Most UN Jobs Vacancies are Available Online
We are fortunate enough that no matter where we are in the world, we can apply online for the majority of UN positions. UN secretariat organisations all have their vacancies announced on one centralised site. These positions are also available from Inspira where you complete your profile and submit your application. The specialised agencies have their own job portals via their website. Just look for the section on the site labelled careers/vacancies/jobs etc. Another option is to check sites such as this one which bring together jobs from various agencies and organisations.
People often ask me what is the best way to find a job at the UN. I just tell them go to International Career Finder and check out vacancies all day! We aggregate positions from many different UN organisations to make your life easier. Of course though, it is not the only way so use the information in this post to level up your job search.
Getting The First Look
Another way in which some people search for jobs is through LinkedIn. I have noticed that not all UN positions are advertised on there though, so be sure to check directly on the organisations website if you are unsure. In LinkedIn you may also have people in your network who share vacancies or announce upcoming positions that you may have otherwise missed or that have not yet been posted on the organisation’s website.
This is a great way to apply for positions early, which could make the difference between getting a job and not getting one. As in some cases interviews start or positions are even filled before the deadline is even reached, this is especially the case for emergency rosters or other urgent posts.
Professional Job Seeker Mode
Also, for positions such as JPOs or to work in other positions where you are seconded to the UN you need to keep an eye on the relevant government websites for any vacancies. For instance, if you are Ugandan and you wanted to work with the Ugandan mission to the UN, you would have to apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Uganda to get such a position not directly to the UN. The same principle applies for environmental and other representatives of governments who work primarily with the UN but for their own government. The best approach to finding these jobs is to bookmark the relevant sites and check them periodically (for example on first and third Monday of the month).
Other positions are only available for certain candidates. For example, if you succeed in the YPP competitive process you have access to roles which can only be applied for by people who have passed the YPP. The same applies for consultancies and other jobs that are ‘filled from roster’, this requires you to have previously applied for and placed on a roster for that particular organisation. This can happen to candidates who interview well for a role but who have otherwise not been chosen, you are usually informed if you are on a roster so you would know if you are.
There are also positions that are only available to internal staff, to find those you have to check the relevant intranet or check with your HR department to find out how to apply for such positions. Lastly, for completeness I will mention that some of the UN positions are not found or applied for by people but instead you have to be nominated for them. This only applies for Under Secretary General (USG) and higher positions and is usually quite a political and complex process.
Lastly, for those who are not aware, the UN also has a ‘volunteering’ programme called UN Volunteers (UNV). These positions, confusingly and unlike internships, are paid. Whilst you do not get a salary you are given a stipend that is often quite generous. In my opinion this can be a great entry route into a UN career for those who are either ineligible to do an internship (due to having graduated too long or go or for other reasons) or who don’t want to do one etc. There are various contract types and the applications are all completed on the UNV website. You can create a profile and be placed in a pool of applicants from which organisations choose their preferred candidates based on their needs.
Another option is to apply for special calls, this way you can apply for specific positions that you may be interested in, the UNV office handles the primary application filtering and then the short-listed candidates are interviewed directly by the hiring organisation. My only gripe with the UNV system is that the online application portal does not allow you to differentiate yourself enough in my opinion, with tight word limits and a lack of space to input information about yourself.
My advice for prospective UN employees is to have a list of organisations that you may be interested in working with at your disposal. Then using that list you can keep an eye out on them once a week or month depending on how often you would like to search and apply for jobs. For your reference here is the list of some of the organisations in that I used to use as a guide when looking for jobs. It just goes to show that even with quite a niche field in environmental work, there were a wide range of options in terms of where you could work. Of course, most of these organisations have various offices all over the globe so there are opportunities to suit almost all people’s needs.
Of course, International Career Finder makes it easier for you to find the majority of these positions on one site; this way it is much simpler to find the right positions to apply for rather than searching a dozen different sites. Just note that certain specific positions that are not directly advertised by the UN won’t be found here (but we are working on that!). This includes government sponsored positions and those for representative roles at the UN for the respective governments.
