It often seems impossible for an outsider to get a job at the UN. But is it really?

“No,” said Linda Starodub, who recently retired from 30 plus years in the UN system, half of it in human resources, “but… it’s complicated.”

There are two basic strata of jobs: There is GS (General Service) and P (Professional). Each UN organization has its own practices regarding recruitment into these two categories.

In general though, GS jobs involve support work in administration, finance, programming, security or conferences. GS jobs are meant to be filled locally, but don’t absolutely require an Austrian work permit as the organization may be able to arrange this once a job offer is firm. The GS category covers levels 1 to 7: G3 is a basic entry-level, G4 an assistant level, G5 and G6 are for higher-level assistants, with G7s performing para-professional work. G6 and G7 jobs are typically recruited from within, but those who begin at lower GS levels can over time compete for higher-level vacancies that become available.

While GS jobs are locally-based and don’t require periodic relocation, most UN organizations require Professional recruits to be mobile over the course of a career, which means moving location, or shifting to another field of work.

Positions are internationally-recruited, and thus more competitive. Even at a junior level, they usually require a BA if not a Masters, plus several years of relevant professional experience, preferably international in nature. Moving from the GS to the P category is not impossible, but certainly not an easy or common career path – because of the international/ professional experience required.

Getting Inside

Short-term consultancies and temporary positions (for maternity and other kinds of leave) might not be advertised externally – so Starodub suggests that job seekers “make friends” within the different UN organizations and have your contacts alert you when they see short-term things that may be a good fit.”

Internships are unpaid, and are typically reserved for Masters students who have not yet graduated. The benefit is work experience within the UN (valuable on a CV), and networking. While there is no guarantee – or indeed intention – of employment, if you stay in touch you may hear about suitable consultancies and temporary positions.

Applying

GS jobs usually require a clerical test (e.g. typing, numeracy, IT skills). Each UN organisation has its own application procedures, and may also have separate requirements for P-level jobs.

A quick way to find out about jobs across organisations by level, field, or location is to susbcribe (by key word – e.g. Vienna) to this non-official search engine of almost all UN job sites: unjoblist.org. This saves having to go to each job site individually, but as many have their own alert systems for prospective recruits, it is worth visiting and signing up on the websites of organisations themselves.

General UN inspira.un.org

UNDP jobs.undp.org

UNODC unodc.org/unodc/en/ about-unodc/employment.html

UNIDO unido.org

IAEA recruitment.iaea.org

CTBTO jobs.ctbto.org