UN Careers: Part One, Have You Got What It Takes?


At a recent event hosted by SOAS, University of London students were invited along to hear John Ericson (Chief of the Outreach Unit at the United Nations Secretariat in New York) talk about careers in the UN. The talk provided a great insight into how UN recruitment works (you can watch the video here), so if you’ve ever been interested in working for the UN here’s what you need to know:

Are You Ready?

I’m going to talk more specifically about the recruitment process in part two of this blog post, but I want to emphasis, right from the outset that careers in the UN are incredibly competitive. They only take those with exceptional academic records and relevant work experience, who can demonstrate fully the competencies and values of the organisation. Often you will need a Masters degree and maybe even a PhD, and most certainly a first in your undergraduate degree. You will need to be entirely dedicated to the idea of working for the UN; the recruitment process can be drawn out and difficult. If successful you will be and international civil servant, subject only to the instructions on the UN – meaning that the UN will come above national allegiance. You will need to be prepared to work anywhere in the world – perhaps never actually been stationed at ‘home’. The rewards, however, are great. Not only does the UN provide a lot of support to help you relocate etc, but you will be doing a job that has the potential to make a difference to the world. As John pointed out, you will be creating stories to tell your grandchildren.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

The first thing John emphasised is just how large the UN is. It’s a body made up of dozens of agencies spanning every continent, so don’t just look at the Secretariat when thinking of a UN career. Pay attention to all the other agencies. If you are interested in public health, for example, you could work for WHO, UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNICEF. Each agency also has its own recruitment process and you will need to tailor your application to that particular organisation and role. So make sure you get to really know the agencies relevant to what you want to do.

And it’s not just politics or law graduates that they are looking for. The UN employs scientists, engineers, IT personnel, statisticians, anthropologists, geographers, auditors, security advisors, translators, HR specialists, technologists and more. So whatever your background there’ll be a role for you.

More than Competent

The UN has three core values: integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. It also has 8 core competencies covering things like team work and communication. You can see the full list here. Each vacancy at the UN will use these competencies by which to judge candidates. Meaning that when you make an application you have to make sure you pay attention to what competencies are being asked and tailor your CV and interview answers specifically to those competencies. And have a think about the values too, and how you might demonstrate these to a UN recruiter.

Heather Campbell

Information Assistant, Careers & Enterprise Centre


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