Everybody is Motivated Until They're Not...
Most people who apply for jobs in the UN or other international organisations in my experience are highly ambitious and generally well-motivated people seeking to affect change in their world. As well as all the cool perks that come with such a career of course.
When you are young and at the beginning of your professional career – you have so much motivation (almost enough to make up for that lack of work experience, almost). However, nothing drains motivation faster than rejection emails and unsuccessful interviews. This is the reality for any competitive employment landscape out there and international organisations unfortunately are no exception. That’s why in this post we look at the best ways in which you can stay motivated during your job application process, and even after you get your UN job.
How to Stay Motivated
Motivation is an extremely important factor for success in building a career with international organisations. Now this may sound straightforward but, in my experience, – loss of motivation is one of the main reasons why people end up abandoning their international organisation career plans.
There are some simple ways to remain motivated during what may be a longer and more arduous journey than you initially expected. Just as important is remaining motivated when you have got a role in your preferred organisation. So, read on for all the tips you might find useful in your quest for an international career.
First and foremost, the most important thing to know and accept is that you cannot expect the first position you apply for to be the one you get (doesn’t mean you should put in any less effort though!). Now whilst I am sure this does happen for some lucky people out there, in the vast majority of cases, including mine, it takes many applications before you get that role you so desperately want.
Essentially it is a numbers game; and whilst I do not advocate for applying for any and all available jobs, I do stress the importance of patience and persistence when applying for jobs.
In the case of the UN in particular, it can often take months from the point at which a job offer is listed online to the point where a successful candidate is chosen. The main point here is to not have your heart set on every single position you apply for as it will inevitably lead to disappointment if you don’t get the position.
As the vast majority of these organisations unfortunately don’t inform you of a failed application, no response a few weeks after the application deadline can usually be considered a rejection. In my experience the best way to capitalise on this is to use an apply and forget methodology. Whereby you simply apply for positions and forget all about them until they offer an interview or further application steps are required on your part. The benefit of this in my mind is two-fold, firstly you can make the application process a regular thing – just part of your weekly or monthly routine (thereby becoming a true job application machine!).
Secondly, it allows you to deal with rejection more easily in my opinion, as ignorance is bliss and forgetting about an application for a job you didn’t get is a lot better for the ego. If you can’t forget the next best thing is to not expect to get a job (even if you think you’re the most perfect applicant and that the role was designed almost specifically for you – as this way you can avoid unnecessary disappointment and a potential loss of motivation).
This is an easy one to note, but as with most things it’s much easier said than done. As someone once told me, it’s like telling a person with asthma to just breathe normally.
Regardless, positivity is a key factor to staying motivated. Ok so I am not advocating for that manifesting trend out there (not that I know much about it), but I do strongly believe that a positive outlook is important for each and every application. As a motivated and positive applicant is more likely to reflect such an attitude in their application than someone who has lost all faith in humanity (trust me I’ve been there).
As doctors often tell their patients who are worrying about rare side-effects; think of yourself as part of the 99, not as the 1 in a hundred. If you are qualified and the quality of your applications is up to scratch then it is just a matter of time and sufficient applications before you get your role. From what I have seen, most people who want to work in the UN badly enough, end up getting a position there eventually.
Last but not least, a key factor in remaining motivated is to really solidify your resolve by understanding and clarifying why it is that you want to work in an international organisation in the first place. By actually thinking about it and maybe even jotting down your thoughts you may find that your reasons are relatively superficial or can be achieved outside such organisations and this may mean that your motivation wanes as a result, or you might have a reason that is very important to you personally, and with that reason you can remain focused on your goals no matter how long it may take to achieve.
