Working for the United Nations means you’ll be part of an organization dedicated to fostering human rights, fair political processes and peace worldwide. While its headquarters are in New York, jobs are available in many countries.
Like all large organizations, jobs within the United Nations run the gamut, ranging from entry-level office jobs to higher-level diplomatic positions -- meaning the requirements for getting a job will vary widely depending on the position.
The U.N. Careers Portal
Jobs within the United Nations will be listed on the organization’s U.N. Careers Portal. Visit the site to get a feel for the open positions, the various categories for careers, and what the positions require. The U.N. offers jobs for language experts, experts in fields such as public policy, volunteer programs and young professionals programs, as well as consultant and temporary jobs. Applying for a job requires you to fist create a U.N. profile on the site.
While some jobs won’t require a higher degree, a good deal of them will. Having a bachelor’s degree can be a good start, but often, a master’s degree is even better. If you aim to work in a more professional capacity, a degree in public policy, political science, economic policy or international relations can be a good place to start, though medical professionals such as doctors, nurses and midwives can also be in demand. Gaining more specific technical skills in things like human rights or refugee issues can also help. As you choose schools, find out what connections -- if any -- the school has with U.N. agencies. Graduate programs near New York or Geneva, for example, might have greater connections than those in other areas.
To give yourself an even greater chance of landing a job, it definitely helps to be multi-lingual. The official languages of the U.N. are French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese, so speaking any of those languages can help -- though speaking other languages won’t hurt either.
Don’t wait until graduation to start seeking out connections that can help you get your foot in the door. Seek out internships with non-governmental organizations, human rights organizations or even the U.N’s internship program, which can help you meet other people working in the field you’re pursuing. Also foster relationships with your professors and instructors -- especially those who might have experience working with the U.N.
Outside of school, working for other organizations related to human rights, public policy or human services is going to help you hone the skills -- and get the experience -- that the U.N. looks for in its employees.
The Competitive Exams
While looking at the job requirements listed on the U.N. jobs site will give you the best sense of what’s required, you’ll probably find that taking the U.N. competitive exam is a part of the process for many jobs. In any case, it’s a good way to show that you have the skills necessary for the job. There are competitive exams for multiple categories, including the young professionals program and the language experts track, among others. Generally, the exams cover basic information related to your desired position, and help the organization gauge your skill level. Check the U.N.’s careers portal for information on upcoming exams; they’re generally only held on a limited basis throughout the year.
Who the U.N. Hires
Whether you’re applying for an entry-level position as an administrative assistant or you’re someone with a more advanced degree, the U.N. is generally looking for employees who are honest, fair, and have integrity, as well as people who are flexible and responsible. What’s more, you’ll need to be ready to travel and to work in a multi-cultural environment.
Getting the right mix of character, education and experience will go a long way toward landing a job with the U.N. In the end though, you’ll have to add a dose of luck to the equation, since many jobs within the organization are quite competitive.