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How to Begin a Career in the United Nations System

Lino Sciarra
Sciarra, United Nations Dialogue with the Global South Fellow
Tuesday 28 October 2008
This presentation is given in a personal capacity.
These are my personal view of working at the UN as well as
starting a career at the UN. I am not representing the
UN Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), or any other
office/agency that is potentially recruiting for the organization

To offer
ff an overview on some off the ways to begin a career in the
United Nations System
Paradigm shift

a major
j changeg in a certain thought-pattern,
g p ,
a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or
organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or
organizing with a radically different way

• On 24 December 1968, almost by chance, a picture was taken.

An image so powerful and eloquent that it ranks as one of the
most important photographs taken by anyone ever

• It is an image which still speaks to us today

This picture known as “earthrise” was taken by Apollo 8 astronaut
William Anders seven months before the first lunar landing

Why this picture is relevant?

• The image shows our entire world as a small and blue and very
finite globe, with our nearest neighbor a desolate presence in
the foreground
• For this reason this image was described as “the most influential
environmental photograph ever taken” and it is considered as
having caused a paradigm shift in the common perception
• Today, it still reminds us the unity and the fragility of our planet
• It also gives us an idea how after such a journey the way of
thinking of the astronauts was changed
changed. A similar experience
might be shared by those of you that will work for United Nations
United Nations System
United Nations System
• While the United Nations is an international organization,
g , the
United Nations System is the whole network of international
organizations, treaties and conventions that were created by the
United Nations
• The United Nations System is based on five active principal
organs (formerly six, the UN Trusteeship Council suspended
p in 1994):
– UN General Assembly
– UN Security Council
– UN Economic and Social Council
– UN Secretariat
– International Court of Justice
• In addition separate organizations
organizations, often subordinate to the
principal organs, have been created to solve specialized tasks
UN Core Values and Competencies

What can you do for United Nations?

UN Core Values
ƒ Integrity
ƒ Demonstrates the values of the United Nations in daily activities and behaviors

ƒ Acts without consideration of personal gain

ƒ Resists undue political pressure in decision-making

ƒ Does not abuse power or authority

ƒ Stands by decisions that are in the Organization’s interest, even if they are

ƒ Takes prompt action in cases of unprofessional or unethical behavior


Bangladesh Army
October 2007
UN Core Values
ƒ Professionalism
ƒ Shows pride in work and in achievements

ƒ Demonstrates p
professional competence
p and mastery
y of subject
j matter

ƒ Is conscientious and efficient in meeting commitments, observing deadlines

and achieving results

ƒ I motivated
Is ti t d by
b professional
f i l rather
th ththan personall concerns

ƒ Shows persistence when faced with difficult problems or challenges

ƒ Remains calm in stressful situations


Nepal Army
Democratic Republic of Congo
UN Core Values
ƒ Respect for Diversity
ƒ Works effectively with people from all backgrounds

ƒ Treats all people with dignity and respect

ƒ Treats men and women equally

ƒ Shows respect for and understanding of diverse points of view and

demonstrates this understanding in daily work and decision-making
decision making

ƒ Examines own biases and behaviors to avoid stereotypical responses

ƒ Does not discriminate against any individual or group

Respect for Diversity

Civil Affairs Regional Coordinator
Liberia Lino
June 2008 Civil Affairs County Coordinator
UN Competencies
ƒ Core Competencies
ƒ Communication
ƒ Teamwork
ƒ Planning & Organizing
ƒ Accountability
ƒ Creativity
ƒ Client Orientation
ƒ Commitment to Continuous Learning
ƒ Technological Awareness

ƒ Managerial Competencies
ƒ Leadershipp
ƒ Vision
ƒ Empowering Others
ƒ Building Trust
ƒ M
i P Performance
ƒ Judgment / Decision-making
The difference between the work in the
field and at the Headquarters
Fishtown Panoramic View
Julyy 2005 – February
y 2007

Myy Accommodation

UN Compound

UN Water Purification Plant

UN Headquarters New York
Internship Programme


Deadline 18 January

UN Core Values

Core Competencies
Internship Programme – Eligibility
• Education
– Be enrolled in a degree programme in a graduate school at the time of
application and during the internship
– Or, if pursuing studies in countries where higher education is not
di id d iinto
divided t undergraduate
d d t and d graduate
d t stages,
must have completed four years of full-time studies
• Work Experience
– professional
f i l work
k experience
i nott required.
i d
However, work experience in relevant areas is an asset
• Languages
– English and French are the working languages of the United Nations
Fluency in spoken and written English and/or French is required
– Knowledge of an additional official UN language is an asset.
English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish are the
official languages of the United Nations
Before sending your application,
you should consider y
y your ability
y to:

• Obtain the necessary visas and arrange travel to the United

Nations Headquarters in New York

• Cover the costs of travel, accommodation, as well as living

p of the internship
p ((no remuneration))

• Show proof of valid regular as well as major medical insurance

There should be no expectation of employment within the

UN after an internship
Other internship programmes

• This IInternship
Thi t hi P
Programme iis ffor th
the U
it d N
Headquarters in New York only. Other UN Offices, Funds and
Programmes have separate internship arrangements. Students
interested in these should contact the respective offices directly
for further information.