Expectations Rarely Match Reality
Staying motivated isn’t just an issue before you get the job though. I have plenty of colleagues who lost motivation for building a UN career only after they got their first UN job. Think of it like this – have you ever planned for an incredible trip and subsequently were underwhelmed by the experience? How about a home cooked meal; has a well-meaning loved one ever made you a dinner which left you less than satisfied? Well unfortunately, in particular for those with overactive imaginations – and I speak from my personal experience – expectations rarely match reality. This is no less the case for a career in international organisations. This is why it is equally important to know how to stay motivated once you have the role.
Now, I am not necessarily suggesting that you will inevitably be disappointed or disillusioned with the reality of having your dream job – I am however noting that it is important to acknowledge that it will differ from what you might expect. Most of the people who apply for UN jobs for instance, tend to have an idealistic perception of the kind of work that they will be involved in and the impact they can have through that work. In order to not become jaded with your career choice it is therefore vital that you learn to accept reality for what it is; and perhaps more importantly, to remember why it is that you applied in the first place.
Don't Get Too Comfortable
Personally, the most important way in which I think you can remain motivated once you have made entry into the world of international organisations is by not becoming too comfortable. I have seen far too often that people once they have a relatively secure role, that they suddenly go into cruise control. They decide that they have achieved what it is that they wanted and that they should now just be comfortable and happy in their role.
I think this is profoundly the wrong mindset to be in; but that it is very easy to develop such a mindset – in particular if you really struggled to get the role in the first place. The UN in particular has amazing opportunities for career advancement and internal routes for progression but these are only usually for those who actively seek them out.
This is why I believe it is crucial to maintain a motivation for progress and not to just settle for what it is that you have achieved already. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. The benefits of this are numerous but mainly because by continually striving for bigger and better things you are continually improving yourself (and who wouldn’t want that). Now of course it is important as they say to enjoy the journey as well and not just focus on the destination – but my advice remains don’t stop the journey!
One of the most common questions I get from applicants is what type of UN job is the most suitable for me?
One of the most important factors in being successful in general is to know what type of job you want. No matter what it is; if you have a goal it will be easier to aim for it as opposed to just winging it. Needless to say, this applies to international organisation careers as well. Knowing what kind of career you want makes finding and applying for jobs a lot easier. Additionally, it allows you to focus on a niche and build experience in that area. That’s why in this post we discuss some of the different job types you can have in the United Nations. Read on to find which UN job type is best for you, and which one resonates most with your work experience and future plans.
Additionally, it allows you to focus on a niche and build experience in that area. That’s why in this post we discuss some of the different job types you can have in the United Nations. Read on to find which UN job type is best for you, and which one resonates most with your work experience and future plans.
Think About The Job Role You Want
Let’s use an example to best illustrate this; I have quite a few friends who tell me that they would love to get into environmental work. However, they have no idea what type of job role they will like to assume and where to start to get the desired environmental job role. I always tell them that it is important to think about what kind of role they would like to take in environmental work. Some questions I could ask in this case would be:
As you can see there are many possibilities. Now a lot of people starting their careers may not know what is right for them. Inevitably, a lot of people end up doing entirely different things from what they initially set out to do – that’s completely fine. However, the important thing is to know exactly what you want to try. Once you have a set job role in mind, it will be much easier to complete the whole job application process.
Moreover, you will have a higher chance of job success. Although the UN is not so homogenous (it is made up of a range of different organisations with differing working styles) the job application process is highly similar for most of them. Job applicants have to sift through standardized role ‘titles’ and pay grades which are matched according to the applicant’s experience and location.
General Job Roles at the UN
In almost all job roles of this type across different organisations at the UN, the main focus is on administration and support tasks. In such positions at the UN, you can rise in ranks all the way up to G6/G7 staff with salaries comparable to mid-level professionals. Additionally, you will also be eligible for those great staff perks that full-time UN staff get.
General job roles at the UN can provide great work experience in areas of your interest. For example, you can start your career in environmental work by supporting the work of an environmental project. Getting into an administrative and supportive job role helps you acquire learning crucial for growth and success.
