidate receives a job offer.
Other stuff positions in the UN system
National officers are specialists, people who are hired locally, and do their job in their own country in the UN structure. Usually, this is the specialists of UN country missions and local office specialists. The competition here depends on the country, that is, if, for example, in China, there can be 100 000 candidates, then in Kazakhstan everything will be limited to 20 people. The UN staff (categories NO-A, NO-B, NO-C, NO-D, SB, and GS for junior staff) working at the UN offices in their own country are classified as National Officers. Unlike professional employees, they are arranged according to local labor laws and do not have most of the benefits, such as an educational grant, full health insurance, and UN pension. However, the salaries of national employees are higher than the market average. Many countries have offices of such major UN agencies like UNDP, UNESCO, WHO, etc., however, due to the limited number of UN projects in some countries, the number of such vacancies is minimal. Jobs can be tracked on the websites of the agencies themselves, on the UN website, as well as on different job search sites. The application must be submitted according to a single international procedure in English directly on the agency’s website.
Field-service specialists are those people who work in field missions, for example, in refugee camps, etc. For these positions, as well as for P-staff, international competition is announced and the best are selected. However, there are risks: you need to understand that UN employees are abducted, taken prisoner, and killed (by the way, this applies to every employee). Therefore, think before submitting documents for the position.
In addition to these, there are some other working people at the UN. And their name is consultants. In general, the UN specialized agencies have some sort of categorization of consultants. The secretariat has two types:
- Individual contractor - a person who is hired to provide services /assistance to the organization in the presence of the necessary potential in the organization itself. That is, for example, the organization plans to hold a conference. There may be, in this regard, the need for additional specialists. In this case, an individual contractor is hired. The contract of this consultant cannot last longer than 9 months, after which he must take a break of 6 months. Usually, those who do not have experience or have little work experience are often hired for this position, often after completing an internship at the UN.
- The Consultant is a specialist in a particular field with work experience. Hired to do work on a specific topic /area. For example, an organization needs to analyze the impact of introducing innovative types of financing at the local level to motivate the development of decentralized water supply and sanitation systems. Consultants can be hired for a period of 24-36 months, after which they must take a break of 6 months.
The payment terms and working conditions of the consultant may vary. If the amount of payment depends on your work experience and the availability of the budget in the project, then the conditions and requirements may be different: the need to be at the office or to be present only on a certain date, to cover a flight from or without covering these costs, to pay monthly or after completion of work, etc. Sometimes it happens that they also cover health insurance.
If a job applicant is going to take the place of a specialist, then he must additionally pass testing (several tests). This can be a mathematical, logical, economic, or legal exam. Testing areas are traditionally more than a dozen. Each candidate will pass an exam that matches his specialty. People with disabilities are also required to take such testing. A separate line should highlight university students. They are required to undergo a linguistic test.
In the case of employment in general service personnel or related categories, exams are not needed, as there is an online application. The candidate must contact the Secretariat unit directly. This applies to such posts as secretary, security guard representative, worker, etc.
📌 How to increase your chances to get a job? 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗚𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗣.
UN jobs in UN Programs
The UN usually carries on many programs, where young specialists can receive a necessary experience to get a position in the organization after completion.
The Young Professionals Program
The Young Professionals Program (YPP) is for un- or under-represented countries at the UN. There is a list of participating in this program countries, it is updated annually. Frankly, many underrepresented countries are still not on the list. For example, Kazakhstan has never been seen on the list, although they say in the UN about the underrepresentation of Kazakhstanis in the UN structure (perhaps employees in subregional offices in Almaty and Astana close the quota). The program is intended for specialists up to 32 years old. Although working experience is not written in the requirements, it will still be better if a candidate has at least 2 years of experience. Candidates pass a special exam and then undergo an interview. Specialists who pass the internship and are hired can hold a position at the P-1 or P-2 (associate officer) level for a period of 2 years, which can then be extended. Competition for YPP, they say, is frantic. Thousands serve, and only a few pass.
This unique opportunity to begin a career in an international non-governmental organization is provided to young professionals no older than 32 years old with a diploma of higher education and dream of improving their qualifications in administration.
