How to get an internship in the UN

The internship corner on the UN Job List - find your internships here: https://unjl.org/intern and then discuss how to get them in the forum!
User avatar
Sebastian
Posts: 309
Joined: 19 Jul 2018, 08:33
Has thanked: 116 times
Been thanked: 99 times

How to get an internship in the UN

Post by Sebastian » 21 Oct 2018, 14:41

Hi all,

for many people UN Internships are a great way to get into the UN System - or at least to get an impression of a career in the UN is a desirable career. There are many different internships out there and generally internships - while being competitive to get into - are not an impossible endeavour if your qualifications match the requirements. I would like to invite discussions around UN Internships in this sub-forum.

To start - here is a list of current Internships:

https://unjl.org/intern

Are you an intern right now? What can you share about your internship experience? Thanks!
I'm Sebastian from the UN Job List. I know about the UN Job List and also a little about the UN in general.

H.O.P
Posts: 144
Joined: 21 Sep 2018, 11:51
Has thanked: 64 times
Been thanked: 65 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by H.O.P » 21 Oct 2018, 19:03

It's been 5-6 years I Interned within the UN system. I was first in the UN Office Vienna and then with the IAEA. I did them back-to-back. I got the UNOV one after several (about a 100) and 1 year of applications during my graduate studies. I was almost getting frustrated that none of my applications was getting any feedback (Internships within the UN even though unpaid are truly hard to get). I sent my applications for internship everywhere and anywhere the UN had an office. But I got only one feedback after one year of actively applying. After my skype interview, I was offered the position, thus, began my journey to Vienna.
When I came to Vienna, I realised that the IAEA offered a stipend for their internships and being an international student on an unpaid internship was no mean feat for me. I was barely surviving and broke to the bone. So, I decided to apply what we were told during the welcome speech by the Executive Director of where I was that to get in the UN we needed to actively network.
I began to aggressively network and promote myself and qualifications and as luck will have it, it worked. I got introduced to the IAEA and got hired for my second internship after my first internship ended (this was a miracle for me because like I mentioned I was barely surviving and had spent all I saved just to come and lived in a small village in another state of Austria).
In conclusion, to me, getting into the UN/UN Agency under any form is really difficult and takes a lot of courage and perseverance. So, if anyone wants to go for it, keep this in mind as you keep applying. Good luck! It was worth all the sacrifice for me so far.

Kokolicious
Posts: 16
Joined: 14 Oct 2018, 00:46
Has thanked: 1 time
Been thanked: 4 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by Kokolicious » 21 Oct 2018, 22:32

Thanks for this very detailed feedback H.O.P. Would you say that your internships at the UN have been helpful in your career growth? For people interested in working at the UN, will an internship at the UN help? I know nothing is guaranteed but will that experience at least help one understand how things work in the UN? I say this because I still don't totally understand how HR shortlists.

H.O.P
Posts: 144
Joined: 21 Sep 2018, 11:51
Has thanked: 64 times
Been thanked: 65 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by H.O.P » 22 Oct 2018, 07:06

Kokolicious wrote:
21 Oct 2018, 22:32
Thanks for this very detailed feedback H.O.P. Would you say that your internships at the UN have been helpful in your career growth? For people interested in working at the UN, will an internship at the UN help? I know nothing is guaranteed but will that experience at least help one understand how things work in the UN? I say this because I still don't totally understand how HR shortlists.
True, nothing is guaranteed. But like I said in my last line, So far, it is worth all the sacrifices I made to be there and take up the opportunity.
An internship does certainly help to a large extent. Most of my internship colleagues are still within the UN System at various positions.
After my internship, I had to go back to finish my PhD since I wasn’t studying within Europe. But these colleagues of mine were all within Europe and they “networked” their way, of course, they were also very qualified (don’t assume otherwise) and worked really hard during our internship to be considered for these positions.
All was not totally lost for me, because I kept in touch with everyone I knew and still maintain those relationships (I DO NOT HAVE A JOB IN VIENNA ). But I value the friendship and contacts I made (they’re useful especially for the future). Right now, I have an IUNV and I believe my UN internships (I spent almost 1 and half years) improved my chances.
In the same way, there are some of my internship colleagues who also didn’t get anything at all. So, nothing is really guaranteed. It can actually go both ways.
On a lighter note, I met my spouse during my internship, so I guess, I gained the most 😁.

User avatar
Sebastian
Posts: 309
Joined: 19 Jul 2018, 08:33
Has thanked: 116 times
Been thanked: 99 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by Sebastian » 22 Oct 2018, 07:58

H.O.P wrote:
22 Oct 2018, 07:06
On a lighter note, I met my spouse during my internship, so I guess, I gained the most 😁.
Cheers to that and congratulations - I think we have a clear winner here! :D
I'm Sebastian from the UN Job List. I know about the UN Job List and also a little about the UN in general.

