What job can you get in government
This is how you get your dream job at the UN
“If the United Nations is to survive, those who represent it must strengthen it; those who advocate it, conform to it and those who believe in it, fight for it. ”Norman Cousins
The United Nations is somewhat similar to the famous Berghain Club. Everyone wants to get in, but very few know how.
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One thing is certain. Namely, that it's not just about how you are dressed. There are (at least) three reasons that prevent young talent from getting one of the coveted jobs at the UN:
- The biggest problem is still that many young professionals have too much respect for the UN and underestimate their chances of actually being employed.
- Unlike consulting firms or investment banks, the UN does not specifically look for new talent on campus or in career events. As a result, there are simply not many opportunities for young graduates to get in direct contact with the organization or to learn about the numerous career opportunities.
- Last but not least, the UN's information policy clearly needs improvement, especially with regard to homogeneity and clarity. There is no central portal, but numerous, depending on the program and information request.
For these reasons, the following article is intended to provide an overview of orientation and job opportunities in the United Nations so that you can find the UN job that suits you and your skills in the end.
What do you need to get a job in the UN?
I'm not going to start talking about values or morals now. If you have decided to read this article, I assume that you have a keen interest in international development work and share the UN's canon of values. That's why I prefer to focus on the hard facts.
UN employees are normally acquired internationally and hold various UN organizations and positions during their careers. Entry requirements include a post-graduate degree, perfect skills in English and French (as these are common business languages). Knowledge of another foreign language is a bonus, but not a requirement for most jobs.
The most important component, however, is and remains work and practical experience. Applicants can apply for different categories depending on their previous activity: P-1 positions do not require work experience, but actually there are no such positions. For P-2 positions you need at least 2 years of professional experience, for P-3 at least five, for P-4 at least 7 years of practical experience and for positions in the P-5 area at least 10 years. You can find a comprehensive overview of the formal criteria here.
After these rather general admission requirements, which apply to pretty much all jobs, I would now like to take a closer look at specific programs for young professionals.
1. The UN Internship Program
Of all UN programs, the UN Internship Program is the option that has the lowest entry requirements for potential applicants. With more than 4,000 interns at the New York headquarters alone, the number of people employed by the UN has skyrocketed in recent years. The basic requirement is enrollment as a master's or doctoral student or in a bachelor's degree that is in its final stages. The internship is designed for 2 to 6 months.
The main disadvantage is the lack of remuneration. Because not even the travel expenses are covered.
Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives that want to change this: first and foremost the Fair Internship Initiative New York and the Pay Your Interns Initiative in Geneva.
However, there are also some funds and programs of the United Nations that are independent enough to have their own remuneration policy and to be able to pay their interns in this way. If the International Labor Organization (ILO) has its way, "Interns who do not receive any remuneration from their institution (university, political, etc.) can receive a grant from the ILO that covers their basic financial security."
In addition, there are certain national internship programs that are supported by the government. In Germany, this includes the Carlo Schmid Program, which is subordinate to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the German National Academic Foundation.
One last aspect remains to be mentioned: a considerable number of interns are offered the opportunity to work as consultants after their internship, provided that the organization's budget allows for such a position. However, such offers are usually only available for a short period (an average of 3 to 12 months). These do not offer the same benefits as a permanent position.
2. UN volunteers
A second entry option, which is organized in a similar way to an internship, is the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program. This program is currently used in 86 countries. Over 7,700 UN volunteers are called on every year, both nationally and internationally, to work in various development projects or humanitarian aid and peace organizations. In 80% of the cases, it is aid in developing or emerging countries.
The idea behind the program is to give the volunteers a better and more in-depth understanding of development work through a targeted exchange of knowledge. The UNV emphasizes: "Although UN volunteers from different professional and technical backgrounds are always in demand, there are special areas in which potential volunteers with relevant backgrounds and skills are asked more frequently." Needless to say, applicants also have to consent To be used in dangerous regions and have to adapt quickly to different living and working conditions.
Whereas the normal work assignments are designed for at least 12 months, there are also shorter ones of 3 months. The volunteers must be over 25 years of age and receive support and benefits in the form of basic financial security, annual leave and health insurance.
3. The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) program
The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) program offers interested parties another opportunity to become part of the UN system, but at the same time is considered more sought-after and more competitive than the previous two. JPO positions are only offered by certain United Nations agencies. The participants in the program will be accommodated in the country headquarters of the participating organizations on site. JPO offers are handled by the relevant national government, which means that one can only apply for the positions currently offered by your relevant government agency. Successful applicants receive a fixed one-year contract, which is normally extended to a second year if the performance is very good to satisfactory. Some of the program's sponsors even have four-year contracts. Income is similar to the entry level for UN employees (P1-P2).
JPOs must be younger than 32 years. Further entry requirements are usually a master’s degree (or something equivalent) in a development-related discipline, at least two years of paid work experience in a relevant sector (preferably in a developing country), written and spoken expertise in at least two of the three official UN languages English, French, Spanish), excellent skills in information technology as well as a pronounced strategic thinking ability and strong commitment to development work.
4. The Young Professionals Program
The last program that should be mentioned in my list is the Young Professionals Program, a recruitment initiative that aims to enable young professionals to pursue a career as an international civil servant in the UN Secretariat, the administrative body of the United Nations. The normal admission process consists of an entrance exam that takes place once a year and various development programs.
First you have to find out whether your country is currently one of the participating participants (this changes every year). The second step consists of carefully reviewing the vacancies in the area that interests you. Make absolutely sure that you meet the subject-specific requirements. You can find a list of current vacancies on the YPP homepage.
You can submit your application for your dream job at the UN on the online portal Inspira. Your application will then be checked for admissibility. If your application is successful, you will be invited to the entrance exam.
Similar to the JPO program, applicants must be under 32 years of age, have a university degree in one of the relevant examination areas (administration, finance, legal issues, public or social work, statistics) and have excellent written and spoken English or French feature. The requirements are therefore a little looser than for the JPO program. However, according to the YPP statement, relevant work experience can make the difference here: "In cases where there are more than 40 candidates of the same nationality for an application, their relevant work experience often makes the difference."
As is usually the case with dream jobs, persistence and dedication are crucial.
In summary, one can say that, although there is no clear and homogeneous communication, there are numerous entry opportunities for a job in the UN. Needless to say, getting started requires a considerable amount of work, perseverance and commitment.
Perhaps it helps to approach this: the first two UN offers described above are helpful for those who are not yet sure whether a job at the United Nations is really the right thing for them. The last two programs, on the other hand, are very specific and demanding and therefore better suited for applicants who are sure that they want to become part of the United Nations through their work.
Last but not least, one more piece of advice: Be aware that the majority of programs, especially for newbies, take place in the participating countries and not in the central offices of New York, Geneva or Nairobi. However, if you are sure that you will be involved in global development aid from the UN, apply for one of the local programs. We wish you good luck with it!
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