The procedure of selection of candidates takes place once a year, it is necessary to follow the list of countries whose citizens can participate in the competition, as it undergoes changes every year. A two-year contract is concluded with those who have passed the entrance examinations, after which it is possible to conclude a long-term contract and receive the desired continuation of work at the UN.
As soon as the next set is announced, candidates need to, after reading the list of posts this year, start online registration through the inspira platform, where they will need to provide personal data, information about citizenship, education, and work experience.
Successfully completed the online stage and satisfying all the requirements, candidates are allowed to take entrance tests in writing, held in English or French. There they check the level of knowledge of the language and the ability to solve different problems within the scope of future activities. At the third stage of the selection, candidates will have a video interview with the commission. The complicated selection is easily explained by the huge number of applications, but you should definitely try.
Junior Professional Officer
Junior Professional Officer (JPO) is a country-sponsored program. The specialist works in a developing country for a specific project. In general, mainly specialized UN agencies and programs are indicated as participants in the project, but it also happens in the secretariats to see JPO in certain cases. A person receives the P-2 position (sometimes P-3), and the contract lasts 1-3 years, after which the person decides to either remain at the UN on another contract or return to the country. There are still cases when, after the end of the contract, the office still needs a specialist, and they have funding. In order not to declare recruitment for a position (selection for a p-staff position may take half a year), and if the country does not mind, then this position is given to an already working JPO. Positions are open exclusively to citizens of participating countries. In rare cases, countries may fund the recruitment of candidates from developing countries for a position. Actually, it’s much easier to go to this position, since recruitment takes place at the national level in your country.
This program has become a consultant from many UN member countries. It represents a single candidate for the UN. The program involves the hiring of specialists under the age of 32 who have experience of working for two years in initial professional positions in the UN system (P-1 and P-2).
UN Internship Program
One more category that will give you the opportunity to get into the UN jobs is the UN Internship Program. If you are studying in the last year of the university (bachelor's degree) or studying under the master's / doctoral program, then you can apply for an internship. The program is not paid, the candidate takes all the costs (flight, accommodation, meals, medical insurance). The duration of the internship is at least 2 and a maximum of 6 months.
Depending on the workload and availability of employees, each department and UN section announces a competition for a certain number of interns. Based on the duration of their internship, the number of interns needed may vary. For example, the position of an intern on economic issues in department A needs 1 person for a year. One trainee can come for 6 months, another for 4, and a third for 2 months. Accordingly, 3 interns will be replaced in the department during the year. There is a competition here, but not as mad as in the staff position. Application for internships is also by thousands (not only in one department but in the organization as a whole, which increases the chances), HR selects 30/40 people for the department, of which about ten are offered for internships, which will be replaced during the year. If you have chosen a certain period for which the candidate is applying better than you, they will not make you an offer. The average age of interns varies in the region of 27-28 years.
UN internship has many benefits. Firstly, working at the UN is a good experience. For example, you can participate in writing a UN publication (your contribution will be noted in the Acknowledgment), and learn how to write briefings. Secondly, you will meet many good people who can seriously help you in the future with a job choice or advice (according to what you need). Thirdly, the likelihood that you will be offered United Nations jobs is increased. There are no guarantees, but if they need a person, and here you sit and work very well and competently, it will be easier to hire you (if you are suitable according to requirements) than to invite someone from the outside. Fourth, constant communication with different people from different cultures will expand your knowledge and indirectly increase your profile.
📌 How to increase your chances to get a job? 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝗿𝘂𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗚𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗨𝗡 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗨𝗡𝗗𝗣.
Internship at the UN Secretariat
The management has long had an internship program for junior experts and young professionals. Only university graduates or final year undergraduate or graduate students participate in it. The purpose of the internship is to acquire technical, practical, and theoretical skills.
An internship at the UN carries a number of pluses and minuses. The main advantages are the acquisition of international professional experience and work to improve the well-being of all people on the planet. It delivers indescribable moral satisfaction. Among the significant disadvantages of the practice in the UN Secretariat, one can single out the fact that the intern must independently bear all the costs since there is no question of financial rewards.
