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What Qualifications Are Required To Get A Job At The UN?

What Qualifications Are Required To Get A Job At The UN?

Edited By Dr. Srividya | Updated on May 01, 2023 03:31 PM IST

Today’s youth is a well-read and opinionated force. They seek a deeper understanding of the world around them and want to contribute to the success of humanity as a whole. Many aspire to work with international organisations where they can create a positive impact among countries. This article is for them - those who want to work with the United Nations.

What Qualifications Are Required To Get A Job At The UN?
What Qualifications Are Required To Get A Job At The UN?

The United Nations is a prestigious organisation to serve and work for. The international reach, network and diversity of roles make this a dream job for many young minds. This article gives you an overview of what you could study to work with the United Nations.

About The United Nations

The United Nations is on a mission to achieve peace, dignity and equality. It achieves its objectives through a congregation of bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children's Education Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) etc. it allows for vast diversity of professions and skills to be employed and inducted.

Educational Requirement And Criteria

Most roles require an advanced degree (postgraduate) in a relevant field. Some of the popular courses include international relations, humanitarian action, development studies, peace and conflict studies, policy development, administration and management, public health, education etc.

The course you choose will depend on your interest and the agency of the UN that you would like to serve in. Some of the core courses you could take at the master’s levels to qualify for a career or internship in the United Nations are listed below.

International Development And International Relations

A postgraduate degree in International Development gives a good theoretical understanding to work in UN agencies like WFP, UNICEF, UNDP etc. A masters level degree in International Relations will equip you in coordinating between governments on issues like trade, global health, climate crises, sustainability challenges etc. The more complex global issues require patient and prolonged negotiations that need to be conducted with tact and diplomacy.

Humanitarian Action And Disaster Management

As the UN sends relief teams and resources to help disaster affected countries and regions, a degree in disaster management, human rights or humanitarian action can prove very useful to help you learn the technical aspects as well as familiarise you with the social and psychological demands of such careers.

Community Health Or Medicine

Both doctors, public and community health specialists join the UN to further the mandate of global health and elimination of malnutrition and disease. Projects and vacancies in these areas are usually affiliated to the WHO. Doctors and community health professionals are also taken as consultants to help in fighting specific epidemics or diseases in affected areas.

Public Policy

The UN needs to design and define strong and effective policies to help alleviate poverty, enhance educational effectiveness, increase equality, and reduce climate change disasters. By pursuing a course in Public Policy, you can be equipped to contribute and work in agencies like the UNFP, WHO, UNICEF etc.

Sustainability, Environmental Science and Climate Change

The Global Climate change crises requires an immediate and effective change in work and leisure habits and consumption across the globe. If you want to help save the planet and humanity at large, completing a degree in Sustainability, Environmental Sciences or Climate change will give you the knowledge to work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and fight against climate change.

Peace and Conflict Studies

With international tensions and conflicts on the rise, the UN has a critical role in responding to global conflicts and amicably reinstating peace and humanitarian responses across the globe. A degree in peace and conflict studies can help you work with UNHCR and other UN agencies.

Food and Nutrition

A degree in nutrition and food will help you assist UNICEF and the WFO to provide nourishing meals for school going children and the underprivileged sections of society. Also, unfortunate situations of flood, famine or other disasters require food and other relief measures to be re-directed to the affected areas. This may require knowledge of food security too.

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Social Work, Psychology & Child Protection

The recent mental health challenges post the pandemic, the need to protect the rights and health of children requires specialists in psychology, social work, and child rights. The skills and knowledge gained can be applied to help protect and counsel vulnerable children in disaster zones. The agencies to work for include UNICEF, UNFPA or UNHCR.

Archaeology, Museum Studies

If you love history and ancient architecture and would like to protect the world’s cultural and heritage sites, pursuing a course in Archaeology or Museum studies is a great option. This makes you eligible for engagement in projects and work undertaken by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

inline-image_c00FE2tKeep researching your area of interest and visit the UN website for current updates.

Apart from the above degrees in public health, management, law, operations, logistics, technology etc all have relevant roles and openings in the United Nations. There are frequent deputations to different regions and countries and there is a constant shift in the domain of work across different functions and domains.

Typical Career Paths In The UN

Joining the United Nations as a permanent employee is usually after a series of roles or tenured-project assignments that may result in a permanent position of employment. In many cases, the contracts are renewed after a period of two to three years, and this may continue for the entire career span without a permanent employment.
There are usually a host of opportunities available for a fixed tenure, on a project basis as well as volunteer opportunities. Professionals who have more experience may join as Consultants to the UN and provide inputs based on their domain expertise and experience.
Entry level professionals and positions usually require two or more years of experience in a related field. Middle level professionals require seven or more years of experience and senior professionals require more than fifteen years of experience.
The specific job descriptions usually share the tenure or time-period and detailed skills required for a specific role.
If you are keen to volunteer with the UN, you would need to fill the volunteer application form and follow the process as detailed on the website. Volunteer opportunities are available across the globe, however there is no compensation or reimbursement of travel and other expenses.
The UN does offer a Young Professional programme, and this can be explored, once this option becomes available in India.
For more specific information, you may visit the United Nations official website.

Values And Competencies Needed

The UN focuses on recruiting professionals who serve with integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. A broad competency framework is used to assess potential recruits. The competencies needed across all levels include teamwork, communication, producing results, accountability, creativity, technological awareness, commitment to continuous learning and client orientation. Managerial competencies include vision, leadership, empowering others, managing performance, building trust, judgement or decision making etc.

Technical Skills

Apart from the above, you would need role specific skills like project management certification for administrative roles, experience in the development or health sector for disease prevention related roles, research skills for writing and reporting roles etc. All staff need basic IT skills and proficiency with technology and computers.

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As the working language in the UN is English and French, it is very helpful to have a working proficiency in both languages. Apart from these, there are six official languages of the UN that include Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Proficiency in a language in addition to English provides more flexibility in roles and allocations.

Other Factors

  • It is usually beneficial to have some international exposure either through your prior work or education
  • Smokers are usually discouraged from joining as the UN is a no-smoking zone.
  • Working for the UN is like being an International civil servant and requires a very high degree of integrity, honesty, efficiency, and competence in all matters related to work and status.

Employment For Indian Citizens

A host of temporary, tenure-based, or consultant roles are available for professionals from India. An indicative list of roles that Indians can apply for are listed below.

  • Child Rights advocate
  • Fundraiser
  • Associate programme officer
  • Analytical writers
  • Language translators and interpreters
  • Medical officers
  • Project assistants
  • Technical officers and coordinators

The remuneration for starting level professionals ranges from US$ 37,000 and above for the professionals category of roles. There are other roles related to field officers and the remuneration varies based on the skills and experience levels. Overall, the remuneration in the United Nations is competitive and is usually tax-exempt.

The UN is a great place to work to serve the world in areas of sustainable development, poverty alleviation, peace & security, human rights, health, economic and social security. Keep researching your area of interest and visit the UN website for current updates.

Dr. Srividya is a Career & Life Coach who works with teens, adults and returning professionals to help them find joy and alignment in their careers and lives. After working for over two decades, she founded LifeVidya in 2019 and has worked with hundreds of students, professionals, and women.


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