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How to secure a job at the United Nations Secretariat in 2020

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by Impactpool

How your country is represented will affect your chances for a job at the United Nation's Secretariat. Learn about the different quotas in the UN and find out if your nationality might be an advantage (or not) for your application.

What organizations are part of the United Nations Secretariat?

As underlined in the text above, the list presented in the article is only applicable to international professional career jobs at Headquarters in the UN Secretariat. The organizations included in the quota are the following, 

  • EOSG - Executive Office of the Secretary-General
  • DESA - Department of Economic and Social Affairs
  • DFS - Department of Field Support (most positions are field based and hence not included)
  • DGACM - Department for General Assembly and Conference Management
  • DM - Department of Management
  • DPA - Department of Political Affairs
  • DPI - Department of Public Information
  • DPKO - Department of Peacekeeping Operations (most positions are field based and hence not included)
  • DSS - Department of Safety and Security  (most positions are field based and hence not included)
  • OCHA - Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (most positions are field based and hence not included)
  • OHCHR - Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • OIOS - Office of Internal Oversight Services
  • OLA - Office of Legal Affairs
  • OSAA - Office of the Special Adviser on Africa
  • SRSG/CAAC - Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
  • SRSG/SVC - Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • UNODA - Office for Disarmament Affairs
  • UNOG - United Nations Office at Geneva
  • UN-OHRLLS - Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island
  • Developing States
  • UNON - United Nations Office at Nairobi
  • UNOV - United Nations Office at Vienna

When preparing and applying for a job at the United Nations it is imperative for you as an applicant to know about the quota system. In this article, we give you a quick overview of the calculation process and we present a list of which countries are over- or under-represented 2020.

Knowledge about quota can make your applications more strategic and you can target your job search to organizations where you have a real chance. We will in forthcoming articles give our premium members more information about quotas in some of the larger and specialized agencies.

How is the quota determined and how is your country represented?

A quota is used by all UN organizations, however, not all of them are using it strictly. The Funds and Programmes (e.g. UNDP, UNICEF, UNHRC etc) are for example more flexible when it comes to Nationality quota, however, for their professional categories a gender equality quota is always applied strictly. The Specialized Agencies (e.g. ILO, WHO etc) are stricter compared to the Funds and Programmes and they also include Nationality.

A fair criticism against most quota calculations utilized by the UN is that they are looking at numbers of staff, but not their influence. This means that a Bureau Director counts the same as a junior Research Analyst when it comes to quota calculation. However, in the past, UNESCO had a unique way of calculating weight representation (the agency has not confirmed if they still apply this method). The idea of the UNESCO quota calculation was not only focusing on the number of staff, but it also included their grade. So a country having 10 senior staff members were seen as having a better representation than one other country having the same number but the only junior staff.

Read more: Can your nationality help you to secure a job at UNESCO in 2020? 

Strictest when it comes to quota is undoubtedly the UN Secretariat and the specialized agencies. When we talk about the UN Secretariat we talk about the following organizations and their professional positions (FTA/CA) at HQ.


It is important to know that quota does only apply to staff positions, and not to consultancies, temporary or local positions.

So why is quota used? The Secretariat aims at securing diversity within its workforce and strives to fairly recruit qualified applicants, irrespective of gender, nationality, disabilities, sexual orientation, culture, religious and ethnical backgrounds. Each year the Secretariat assesses which member states have an over- or underrepresentation of staff members within the Secretariat. These calculations are based on mathematical formulas including several different dimensions such as a country’s size, country population, core-contribution, economic growth etc. The outcome of the calculations is adding up to a number (a span).

Basically, one particular country could have a span of 25-35 staff members in the UN system. Havingless than 25 staff members a country would be considered underrepresented, and above 35 it would be considered overrepresented. Nationals of a country within the span are normally not invited for an interview if there are enough eligible nationals from under-represented countries in the applicant list. The Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) in the UN closely monitors the span, and in case they forecast a decrease in the number of staffers or detect patterns indicating that the pool of professionals from a certain country starts to ebb they may include nationals from countries that are both sufficiently and over-represented for specific positions.

Where can you find out if your country is over or under-represented in the UN Secretariat?

The best way to see if your country is under-represented is to look at the list that the UN secretariat annually publishes at the time of their YPP launch. If your country is not listed it is due to being either sufficiently represented or over-represented. The YPP programme is normally launched sometime early summer. For Specialized agencies it may be a good idea to contact your Ministry for Foreign Affairs to gain information about the representation if you are about to apply. 

If you already serve in the UN as a General Service (GS) staff member, it is also good to know that you should only apply to a G-to-P conversion when your country is under-represented; otherwise, your chances are very limited. 

Below is the complete list of countries in alphabetic order that are under-represented in the UN Secretariat, i.e. member countries with less than the established minimum number of nationals currently working for the UN Secretariat:

List anno 2020

Afghanistan, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Belize, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Congo, Comoros, Cuba, Cyprus, Dominica, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Granada, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Namibia, Micronesia, Monaco, Mozambique, Nauru, Norway, Oman, Paraguay, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vanuatu, Venezuela.

Do you have dual Nationalities?

If you have two or more nationalities and one is on the list above and one is not, you can select to use the one that is under-represented when applying. However, keep in mind that it may impact future applications (under and over-representation changes from one year to another). Also in the past, the UN has experienced problems with applicants with multiple nationalities that change nationality from one application to another so that they can be eligible both for international and local opportunities. Hence some UN recruitment system audits the nationality field, so if you as an applicant change ationality for obvious applicant strategic purposes, the UN may refuse to accept your application. 

What does it mean if your country is not on the list?

Even if you have a great profile and all the requirements your chances are quite small if your country is not listed above. In this case, our advice is that you should try to look for professional jobs in other organizations than the UN Secretariat. 

If your country is on the list though, you should take any possibility to apply for professional jobs that you are eligible for (i.e., where you meet all requirements).  


Photo: UN General Assembly by Lara Torvi licensed under Creative Common at Flickr 

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