Getting Your Foot in the Door at the UN

It's easier to get in on the streetside
The UN Secretariat in New York
Source: Wikipedia

One of the challenges of finding a position within the United Nations is how to begin one’s search.  The UN employs more than  44,000 staff around the world, with operations that affect the 193 member states and bridge specializations from information policy, to peacekeeping, to international health, to logistics.

As many of you have expressed interest in working with the United Nations Secretariat, its constituent funds and programs, or its specialized agencies, we thought it useful to give some background on how one can get one’s “foot in the door” with the United Nations. 

These should be considered as an inclusive, not an exclusive list of ways one can begin a career with the United Nations.

1) Consider an internship with a UN Agency

Several students who have participated in the Geneva Summer Practicum or other UN-focused internships (in either Washington, DC-based Liaison Offices (pdf), the Secretariat Offices in New York, or other UN Headquarters locations), have found that these opportunities can lead to longer term consultancy opportunities within the UN System.

While this is not a guaranteed transition into the field and is contingent upon human resources policies, funding streams, and most importantly intern performance, it can serve as an opening to a rather closed system.

2) Register to take the Young Professional Programme (YPP) examination. 

The UN has a vested interested in ensuring that the most qualified candidates become interested in their civil service opportunities. Thus, they encourage applicants younger than 32 to participate in the YPP Programme.

The YPP program requires applicants in different UN focus areas to take what was previously known as the National Competitive Recruitment Examination (NCRE).  This exam measures substantive knowledge, analytical ability, drafting skills, and international affairs awareness.

While there is an annual recruitment process for the YPP, the participating countries change annual, as do the job family focus areas.

3) Consider the Associate Expert Programme

Similar to the YPP program, the Associate Expert Programme seeks to provide university graduates an opportunity to gain professional experience in the UN Secretariat and other entities.

Associate experts are recruited for a one-year appointment through a bilateral agreement with a donor country (in 2014, there were 22 donor countries).

4) Look at the Junior Professional Officer Program

Similar to both the YPP and Associate Expert Program, the Junior Professional Officer Programme (JPO) allows for nationals of specific countries to serve in the UN and its affiliated programs.

JPO’s are sponsored by their respective governments on a fixed one-year contract to serve in an international role.

5) Work with UN OPS

The UN Office for Project Services serves as an operational, implementing arm of the UN, specifically on issues surrounding global peacebuilding, humanitarian, and development projects.

The vacancies advertised through UNOPS run the gamut of support opportunities, from the intern to the senior advisor level and may be short- medium-or indefinite-length opportunities.