International Employer Series: UN Secretariat

Hundreds of students are drawn to the UN because they are driven to be a part of a bigger mission, make a difference in the world, and live in other countries. This can be a good fit for you if you thrive in a diverse, multicultural environment where international staff are your colleagues and you are socially aware. The UN/Secretariat offers a wide range of jobs/internships regardless of background or what you studied. There are approximately 36,500 with 16,000 global staff in the field, over 130 duty stations, HQs in New York, Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna and regional commissions in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva and Santiago.

Application Process

Each UN organization has its own website/online application system. Posting periods depend on the job and vary even in the same organization. Application requirements are similar in all organizations, but the type of information requested and questions can be different. All applicants who apply to the UN must submit a Person History Profile. There are 9 job networks grouped together with subsets called job families. All job openings in the UN Secretariat are published on the United Nations Careers Portal. Job searches can be narrowed by category, level, job network, job family, department, duty station, etc. To familiarize yourself with the Secretariat’s application process visit here.  You should possess a combination of skills, attributes, and behaviors that are directly related to successful performance on the job. The UN is looking for people with core competencies that align with their core values.

Tips for Applying

You can find tips for creating your UN job application in Inspira here. The UN uses competency-based interviews (also called “behavioral interviews), so it’s a good idea to practice these types of questions via Big Interview and review the UN’s website for further tips. Many UN organizations now require a motivation statement. It’s best to explain how a new job aligns with your overall career goals and how elements of personal character and experience support your success in a UN position. It’s recommended to share what makes you passionate about the position and the organization vs. writing a bunch of adjectives about how wonderful you are.

When it comes to work experience, include internships, volunteer work and/or part-time jobs. There is a question about languages, so if you are fluent in English be sure to indicate fluency in all 4 categories: reading, writing, speaking, understanding. Remember to save a copy of your application as well as the vacancy notice (job opening) as a PDF or printout. It’s a good idea to proofread what you write and have another person proofread before submission. You cannot retrieve or change the application once it is submitted. The UN Inspira system allows you to keep drafts of applications and keeps your previous applications. You will not be notified if you are not considered for a written assessment or interview. Check the website for the status of the job opening evaluation process.

Avoid problems by applying in good time before the published deadline. It’s a competitive process — do your best!

Entry points into the UN Secretariat

  • Young Professional Programme (YPP) — a recruitment process that requires a Bachelor’s degree and includes an entrance examination held once a year in different subject areas, depending on the needs of the UN.
  • Junior Professional Officer (JPO) — JPOs are recruited under bilateral agreements between donor countries and the UN.
  • Unpaid internships can be highly competitive at the UN. Persistence, patience and determination are key. As an undergrad you can intern in the final year of a Bachelor’s program or within one year after graduation from a Bachelor’s. It is important for a prospective intern to be able to offer the skills that the UN is looking for, have the right work ethic and to be able to express the motivation for wanting to intern at the UN.  Internships are available at all UN organizations.

Ways to Stand Out

  • Intern with an NGO that works with the UN, a government office like the State Department or at the Permanent Mission or Embassy of a member state that could increase exposure to and affirm your interest in the UN.
  • The UN has been known to hire candidates with UN Volunteers experience. A good way to gain UN experience is through UN Youth Volunteers. Positions are wide ranging in human rights, climate change, health care, disaster management, peacebuilding, youth engagement, and many other areas. You can also connect with other UN interested individuals via the local UN Association of Greater Boston chapter that seeks to support the work of the UN with programming and opportunities for networking. Get involved with general volunteer work whether in your home country or abroad, especially valuable if it’s in a developing country.
By Kelly Roberts
Kelly Roberts Assistant Director