Plus, you will start to hone the skills that you did not initially pay much attention to. It is because the key job role behind the scenes for all these organisations is to function correctly. You can get a job role as the assistant to the biodiversity officer and learn the nitty-gritty of more complex job roles at the UN.
How to Apply for UN General Staff Roles?
The entry route to these roles generally requires increasing amounts of work experience from G1-G7. You do not need a university or higher-level education (generally).
However, such a qualification may in fact help in securing a position if you have less than the required work experience. University and Higher-level qualifications lower the barrier to entry as compared to some of the other positions. It means that it is technically ‘easier’ to get one of these positions with lesser experience but higher qualifications.
However, the tricky part is that candidates must meet some other requirements such as proof of residence in the country where you are applying for a position. Due to these requirements, a lot of the general staff positions across the UN are filled by local staff of that particular duty station.
Can You Change From General to Professional Staff at the UN?
The issue with general staff positions, as compared to professional positions, is that there are limited opportunities for mobility. Particularly in the UN, it is incredibly difficult to go from a general staff position to a professional staff position. There is a test (aptly named the G to P exam) which takes place once a year and passes a limited number of general staff members to professional positions. So, it is important to keep these restrictions in mind when applying for general positions in the UN with plans to obtain a professional position further down the line.
Professional Positions at the UN
Professional positions are usually coveted by aspiring UN employees everywhere; whether they know it or not. These positions can be highly varied. However, they are linked together by their amazing career progression opportunities, great staff benefits and, of course, an equally great salary.
Professional Positions at the UN generally range from P2-P5. Depending on the organisation, these positions can be in almost any role in any field (that would normally require a university-level qualification). For instance; some of the popular UN Professional Job positions are for translators, project managers, accountants, media officers, doctors and even lawyers.
If you are interested in a Professional environmental role at the UN, you can explore different positions which range from environmental policy officer to environmental scientist.
Keep in mind that these positions require higher-level education (the vast majority of roles now ask for a Master’s degree as a minimum). Usually, for such a role, you need to have a relevant qualification and the requisite amount of experience as a bare minimum.
In my personal experience, and to the dismay of many potential applicants, the reality is that the competition for these roles is generally so fierce that the minimum requirements are raised to PhD qualifications with a decade of experience of most candidates applying for P2 positions (advertised as 2 years minimum required experience + a Master’s). So you can probably start to understand why it is so difficult to get professional positions at the UN.
Can you Apply for Technical Roles at the UN?
It is important to note that technical roles require more experience in a particular niche than some more general roles. For instance, a plant geneticist at FAO may require more experience with plant sciences than a general ecologist. On the other hand, such niche positions get narrower as you go further in your career. Therefore, the same plant geneticist may struggle in finding a higher-level position within the UN. Whereas an employee with a broader range of work, such as an Environmental Affairs officer, may be able to get a higher job role as a Project Manager with another UN organisation.
So, before you apply for all the available positions at the UN, consider whether you would like a technical position based on some present or future expertise or a policy position which may offer more flexibility. It all comes down to what kind of impact you want to have and in which arena you would like to work. For instance, someone who enjoys networking and developing key relationships will do great in a policy role but may not enjoy a role where they are sent on missions to remote locations for project evaluations.
The step-up from professional positions are the director-level positions; and beyond those are the appointed positions – whose entry routes are incredibly political and complex. These will be discussed in a future post. In yet another post, we will discuss the bureaucracy and politics involved with such roles and professional roles in general as well as the quest to obtain one, the best entry points and routes to such positions.
Field Positions at the UN
Field roles are some of the most interesting and varied roles the UN has to offer. These roles are often the ones people think of when they plan to join frontline international worker scenarios. These roles are often hybrid positions requiring skills from both the general and professional positions. Although I have not had any direct experience in a field position with the UN, some of the types of roles that field positions call for can be IT support, personal protection officers etc. Project positions often have field staff, and in particular, the emergency response staff of many UN organisations are comprised of field staff.
