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My first UN application - Tips for your first UN job application

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by Henrik Rydén
COO and Co-founder of Impactpool

Research shows that many young academics dream about a career in the Impact sector, working for positive impact.

In the past years the impact career landscape has grown significantly, and today you can work at different types of entities, all from the largest multilateral (UN, EU, OSCE, OECD, etc) to impact startups.

In this article, I focus on your first application for the United Nations (UN). This article is for you who may be a recent university graduate looking for an entry-level position or for you who may currently be enrolled in an ongoing master’s program considering applying for an internship.

The article will be divided into two parts:

  1. Opportunity scanning
  2. Job application

Opportunity scanning

To land a job at the UN there are a few ingredients that will help you reach your goals faster. I group all these ingredients under the umbrella of ‘opportunity scanning’.

Opportunity scanning refers to the activities you do to actively search for and identify potential job opportunities.

It involves creating an understanding of the different career journeys, potential obstacles, and macro-trends that potentially will create new demands for talent and skills.

The goal with your opportunity scanning is to stay ahead of competing candidates and succeed with your own career aspirations.

To succeed with effective opportunity scanning and to keep your scanning narrow/focused, you must make a few individual decisions.

Are you a generalist or a specialist? 

When studying UN careers, one could loosely say that program/thematic career tracks offer limited career opportunities for generalists. The UN seeks thematic experts for their programs; Climate Mitigation experts, Child Protection experts, and so on.

However, in the operations/administration track generalists are in demand. Operations/Administration refers to areas such as Budget, Finance, Procurement, Logistics, HR, etc. It helps to have a broad skill set to advance in the Operations/Administration hierarchy.

This article is for the UN, but if you are a young generalist from one of the EU member states dreaming of a diplomatic career, I recommend you to keep an eye out for the Open Competition for Generalists (AD5). By using an innovative proctored testing tool, the EU will allow all applicants with a completed BA to take the entry test, which opens up equal opportunities for everyone.

Are you willing to take risks or not?

If you dream of working for the UN in New York, you are not alone.

You are however more alone if you dream of working for the UN in Libya, Yemen, and Syria.

Internships are not offered in non-family, challenging locations. But volunteer assignments and junior staff positions are available in the more challenging places on earth.

Scanning for opportunities in more challenging locations will take you closer to your career goal.

Another ingredient of risk is linked to scanning macro-trends, and identifying the government funding flows.

What is the next big program?

Unfortunately, it is not a brave guess to believe that the war in Ukraine will attract funds for years from now. After the war, years of the rebuild will be required, and for that, there will be a need for a wide variety of skills. Taking the opportunity to learn the Ukrainian language now, would probably make you unique and open many doors over the next 15 years.

Are you aware of quotas?

Quotas do not apply for internships and volunteer assignments, but for most staff positions. As you may not want to be a volunteer/intern for your whole career, it is recommended to learn about the organization's quota. It may be needed when you apply for the next assignment.

Further down in this article, I will continue with tips for your first UN  job application.

Photo by Eliott Reyna.

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