H.O.P
Posts: 144
Joined: 21 Sep 2018, 11:51
Has thanked: 64 times
Been thanked: 65 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by H.O.P » 22 Oct 2018, 08:31

Sebastian wrote:
22 Oct 2018, 07:58
H.O.P wrote:
22 Oct 2018, 07:06
On a lighter note, I met my spouse during my internship, so I guess, I gained the most 😁.
Cheers to that and congratulations - I think we have a clear winner here! :D
Thanks a lot, Sebastian :lol:

Xulimar
Posts: 21
Joined: 26 Oct 2018, 18:46
Been thanked: 1 time

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by Xulimar » 28 Oct 2018, 16:07

I am an intern in UNHCR right now and its like working as Protection Assistant, with very few limitations (I had several experiences before so I guess they trust my way of working) and i am lucky enough to be paid, be on a border and doing also humanitarian work (of course this is a very calm situation, no war or stuff like that) ...so it's worth it. And I am now struggling to decide if to go on with it and try to enter the system from here or accept a NGO job offer elsewhere, in a much higher position..
S
I had applied several times in this same place and never got selected...than suddenly 6 monthd after my last email to them, i was asked to a interview and it worked. I had been selected into another country too, as i said in another post, and I had accepted, but three days later they told me it wasn't possible as I had my master degree two years ago and there's some stupid internal rule that says you can't...but eventually i got it elsewhere and comparing both offers, this is absolutely the best one, i do everything really! It's worth it even if you got experience, to me

Xulimar
Posts: 21
Joined: 26 Oct 2018, 18:46
Been thanked: 1 time

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by Xulimar » 28 Oct 2018, 16:25

About the possibilities later ... I think it depends on alot of factors:
-In which moment of the agency you had your internship (they have funds, they are closing, there is a new context so they are going to expand..) if it is a good moment they will have new vacancies
-If it's not in you country, it's important to take in consideration that some agencies employ local staff as UNOPS and that generally this correspond to assistant positions, which are the only positions one can get after a internship BUT in some countries just locals are eligible, in others if you get a professional visa or you have a resident visa you can apply which leads to point 3:
-in some countries you can get a visa without a job and to look for it, but in others you can't, so you can't access local contracts.
-A lot of times even if you can have a visa and apply, the BO will want to employ local people or at least switch, let's say that they would contract a foreigner and, for the next vacancy, contract a local, to have a balance. Same happens with gender so it is a factor that influences chances too.
-You have to work a lot and well, but i think it's also about luck, and not just connections. I know people who had very good connections, were good at working and professional but they didn't get in cause of what I wrote before, and others that made it..
-If you are very lucky, you can try to get a UNV but this is very complicated and not available in all countries/agencies/positions...I was pre-assigned 3times and never got interviewd..

mdr
Posts: 66
Joined: 12 Sep 2018, 12:08
Has thanked: 47 times
Been thanked: 39 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by mdr » 29 Oct 2018, 15:02

Thought I'd share my experience. I did an unpaid internship with UNESCO (in one of their SEAsian offices) in my 3rd year of my degree. I actually wanted to intern with UNEP initially plus both these agencies were the only ones who accepted undergraduates (most agencies prefer Masters or PhD students). The process was really quick because my application got accepted within a week! I thought I was due for a Skype call interview but it turned out that the Unit Chief (the one who approved my application) just wanted to chat with me before I arrived. He mentioned how I was going to be the 1st one from my country and how excited [UNESCO] was to have me. I was pleased as punch! Definitely didn't think it was going to be so easy to get this!

Then things got really complicated as soon as I arrived where I was informed that the Unit Chief was essentially fired so I was left with no supervisor except for the only other one available who was bogged down by the work left from his termination. I had applied to be there for 5 months and this all happened on my first day! The curious thing was that the [former] Unit Chief tried to coax me into following him to his own organization (apparently one of the reasons why he was fired) and he would have given me some amazing work to do (as outlined in my appointment letter) but I thought better of it especially considering my visa. More importantly, I was so glad that my internship was supported by my university through a scholarship or I'd been upset at the sudden changes (if I had spent my own money like some of my fellow interns who saved up to USD 5,000 to stay 5 months!). Nevertheless I was given a generic set of tasks by my new supervisor but was left pretty much to my own devices. I don't think it was a complete waste of time plus I made some incredible friends whom I'm still in contact with but I thought I was going to get a lot more out of it. I recall a couple of their previous interns even made it to some UNESCO publications as contributors! That would have been so cool! And it was under the previous Unit Chief.. Despite his 'dubious' activities, I heard he was a great supervisor.

Now do I think my UN internship made a difference? In all honesty..I'm not quite sure. On one hand, it took well over 300 applications to get just one UN job so I almost thought it didn't matter but on the other, it was relevant UN/development experience to my CV full of private sector/startup work. I didn't regret my internship though. In fact, I had the best year of my life then. I'm just saying stuff like your supervisor being let go and not having as good of an alternative affected the overall experience and things could have definitely been better if not different but those things that are beyond your control can happen so you just have to make the best out of the situation. I know I did! :)

mdr
Posts: 66
Joined: 12 Sep 2018, 12:08
Has thanked: 47 times
Been thanked: 39 times

Re: How to get an internship in the UN

Post by mdr » 29 Oct 2018, 15:12

To add on a little bit more, I asked the other interns about their experience and it was a mixed bag. Some were disappointed with their responsibilities while others were actually overwhelmed by them! At that time, UNESCO was going through some major internal changes and some Units were utilizing interns as unpaid labour (not at all surprising) as they were heavily involved in some projects and programmes. A handful of the interns did transition into being consultants at both the office we worked at and other sister offices. One European volunteer was there for a year (unpaid!) and wormed herself in to be a staff shortly after! While the rest struggled (like me) to get into the UN post-internship.

Post Reply