Employment Opportunities with the United Nations and Other International Organizations
This Fact Sheet is intended to answer questions concerning employment opportunities and procedures relevant to the United Nations (UN), its affiliated agencies, and other international organizations (IOs). The U.S Government encourages qualified U.S. citizens to consider such employment.
The U.S. Department of State provides information to and assists Americans interested in these opportunities. While gaining a rewarding work experience, international civil servants also impart to their chosen organizations their high work standards and dedication to the needs of the world community.
The Secretariats of the UN and its affiliated agencies hire long-term, project, and short-term employees to carry out their ongoing functions. To attract and hire such individuals, the UN and other IOs have their own personnel departments that publicize vacant positions and evaluate and hire applicants.
According to the UN Charter and personnel policies of other IOs, the primary consideration in the selection of staff is the need to secure the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity. Most organizations are making special efforts to recruit qualified women for professional positions and pay due regard to recruiting and selecting individuals on as wide a geographical basis as possible.
U.S. GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE
The ability of UN agencies and other international organizations to carry out their programs effectively depends largely on the quality of their staffs.
As the largest financial contributor to most of these organizations, and because these organizations administer multilateral development and assistance programs, as well as other important but costly programs, the U.S. Government has a vested interest in the composition of their staffs and actively seeks to ensure that these organizations’ applicant pools include highly-qualified American candidates.
Citizenship: Candidates seeking U.S. Government assistance in obtaining IO employment must be citizens of the United States. Non-citizens, including legal permanent resident aliens (green card holders), should contact their own government’s representative for information on IO employment or apply directly to the organizations.
U.S. Government Employees: Most federal employees are eligible by law (Title V – U.S. Code 3581-3584, and implemented by Executive Order 11552) to be “detailed or transferred” to an international organization for a period of up to five years – and in certain instances up to eight years – with reemployment rights to their respective federal agencies, continuity of service and protection of fringe benefits. This is subject to prior approval by the federal agency involved. For more information, federal employees should contact:
UN Employment Information and
Assistance Unit (IO/MPR/EA)
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Role of the Department of State
The UN Employment Information and Assistance Unit (IO/MPR/EA) in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs of the Department of State is the focal point for leading and coordinating U.S. Government efforts to improve American participation in international organizations and for managing an information and "recruitment" program. This office compiles a bi-weekly International Vacancy Announcements (IVA) list of a wide range of professional vacancies, e.g., accountants, economists, system analysts, lawyers, engineers, human resource managers, statisticians, public health administrators, and development specialists, that are available to the general public. The vacancy list, this fact sheet, and other pertinent information can be accessed from the Department of State web page at: http://www.state.gov/p/io/empl/.
IO/MPR/EA does not compile information regarding contract or other short-term positions. For information on these types of positions, see each organization’s website. These positions are listed under “Consultancies,” “Consultants,” “Short Term Contracts,” Experts,” “Project Vacancies,” etc.
Individuals who believe they qualify for senior and other professional positions should submit their completed applications directly to the organizations by the closing date on the vacancy announcement, using directions provided by that organization’s website. Generally, organizations are asking for on-line applications.
American applicants compete with candidates from other countries, and competition is keen. Selection does not depend on U.S. Government support, and sponsorship by the U.S. Government is not required.
Role of Other Federal Agencies and Offices
Although the Department of State is the lead agency for coordinating U.S. Government recruitment efforts for employment in IOs, several other federal agencies play key roles by identifying and encouraging American candidates to apply for technical and highly- specialized positions in their counterpart UN agencies. For example, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recruit for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP), and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The Department of the Treasury is the lead USG agency for recruitment of Americans for the international financial institutions. Americans interested in applying for positions with the World Bank (WB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), should write to:
Office of Multilateral Development Banks
U.S. Department of the Treasury
15th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20220
Americans interested in applying for positions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should write to:
Office of International Monetary Policy
U.S. Department of the Treasury
15th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20220
EMPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROFESSIONAL AND SENIOR POSITIONS
Most employees of the UN and other IOs are experts in their fields and have extensive technical experience. The large majority of professional and senior positions require an advanced degree; a significant number of years of recent, relevant, and specialized work experience; some field experience in developing countries; and fluency in at least one of the official UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish) and a strong working knowledge of another, usually French or Spanish. (Appointments to Translator or Interpreter posts require passing a qualifying examination.)
There rarely are suitable openings for students or recent college graduates who lack pertinent experience or language skills.
Professional positions within the UN system are divided into two categories: “P” levels (P-1 through P-5) and “D” levels (D-1 and D-2). P-1 is the most junior level, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Government ranking of GS-11. D-2 is the most senior level, equating to the U.S. Government ranking of Senior Executive Service or Senior Foreign Service.
