The United Nations, with offices in 193 countries and 37,000 employees, is the world’s largest universal multilateral international organization. It inspires people from around the world to join its mission of maintaining peace, advancing human rights and promoting justice, equality and development. 

Securing employment with the Organization can seem like a daunting task, but as the scope of its work is global and multidimensional, there are many different entry points for candidates of varied educational backgrounds and diverse professional experience. UNAI designed the #Work4UN series to help you understand the UN, its structure, and some of the most common avenues available to join the organization. Today’s article is the first in the series and provides an overview of the UN System and working for the Organization. 

What is the United Nations System?

The world looks to the United Nations for solutions to complex global problems. Working around the clock, the Organization’s 37,000 staff members help 193 Member States develop friendly relations, maintain international peace and security, foster sustainable development and promote human rights. Among UN staff, you will find people who monitor elections, disarm child soldiers, coordinate relief in humanitarian crises and provide administrative support to carry out complex mandates.

The United Nations System is made up of the UN Secretariat as well as UN funds and programs such as UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA, specialized agencies such as UNESCO, WHO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and other entities such as UNHCR and UN Women.  This series will focus on working for the UN Secretariat.

Working within the UN system, composed of 6 main organs and offices and organizations around the world, is an exciting prospect for many people. There are 4 main UN offices: New York (UN Headquarters), Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, 13 active peacekeeping operations, and 25 special political missions. The UN also has five Regional Economic and/or Social Commissions: the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in Geneva, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, and the Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut; 60% of the UN staff work in the field.

The UN offers an exciting and inclusive workplace in which diversity of cultures, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs and other attributes are welcomed and valued. In addition to a competitive benefits and compensation package, the UN is also a family-friendly workplace and staff are entitled to flexible work arrangements, maternity and paternity leave, family health insurance, a pension plan and extensive professional development and learning programs.

What are the job opportunities at the UN? 

At the UN, there are 9 job networks and 45 job families. Job opportunities are available for people with all educational backgrounds, not only international relations. Whether you are a lawyer, political scientist, economist, journalist, engineer, architect, logistics expert, web developer, translator, librarian or a recent graduate with little or no work experience, working for the UN could be an exciting career path if you want to make a difference and contribute your talent to serve humanity.

Who is the ideal candidate for UN employment?

The UN is looking for people who truly embody the Organization’s core values such as integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. Candidates who are willing to learn new languages and skills and are open to working anywhere in the world or traveling at a moment’s notice will make ideal employees of the Organization. The United Nations is also a geographically diverse working environment. People from all over the world are encouraged to apply and once employed, they must show respect for diverse points of view and demonstrate this understanding in their daily work and decision-making.

As a general rule, and in light of the international nature of the UN’s work, language proficiency is required for all positions, in particular English and/or French, the two working languages of the UN Secretariat, as well as other language(s) that might be relevant to the requirements of the job and the duty station. The six official UN languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. 

Application Tips

The UN categorizes their job postings based on the international nature of a position, the types and/or length of contracts, and the years of work experience required. For young applicants with little professional experience, consultancy positions, internships and special entry programs such as the Young Professionals Programme (YPP) and the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme are the most common ways to start. For those interested in working in the field, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) mobilizes over 8,000 UN volunteers annually to contribute to peace and development projects, either in their own countries or aboard.

The United Nations receives a large number of applications every day. Here are some tips to make sure your application stands out:

  • Before you apply, find out what types of jobs match your education, experience, and location preference;
  • Take time to create your personal history profile (PHP) in the UN recruitment system, Inspira;
  • Create a job alert to automatically receive notification for all relevant new jobs;
  • Let your application tell the story of how and why you fit this position;
  • Be sure to indicate your level of language proficiency for all languages that you read, write, speak and understand; 
  • Be concise in your cover letter, double check for errors, and express your motivation in a genuine and honest fashion.

UNAI conducted a series of interviews with United Nations staff members to provide additional information on working for the UN, and to allow staff members the opportunity to share their professional and personal insights into working for the Organization.  In this video, Eva Jansen and Benjamin Salignat, both Human Resources Officers with the United Nations Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance (DMSPC), provide general information about careers at the UN with some useful tips. Raja Gundu, Political Affairs Officer with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT), shares his experience working in peacekeeping operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and more.

Additional Resources

#Work4UN: Basic Facts about Working for the United Nations