UN Headquarters internships
The UN offers beginner translators a two-month unpaid internship (January-February or July-August) at one of its headquarters. Quotation announcements for trainees are published separately for each language and city no later than three months before the deadline for applying. For the candidate to be considered, the following conditions must be met: candidates must study in the last year of undergraduate studies, in magistracy or graduate school (doctoral studies) or to be a young specialist who received a diploma no more than a year ago; have an asset in two foreign languages.
The application is submitted through a special service on the UN website. A motivation letter must be attached to the application, in which you must indicate the name of the program under which the candidate is currently studying or whose diploma he has; the date of receipt of the diploma (actual or estimated, if the diploma has not yet been received); what IT skills a candidate possesses (names of programs he owns); an explanation of the reasons for his interest in the position of a UN intern.
United Nations Volunteers Program (UNV)
Each year, the program mobilizes thousands of volunteers to work in the UN regional offices, humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. According to statistics from this program, only 17 people represented Belarus, while from France there were 175 volunteers, from Italy 105 and 103 from Spain. This gap, however, is not surprising, given the fact that information on this program is on the websites of the Foreign Ministry of all the above countries, with the exception of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Except for the amount of monetary compensation, an educational grant, and the presence of a blue UN passport, volunteers are almost no different from UN staff in the professional category. They receive a monthly cash allowance (an average of 2-3 thousand US dollars), they are paid for travel to and from their destination, insurance, and compensation for the transportation of personal items and lifting. Volunteers also receive additional compensation for working in difficult conditions and for having dependents.
Certain duty stations (with suitable security conditions) suggest that a volunteer can go there with his family. Travel, insurance, and lifts for family members are paid by the host organization. More than half of the volunteers are employed in sub-Saharan Africa, the rest are evenly distributed across the rest of the continents, including Western Europe. The duration of UN jobs foe volunteers is from 6 months. Typically, a contract is concluded for a year with the possibility of annual renewal for up to 4 years.
Requirements for these positions are age of 25 years, higher education, at least 2 years of experience and knowledge of English, French, or Spanish. In some cases, working in the field requires a category “B” driver's license.
To get United Nations jobs in volunteering you need to undergo a special procedure. You should register and fill out your profile on the volunteer program portal. Viewing and examining a candidate’s profile by staff members usually takes several months. When a vacancy that suits your profile appears, you will receive a letter with an offer from a volunteer program officer who selects candidates for a specific UN regional office. If the vacancy suits you, and you confirm your interest, the next step will be an interview directly with representatives of the hiring organization. If you successfully pass the interview, you will receive a job offer, which must be signed and mailed to the Volunteer Program office. It is also possible to send an application for separately submitted vacancies (Special calls). At the last stage, you will need to undergo a medical examination. Program staff will send you airline tickets and transfer a certain amount (about 500 US dollars) to your account for expenses associated with a future trip. The family can join later (if security conditions permit), after performing the necessary procedures related to confirming the availability of housing that meets safety standards.
The United Nations Volunteer Program (UNV) is another option for admission, similar to an internship. This program is currently used in 86 countries. Annually, more than 7,700 UN volunteers, both nationally and internationally, are given an opportunity to work in various development projects or humanitarian assistance organizations and for peace. In 80% of cases, this is assistance to developing countries.
The main goal of the program is to give volunteers a better and fuller understanding of work on development through targeted knowledge sharing. UNV emphasizes: “Despite the fact that UN volunteers from various professions and technical professions are always in demand, there are special fields in which potential volunteers with needed experience and skills are most often requested.” For sure, applicants must also agree to deploy in hazardous areas and quickly adapt to different living and working conditions.
While regular work assignments are designed for at least 12 months, there are also shorter 3 months trips. Volunteers must be over 25 years old and receive support and benefits in the form of basic financial support, annual leave, and medical insurance.
The activities of such a large-scale organization as the United Nations, of course, cannot do without the help of those who are ready to promote its initiatives free of charge. Volunteer assistance to the organization is possible by almost any means, and often it is precisely volunteer specialists who are needed: teachers, translators, and managers. This list dispels all misconceptions about volunteering as unskilled labor! You can work both in a specific country and organization, and online, without leaving your home.
