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How to get into the UN: The different entry level opportunities

There are several entry-level opportunities for young professionals looking to start their UN career, so it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s some of your UN questions answered:  


There are so many programs listed on their website, how do I know which one to pick?

The UN Internship Programme and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme are appropriate if you are curious about what a UN career would be like, whereas the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme and the Young Professionals Programme are very specific programs which are better suited for those who have their heart set on working at the UN and already have gathered some expertise in the given field.


What does it take to get a job at the UN?

  • Normally, it is required that you have an advanced university degree for a career with the UN.
  • Knowing an additional language is an asset but is not required for most jobs.
  • Though, the most important component is without a doubt, previous work experience.


Jobs are listed by ‘categories,’ what does this mean?

Correct, you can apply for different job categories.

P-1 positions don’t require any work experience; however, they basically don’t exist. P-2 positions require a minimum 2 years of work experience, P-3 a minimum 5 years, P-4 a minimum 7 years, and P-5 a minimum 10 years.


What are the specific programs geared toward young professionals?

  • The UN Internship Programme
  • The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme
  • The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme
  • The Young Professionals Programme
  • The UN Internship Programme


The UN Internship Programme

Out of all UN programs, the UN Internship Programme is the option that demands the lowest entry requirements for aspiring candidates.

With over 4,000 interns in the New York headquarters alone, the number of UN interns has skyrocketed in the last few years.

Basic requirements are enrolment in a Master’s or a Ph.D. program, or being in the final year of a Bachelor program. The internship normally lasts between two and six months.

The biggest drawback is the remuneration; as there is none. Not even travel expenses are covered.


United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme

A second entry opportunity that comes close to an internship is the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.

It is currently active in 86 countries. More than 7,700 UN Volunteers are mobilised every year nationally and internationally to work in development assistance projects and in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, though keep in mind that 80% coming from developing countries.


The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme

The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme offers another opportunity for entering the UN system, however it is far more competitive than the two options described above.

JPO posts are only offered by certain UN organisations and participants serve primarily in one of the country offices of the participating organizations in a developing country.

JPO positions are sponsored by your respective national government, meaning that you can only apply if your government currently offers a certain JPO position.

Successful applicants are offered one year fixed term contracts which are normally renewed for a second year subject to satisfactory performance. Certain partner governments sponsor assignments of up to four years. Salaries correspond with those of entry-level UN professional staff (P1 – P2).


What are the requirements?

JPOs must be younger that 32. Requirements normally stipulate a Master’s degree (or equivalent) in a development-related discipline, a minimum of two years of paid working experience in a relevant field, preferably in a developing country, written and spoken proficiency in at least two of the three official UN languages (English, French and Spanish).


The Young Professionals Programme

This is a recruitment initiative for young professionals to start a career as an international civil servant with the United Nations Secretariat.

The normal procedure requires an entrance examination that is held once a year, as well as professional development programs once successful candidates start their careers with the UN.

You can apply to the selected job opening through the online portal Inspira. Your application will be screened to determine if you are eligible for the examination in the exam area you applied for. If your application was successful, you will be informed that you have been invited to the examination.


What are the requirements?

Similar to the JPO programme, applicants have to be under 32. They must hold at least a first-level university degree relevant to one of the exam areas (Administration, Finance, Legal Affairs, Public Information, Social Affairs, Statistics) and be fluent in either English or French. Requirements are a little bit less rigorous than for the JPO programme. Although work experience is not directly mentioned as hard criteria, be aware of YPP’s policy, “Where more than 40 candidates of the same nationality apply for the YPP, relevant work experience will be used to rank candidates.”


What advice do people have about getting into one of these programs?

As is usually the case with dream jobs, persistence and dedication are key.

One final bit of advice. Be aware that the majority of job opportunities, particularly for newcomers, are in program countries and not in the offices in New York, Geneva and Nairobi. If you are serious about serving in global development work for the UN, applying for a UN job in the field might be the more promising option.

Want to see the career ladder of someone who successfully made it into a UN position?

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