Grade Structure, Salaries and Related Allowances
Pay in the professional and senior positions is made up of two main elements: salary and post adjustment. Salaries are quoted on a “net of tax” basis. U.S. citizens must pay taxes on their IO income, but typically are reimbursed for most or all of them by the IO. When comparing UN salaries with current earnings, one’s after tax salary should be used. Salaries at the entry level range from approximately $37,000 (net of taxes) for a P-1 position to $105,000 for a top Director (D-2) position. Depending on circumstances, employees may also be eligible for dependency, rent, education, and other allowances. Education grants for children payable through college at the rate of 75 percent of allowable costs up to a maximum amount can be an attractive benefit for many candidates.
Post Adjustments, a form of cost-of-living payment, are net of taxes, and are designed to equalize purchasing power among UN duty stations worldwide. They are adjusted monthly. For some high-cost cities such as Geneva, New York, Paris, Rome, and Vienna, these adjustments can be significant.
Examples as of November 2008:
- D-2 in Geneva
Post Adj. $ 78,000
TOTAL $183,000 (Net of Tax)
- P-4 in New York
Salary $ 68,000
Post Adj. $ 49,000
TOTAL $117,000 (Net of Tax)
(NOTE: The amount of post adjustment provided varies depending on an employee’s work location, salary level, and dependency status. Housing is not normally provided, but if rent exceeds a specified threshold, a rental subsidy may be available.)
Appointments based on Geographic and Gender Balance
To enable as many member states as possible to have their nationals represented on their professional staffs, the UN and some other international organizations consider geographic balance when filling vacancies. Some UN agencies have developed formulas for determining the “desirable range” for equitable representation of member countries on their staffs. These formulas are generally based on member states’ financial contributions, their population, and general membership. Americans are currently under-represented in several IOs.
Most UN agencies are seeking to hire more qualified women applicants to increase their representation in professional and senior posts.
Length-of-Service and Retirement
Generally, UN agencies have a mandatory retirement age of sixty-two. Many organizations prefer to appoint candidates who will be able to complete at least five years of service before reaching that age. This mandatory retirement age also applies to individuals seeking positions in peacekeeping and technical assistance programs. However, for consultants and for posts of limited duration and in which pension issues are not a consideration, age is generally not a factor in the selection process.
Types of professional positions for which IOs often recruit:
- Administrative - Organizations need administrative experts with advanced degrees and a second language. Particularly mid-levels positions are often filled internally. Recruitment in this field is usually for specialists in personnel, accounting, budget, finance, procurement, and management analysis.
- Agriculture/Forestry - The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a demand for agriculture, forestry, and food experts. This agency normally requires at least a masters degree and foreign language skills. Typical vacancies are for agronomists, animal production specialists, plant pathologists/geneticists, rural development specialists, and agricultural economists.
- Demography - An advanced degree in the social sciences with a major in demography is usually required.
- Development - This field requires an advanced degree in business, social sciences, or economics, with specialization in finance or development economics, in addition to field experience and strong foreign language skills.
- Economics - This is one of the fields most sought after by IOs. An advanced degree and specialized work experience relevant to the organization are almost always required (e.g., development economists for the UN Development Program (UNDP); labor economists for the International Labor Organization (ILO); agricultural economists for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and trade economists for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO)). Field experience and working knowledge of French or Spanish are often required.
- Engineering - The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN development agencies, and others have a need for engineers. An advanced degree, field experience, and a second language (often French or Arabic) are typically required.
- Information Systems, Computer, Electronic Data Processing (EDP) - Organizations need qualified computer specialists with server, desktop, and networking experience. Applicants generally must have a degree in computer science, statistics, economics or accounting, and a minimum of three years' experience on large-scale computer systems.
- Legal – General administrative legal staffs are relatively small, with slow turnover. Few vacancies occur for persons whose main experience has been in U.S. civil, administrative, commercial or penal law. Vacancies arise more frequently for positions relative to the specialization of the organization, such as in patent and copyright law, labor and international law, and in the immigration, human rights, and refugee fields. French or Spanish language skills are often required.
- Political/International Affairs - Opportunities for international relations specialists or political scientists, with no other field of expertise, are limited, and candidates greatly outnumber the positions available.
- Public Health – World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), The Global Fund (TGF), and the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) regularly recruit for health professionals such as epidemiologists, sanitary engineers, and health educators. An MD or public health degree, developing country experience, and language skills (usually French) normally are required. There are few openings for doctors, nurses, dentists, and others wanting to provide clinical care.
- Public Information - Vacancies in this field are limited and competition is keen. These posts usually call for substantial experience in the fields of information media -- press, publications, radio, films, and television. International media experience related to the work of the agency is desirable, as well as language skills.
Social Welfare - Some opportunities are available in field offices of the specialized (and refugee-related) agencies.
- Statistics – The UN Secretariat, as well as agencies such as the World Food Program (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) seek statisticians with strong quantitative and modeling skills. Language skills may also be desired.
- Teaching – Vacancies, such as those in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) often involve designing, developing, promoting, and coordinating educational programs, as opposed to teaching. They call for an advanced degree and substantial experience in the field of education.
- Telecommunications – Positions in this field are limited. Applicants for posts in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), at either headquarters (in Geneva) or in the field, are required to have an advanced degree in electrical engineering or electronics and substantial practical experience in the telecommunications field, e.g., network planning, microwave, radio relay, telephone switching.
