Applying for a job at the United Nations requires a high degree of perseverance — “like trying to find a secret passageway from a brick wall — but eventually you get through,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the director of news and media at the UN Department of Public Information in New York.
The Center for Global Affairs at New York University presented a much-attended “Careers With the United Nations and Multilateral Organizations” panel in the fall, presenting several UN officials who gave insight into the process of applying for a permanent, temporary or consulting job at the world body.
The UN receives about 800 job applications for each post that is open annually through its digital employment portal, Inspira, which lists thousands of jobs at hundreds of “duty stations” throughout the world, among nearly 100 UN organizations, at any given time. These applications are scanned by the UN human resources department, with 200 to 300 making the cut to be sent to internal evaluators for further screening.
The UN’s Young Professionals Program, or YPP, is an alternative process to obtaining a job; it is open to people no older than 32 and is useful for those who have not accrued the five years of professional work experience that is required for many jobs listed in the Inspira database.
Because hundreds of people may be applying for any given job through Inspira, the most important thing you can do when filling out an online application on the portal is to “spend a lot of time on your personal history profile, put a lot of details about your work experience,” Dujarric, who is a former journalist and helps evaluate job applications of prospective candidates, said. “Your experience is what will make a difference.”
It takes about 10 months for applications to be evaluated for a position, a long time frame that involves following many rules and regulations to assess candidates, although consultancies and temporary posts are filled much faster. It is important to remain patient during the process and “follow as many parallel tracks as possible; apply to different places at the same time,” Dujarric said.
David Ohana, who runs the film and special projects at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is a model of patience. As a panelist at the event, he said that “it took over 10 years and 27 job applications” until he received a phone call for an interview at the UN.
Another way of getting a foot in the door is working for an organization that is involved in the UN indirectly. “Spending time at an NGO [nongovernmental organization] is a great way to get noticed by the UN, especially if it’s something in the same area,” said Kurt Chesko, a program officer at the UN Mine Action Service and a panelist. (An additional source for job information in the nonprofit world is http://unjobs.org/)
While languages other than English are vital for applying for a job in the UN Secretariat — which carries out the daily tasks of the world body through its base in New York and stations worldwide — it is critical that applicants can write clearly in English.
“Sometimes, the UN overlooks really great candidates because they don’t have the English background,” Dujarric said. If you are a native English speaker, he added, don’t forget to put that in your personal history profile. Inspira offers three kinds of entry-level jobs to apply to: consultancy, professional and general service.
It is also important to know that when people apply for a general service category job in the Secretariat, they can get stuck behind a “virtual wall” between so-called ‘G posts’ and the professional category, Dujarric said. “That’s something to keep in mind as you plan your UN career.”
Moreover, professional level posts generally require a master’s degree. The UN global staff is more than two-thirds male, so the organization encourages women to apply for positions to help make it a more gender-balanced operation.
“If you really are interested and you don’t think you have a great background, such as 20 years of experience, a piece of advice: network as much as possible, go to as many events as you can, do as many internships as you can,” said Isabel Raya, who worked as a consultant for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in the office of the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.
Raya, who is a graduate of the Center for Global Affairs master’s program, with a concentration in international development, came from Spain to New York to ultimately seek a career at the UN. Like the other panelists, she advised the audience to network and to be persistent.
“Think outside the box,” she said. “The best thing you can do is to network as best as possible. Follow the UN agency you are most interested in, attend events open to the public, start networking, keep business cards.”
With her international affairs background, Raya worked at two separate unpaid internships at the UN, which she said was a “full-time job and difficult to combine with [her] studies,” but worth it. One of the internships involved traveling to Mexico to be a Spanish-English translator for three weeks.
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Elisa dos Santos is a business economics major and presidential scholar at Hofstra University Honors College and an intern at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Washington. She is also a co-founder and president of the Hofstra University Hunger Project and a member of the Hofstra Gold Leadership Program. She is fluent in Portuguese.