“My passion lies with handling complex often chaotic situations and putting order. I love the excitement of large scale events, writing and overall organisation,” Laura wrote to me in March. “I’d love to be working at the U.N. handling international conferences.”
It’s everyone’s dream job – that coveted P-3 position at the U.N. And why not? After all, Laura is smart, passionate about helping people, and ready to do just about anything. Plus, she has a sense of what she likes to do, and she’d love to do it at the world’s premier humanitarian agency – the United Nations itself.
“Sounds good,” I wanted to tell her, but what about the rest of the requirements?
And that’s what most people are missing: behind the veneer of a required Master’s degree and “five years of experience”, your rejection letters indicate that you’re missing one of the unspoken requirements:
1. You don’t have enough relevant experience.
The UN requires a minimum of five years of relevant work experience – meaning that you have to be able to show, in your application, that you have already done the kind of work directly related to the job to which you’re applying.
The “Press Officer” job description – a P-3 position based in New York – simply says “Experience covering meetings and press conferences by following the proceedings, taking notes of the discussions and writing summaries is desirable.” But if they select you for the job, they’ll expect you to know how to take notes at a fast-paced meeting in Washington D.C., where you might not understand anyone’s accents, then summarise your notes within 24 hours to have the notes published on the UN website, in perfect grammar, and emailed to colleagues in Geneva and Nairobi (communication skills and time management). They’ll also expect you to have done all of this before, twice.
If your CV is simply a list of jobs that don’t have anything to do with the P-3 role you want, even if they are great jobs, you will not be selected. And in many cases, those at P-3 level have been working for over five years – developing, besides their “relevant experience,” their professionalism, listening skills, and executive function.
2. You don’t have a specialisation.
Don’t be fooled by generic job titles – at P-3 level, the UN is looking for people who are able to hit the ground running, who have begun to develop expertise in a certain area (e.g., sustainable electricity policy in developing countries, or budgeting)
The job title might seem open-ended – “Economic Affairs Officer” at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – but the requirements are specific: someone with a Master’s degree in Economics, with five years of work experience doing research on investment for international development (they mean work experience as an analyst at a development bank or private equity fund in your home country), who’s going to be doing a lot of desk work and statistics, and will need to produce reports.
3. Your language skills are missing.
If I could climb the rooftops of Geneva and scream this at every single intern there, I would, until I lost my voice. If you want a career at the United Nations, you need perfect English, and your French needs to be very good, simply because it’s the unspoken second language of the United Nations. And stop making excuses; the UN is full of non-native speakers who might have been refugees or children of expats, but all of whom learnt to read, write, and speak English like a native speaker. This is a basic and fundamental requirement. Once your English is perfect, make sure your French is, too.
You meet all these requirements, and you’re still not getting responses to your UN job applications?
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Photo by my dear friend Dallas.