Recruitment Constraints and Problems
UN agencies and other international organizations are under continuous pressure from member governments to appoint their country’s nationals, and an emphasis remains throughout the UN system to recruit more nationals from developing countries. Competition is keen.
UN agencies’ compensation packages for some fields such as information technology, law, and engineering may not be competitive with U.S. private industry salaries and career opportunities. Americans may not qualify for some jobs because of lack of skills in a second language. The selection process generally takes a very long time, sometimes 6 – 12 months, or possibly even longer, during which time many qualified candidates lose interest or take other jobs. In many instances, accepting an IO job would mean resettling one’s family in a foreign environment, which can be trying and, in some cases, may be financially disadvantageous; children’s education costs at the primary and secondary levels are not fully subsidized by international organizations; and there may be few opportunities for spousal employment.
PEACEKEEPING AND OTHER SHORT-TERM POSITIONS
The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is always looking for individuals to assist its emergency relief and peacekeeping operations in trouble spots throughout the world. There may be ad hoc requests to recruit experts in election monitoring, emergency relief, transportation, and logistics. Positions are short-term (rarely longer than one year, but may be extended) and require that individuals travel unaccompanied. Candidates are expected to have field experience, second language skills, and a blend of initiative, political judgment, and humanitarian sensitivity. They must also be prepared and able to withstand arduous physical conditions, long working hours, a long separation from family/loved ones, and many diverse pressures. More information on peacekeeping field employment can be found on DPKO’s Home Page at: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/dpko.shtml
TRANSLATOR & INTERPRETER POSITIONS
UN agencies recruit for these positions by competitive examination. A university degree, relevant experience, and a thorough knowledge of at least three official United Nations languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish), are required. The Department of State does not normally recruit for Translator or Interpreter positions. Persons interested in these positions should contact the UN Recruitment Office in New York, or write directly to the organizations that interest them. In addition, they should access the UN’s website for more information and exam dates: http://www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/examin/languageexam.htm.
Clerical/secretarial positions (G-level) are most often filled with individuals recruited locally from among the residents of the area in which the international organization is located. Interested personnel may, however, write directly to the organization stating their interest and availability.
- UN Guides - Guides for UN Headquarters in New York are recruited locally and usually once a year. Candidates need a college education. They must be fluent in English and have excellent oral communication skills, as well as a good speaking voice. Fluency in at least one other language is required. A personal interview in New York is necessary, for which applicants must pay their own travel expenses. Interested candidates should fill out the UN’s P11 application form and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- UN Internship Program – Some unpaid internships are available for students who are enrolled in a graduate program. Internships run for two-month periods throughout the year, on a full-time basis. The deadline for applications is six months prior to the starting date.
Office of Human Resources Management
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017 (FAX: 212-963-9514)
- Internships with Other International Organizations - A listing of other organizations’ internship opportunities and their websites can be found on our webpage: http://www.state.gov/p/io/empl/
- UN Volunteers Program (UNV) – This multinational volunteer program that works through the UN Development Program (UNDP), supports UN development assistance projects worldwide. Volunteers are sought to work in technical cooperation programs, humanitarian relief and rehabilitation, and in support of human rights and electoral and peacebuilding processes. Volunteers can expect to work under difficult living conditions. UNV provides volunteers with a settling-in grant, life and health insurance, and a monthly stipend to cover basic living expenses during their typically one to two-year assignments.
To be considered for the program, individuals must be at least 25 years old and have an undergraduate degree and several years of relevant work experience. The Peace Corps is the point of contact for Americans for the UN Volunteers (UNV) program. Interested individuals may write to:
UNV International Operations
1111 20th St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20526
FAX: (202) 692-2251
- Junior Professional Officer (JPO) and Associate Expert (AE) Programs - JPOs and AEs are government-sponsored professionals who have completed at least a masters degree, have strong foreign language skills and at least two years of professional work experience in an international setting, and are younger than 32 years old. JPOs and AEs are assigned for two years, most often in the field. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) typically funds about 6 – 10 new JPOs and AEs yearly at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). For PRM-funded JPO/AE positions, please go to: www.state.gov/g/prm.The Department’s Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs (ISN/MNSA) funds several JPOs at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Applicants are required to apply for each open position in which they are interested by a posted deadline. For positions at the IAEA, please go to: https://international.dep.anl.gov/JPO.asp. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsors similar programs with food and agriculture-related international organizations, and other federal agencies may also sponsor their own JPO or AE programs.
- Experts and Consultants are employed on a short-term basis for a variety of reasons including for technical assistance programs to advise and support developing countries. Such individuals are expected to have an advanced academic degree(s) and to have attained a recognized standing in their profession, based on several years of experience. The selection of these individuals rests with the organization and sometimes with the requesting government.
Individuals interested in consultancies should visit the website of the international organization of interest. These positions are typically advertised under "Consultants," “Consultancies,” “Short-Term Contracts," “Experts," or "Project Vacancies."
Released by the UN Employment Information and Assistance Unit (IO/MPR/EA)
Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Last Updated November 2008