So you’ve read Part One, Have You Got What it Takes and decided you really do want to work for the UN. So what are your options? First of all, each individual UN agency will have its own vacancies throughout the year, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to research your options. Many people will simply apply for the Secretariat because they think this is where the important work is done (or they want to go to New York!). But the agencies are just as important as the Secretariat and will have an array of choices. Each one will recruit slightly differently, so the main things to remember are to make sure your application is tailored specifically to that agency and that role (don’t talk generally about the UN) and that you’ve paid careful attention to the values and competencies mentioned in part one.
Young Professionals Programme (YPP)
If you want to work for the Secretariat one of the main ways is through the YPP. In a nutshell, you make an application to sit an exam. If you’re successful in that exam you are invited for interview. And if successful in that you will get placed on a roster and offered a position as and when one becomes available.
Full details of the YPP are available on the UN website, including an FAQ and test examples. Key things to remember are:
- You will need to be fluent in either English or French, be under the age of 32, have a Bachelor’s degree and be a national of one of the participating countries.
- The programme is incredibly competitive. Roughly 20-30,000 people apply each year; only 4-5,000 will be invited to take the exam and only about 100 or so will actually pass.
- To ensure fair representation, only the best 40 applicants from each participating country are invited to sit the exam. So you will need to be one out of 40 of the best candidates in your country.
- The exam takes place once a year in various examination centres throughout the world.
- If you are successful and offered a position, you must accept it. If you decline you will be removed from the roster and have to do the application process all over again. So you need to be flexible as to where you are prepared to work. If you are holding out to go to New York you may not get there just yet!
Junior Professional Officers’ Programme (JPO)
JPOs are effectively representatives of their home countries who work for and with the UN. Unlike the YPP where you are directly hired by the UN, the recruitment process for JPOs is handled by the foreign or international development office of your home nation. Again, the recruitment process is very competitive, with the requirements being higher than the YPP. To apply you will need a Master’s degree, and at least two years relevant work experience, together with fluency in 2 of the 3 UN languages (English, French and Spanish). Check out their website for more detail on how to become a JPO.
While the YPP does not proscribe any minimum amount of work experience, you will find it difficult to make a really good application without any. And nearly all other vacancies at the UN will require some sort of work experience. So the sooner you start thinking about this the better. I know I keep repeating this but study the UN competencies and values! This will give you a good insight into what UN recruiters will be looking for when they review your application. Therefore, you need to make sure you get work experience that will help you evidence these competencies. Any work experience that addresses these competencies will be of value, but doing something with the UN will help demonstrate your commitment to the organisation. Two ways are through a UN internship or volunteering:
To do an internship you need to be either enrolled in a Masters/PhD or in the final year of your Bachelors degree or you have graduated less than a year ago. Internships last between 2 and 6 months and you will need to apply directly with the relevant agency that is offering them. Internships are unpaid and you will need to have money for accommodation, flights, insurance etc.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain skills and experience, and for the first time the UN now offers Youth Volunteering for 18-29 year olds. Opportunities are advertised via the website or social media. And if travelling abroad would prove difficult for you, you can also do Online Volunteering. You can search by work type or by region and there are opportunities in everything from website design to writing funding proposals, to doing online tutoring.
For more info on what it’s like working for the UN, take a look also at our sister blog, International Development.
Information Assistant, Careers & Enterprise Centre