Those wishing to become a member of a team of more than 12 thousand people - that is how many volunteers help the UN every year - must register on the site, choose a field of activity, submit an application, and after its approval you can start working. You can translate various documents into UN and rare languages, illustrate educational brochures, draw up business plans, write articles. Each volunteer is entitled to a certificate confirming his good deeds.
Participation in the UN volunteer program is as serious as in the Peace Corps, but there are many more opportunities. It is possible to choose from one hundred and thirty countries. Volunteers usually work from six months to a year. At this time, they receive a scholarship, full board, medical insurance, invaluable work experience, and recommendations from the United Nations, which will play an important role in subsequent employment.
Keep in mind that not all programs imply comfortable conditions, in some places, there may be no electricity or running water, sometimes volunteer camps are located far from cities and villages.
Anyone who is not yet ready to storm international organizations, but wants to gain experience, can start with volunteer work. This option is suitable for those who are just starting to learn the basics of the profession, want to try themselves in translation, interpretation, audiovisual translation, and make many useful contacts. Very often, translators are needed at various cultural events: film festivals (translations of subtitles, trailers, synopsizes for films), as well as music and dance festivals (accompaniment of artists, interpretation of meetings).
The UN organizes joint master's and postgraduate programs with various universities that prepare students in the areas necessary for the activities of the UN. Needless to say, here, as nowhere else, you can already join the work of international organizations during your studies!
Those who have a bachelor's degree in political science, international relations, or international law will probably be interested in the Master in Public Policy and Human Development program - a joint Master's program at the UN University (UNU) and Maastricht University (Netherlands). The program is designed for one year, after which students receive a full-fledged master's degree.
Specialists in the field of public policy are trained here, in particular: social sphere, foreign policy, migration problems, regional integration, innovation, and development of government. For admission, you will need a CV, a copy of passport, a photo, a certificate of English proficiency, 2 letters of recommendation, a copy of the previous diploma with translation into English, a motivation letter and an essay of 400 words on one of the proposed topics related to the future specialty (list of topics is on the site). The deadline for applying is June 15 of each year (for students who need a visa).
There are no special scholarships for this program, but students can apply for one of the scholarships provided by Maastricht University, in particular the Maastricht University High Potential scholarship, which covers the cost of studies, housing costs, transportation, visa, and insurance.
Other categories of volunteers
In addition to the largest category of UN volunteers, there are also several other categories of volunteers.
A number of UN member countries are financing the employment of their citizens through the Volunteer Program. In 2018, for example, Russia for the first time allocated funds to participate in the program of 20 volunteers. Fourteen of them have already completed training and have begun work. At the moment, there is no information on whether funding from Russia will be carried out on a regular basis. It should be borne in mind that these vacancies were not posted on a single portal of volunteers, but were announced separately on the website of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which was involved in the selection and training of volunteers.
National volunteers work directly in the countries of which they are citizens. According to the data, there were many such volunteers in UN member countries.
The main difference between such volunteers in a strict age limit: 22-29 years. At the same time, work experience in the specialty is not required but very desirable.
Requirements for the positions: knowledge of English; age - 22-29 years; higher education; two years of experience in the specialty.
Conditions are one-time financial assistance (size - depending on the duration of the program); coverage of all costs associated with volunteering; insurance; a unique experience in an international organization.
Working from home, they help UN agencies and their national partners. Of the required skills, knowledge of languages for translating (including Russian), design and web design, conducting research, writing subject-specific online courses, and preparing draft programs are welcome. It is anticipated that online volunteers will devote such activities from 1 to 20 hours a week. The work is not paid, but upon its completion, a certificate is issued. Online volunteers register on a separate portal, where they can respond to emerging job offers.
Securing a UN job may be challenging, but it's not impossible. By understanding what makes these positions highly desirable and following the strategies outlined in this guide, you'll be better equipped to navigate the competitive landscape and work towards a fulfilling career with the United Nations.
Keywords: UN jobs, United Nations, competitive positions, highly desirable, diverse workplace, international prestige, networking, relevant experience, language proficiency, Young Professionals Programme