Experience in the field is highly valued and regarded for good reason. In fact I have heard some UN staff referring to their field colleagues as ‘superheroes’, without the capes. The experience you gain in the field is almost always highly varied and of high quality. Owing to the nature of such roles field staff are given a lot more responsibility as compared to their respective peers in HQ professional/general roles. The learning curve is incredibly steep and rewarding in such positions. Of course, a field position in your career will also look great for future applications.
Let’s not forget to mention one of the most common ways in which most people enter the UN (from entry-level) positions these days. Internships are a great way to do three things. (hint: getting a job at the end is not one of them) The three things are as follows:
An internship provides invaluable insight into the type of work done at the UN and gives you a taste of what it would be like to work in a UN organisation. Internships offer you hands-on understanding which is better than any explanation from an article, video or friend who worked there. Based on the experience you gain from UN internships, you can either tell yourself that ‘The next few years of pain, sweat and tears will be worth it.” or you can find solace in finally knowing that ‘Nah, this UN world isn’t for me’.
Secondly, the internship provides you with the opportunity to network with the very people with whom you want to work. It also lets you know what your peers – in the form of your fellow intern – are like; in terms of their motivations and experiences. Networking is incredibly important at this stage, I cannot stress this point enough. So if your LinkedIn isn’t up to scratch yet – get it done. Again, this will be discussed in more detail in another post.
Last but definitely not least, internships give you direct work experience to use for your CV. You also gain confidence to apply for future jobs and acquire knowledge for dissertations etc. Of course, the amount of effort you put in to the internship is almost entirely up to you – but the more you put in the more you will get out of it, and of course it never hurts to make a great impression (remember to work smart and not overwork though).
Read the tips about how to maximise the experience you gain from your internship in our post about UN internships. Also, for help with your CV, you can use our services so be sure to check those out.
What are UN Consultancies?
A quick note on consultancies. First, let me tell you what UN consultancies are supposed to be – and some are definitely like the following explanation. However, the vast majority of consultancies are different from what is discussed next. UN consultancies, contracts, personal services agreements or whatever they may be called in the particular UN organisation are supposed to be positions reserved for subject matter experts on short term projects. It means the WHO may pay one of the world’s foremost virologists a per diem of $5,000 for a 20 day contract to support them in an emergency situation.
Even now, this is how the vast majority of the higher-level contracts are assigned involving hiring a single person who may be from former UN senior staff, a political figure, or subject matter expert etc. These people are hired on short term or on a part-time basis at exorbitant rates for a few hours work a week etc. This often comes out of the budget for the team requesting the expert. Moreover, it follows a highly scrutinised and complicated hiring process. Sometimes, candidates need to come from prefiltered highly competitive consultant rosters that the UN has, but of course, this ends up being incredibly lucrative for the successful candidates.
A similarly complex and arduous process takes place when companies compete for contracts from the UN by attempting to outbid each other. This is often a procurement issue and is not really relevant here but mentioned for completeness. (Secondments or in-kind contributions by UN member states are yet another way people can work for the UN on a temporary/loan basis).
Now for the way the vast majority of UN consultancies actually work. This is, of course, based on my personal experience but I have seen this practice take place across various organisations in various contexts; from local, regional and even headquarters locations. Due to certain restrictions on hiring staff directly from internships – a loophole has formed whereby a lot of interns are hired as consultants soon after their internship contracts end. They end up doing exactly the same work as they did when they were interns but this time for actual pay.
Dodgy Loophole or Great Opportunity? You Decide…
Of course, the disadvantages of these positions are clear. As a consultant, you do not get the staff benefits of general/professional positions and also your job security is a lot lower since you have to get by on short-term contracts which your supervisor may or may not renew by the end of your current contract. These types of consultancies will be discussed in a lot more detail in another post.