• Information regarding internship opportunities with the United

Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific
(UNESCAP) in Bangkok can be found on the following website:
Galaxy e-Staffing System

Political Appointments

Si il to
t other
th international
i t ti l institutions,
i tit ti th
the hi
h t positions
iti iinside
the Secretariat are by political appointment. These include:

• Secretary-General-
Secretary General appointed by the General Assembly
Assembly, on the
recommendation of the Security Council, for a period of five years
• Under Secretary General (USG) – Department Head
• Assistant Secretary General (ASG) – Head of Office
Professional and Higher Categories
Normally at the top of the career line are the two D-positions:
• D-2 Director – Division Head
• D-1 General Administrator – Service Head

Below there are the five professional levels, from P-1 to P-5, where one,
with an advanced university degree, progresses through merit and
As the amount of experience increases, so does the professional level:
• P-5 13 – 17 years of relevant experience are required
• P-4 8 – 12 years of experience
• P-3 4 – 8 years of experience
• P-2 Examination or if external recruitment 2 – 3 yyears of experience
• P-1 Recent graduates or UN General Service employees, that have
passed internal qualification examinations
Professional and Higher Categories – Remuneration

• Th
The level
l l off salaries
l i forf Professional
P f i l staff
t ff is
i determined
d t i d on the
basis of the Noblemaire Principle which states that the
international civil service should be able to recruit staff from from
its Member States,
States including the highest
• The federal civil service of the United States of America has to
date been taken as the highest paid national civil service
• The post adjustment is one of two main elements (base salary
and post adjustment) comprising the salary of staff in the
Professional and higher categories
• The cost-of-living varies significantly between duty stations.
The post adjustment is designed to compensate the differences
in living costs, thereby providing the staff with the same
purchasing power at all duty stations
General Service

• The General
Th G lSService
i sectort iis maded up off various
i groups, allll
occupied with clerical, secretarial and administrative work
• There are seven levels, indicated as G-1 to G-7. From these
it is possible to continue to the professional category by internal
• Staff in these categories are paid on a local basis. The level of
salaries is established in accordance with Flemming Principle
which provides that the conditions of service for locally recruited
staff should reflect the best prevailing local conditions
Field Service

• Staff
St ff iin thi
this category,
t employed
l d in
i peace-keeping
k i missions
i i are
internationally recruited and entitled to a range of international

• The salary structure is similar to that of Professional staff, with a

single salary scale applicable to worldwide. Salary rates for the
seven grades in this category, from F1 to F7, are likewise
established by comparison with similar jobs in the United States
federal civil service

With the exception of certain cases, the hierarchical

subdivision just described is also applied to the autonomous
agencies and organizations affiliated to the United Nations
National Competitive Examination

National Competitive Examination – Eligibility
Each year examinations are organized for citizens of countries that are
inadequately represented among the staff of the Secretariat.
The examinations are administered in a number of occupational
groups This year in: administration,
groups. administration economics
economics, finance
finance, information
technology, public information, security, social affairs, statistics.
This is for junior professionals: P1/P2 positions.

• National of a participating country for the year
(Singapore not included in 2009)
• Possess a first level university degree
• Be 32 years of age or younger at the time of the application
• Fluency either in English or French
National Competitive Examination 2009
Afghanistan Kuwait Palau
Andorra Laos Republic of Korea
Angola Lesotho Samoa
Antigua and Barbuda Libya San Marino
Bangladesh Liechtenstein Saudi Arabia
Botswana Lithuania Sierra Leone
Brunei Darussalam Marshall Islands Solomon Islands
Cambodia Mexico Swaziland
Comoros Micronesia Tajikistan
g Moldova Tonga
Denmark Monaco Tuvalu
Gabon Montenegro United Kingdom
Iran Namibia United States of America
Ireland Norway Yemen
Japan Oman, Sultanate of

• For a staff
F t ff member
b without
ith t dependents,
d d t theth annuall starting
t ti nett
salary will be between US$43,662 and 55,924
• In addition, staff members are entitled to a post adjustment, which
varies according to the cost of living of each duty station
(for example, between US$26,983 and 34,561
per year in New York)
• Subject to meeting the eligibility criteria, internationally-recruited
staff members may also receive other entitlements, such as
dependency allowances, travel and shipping expenses, and so on
United Nations
Associate Experts Programme

p g p _experts.asp
p p
Associate Expert Programme

• This Programme offers young professionals who are graduates and

aged below 30 from universities or institutions of higher education
an opportunity to acquire professional experience in the technical
cooperation of the Secretariat
• The Associate Experts, who may have limited or no professional
experience, are recruited under bilateral agreements between the
UN and the donor countries
• They are provided by 19 governments that participate in the
Associate Experts Programme
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Israel Italy
Israel, Italy, Japan
Japan, Korea
Korea, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, The Netherlands
Netherlands, Norway
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Kingdom
• Associate Experts are generally nationals of these countries.
Some countries, however, agree to finance nationals of developing
p g
Junior Professional Officer (JPO)

JPO – Eligibility

JPOs are sponsored by their respective governments

governments. Currently
23 donor governments participate in the Programme:

In very limited circumstances, a JPO Programme-participating

Programme participating
government may also sponsor a small number of developing country
JPO – Eligibility

• U
ll bbe under
d 32 years off age
• Master’s degree (or equivalent) in a development-related
• Minimum of one to two years of working experience in a
developing country is highly desirable
• Written
W itt and
d spoken
k proficiency
fi i iin att lleastt ttwo off the
th three
th working
languages used by UNDP: English, French and Spanish
– Fluency in Arabic, Russian or Portuguese is an asset
• A strong commitment to development; an interest in adapting to
varied physical and professional environments; and a desire to
work with people with different language, national and cultural
backgrounds combined with gender sensitivity
United Nations Volunteers (UNV)

UNV – Eligibility
• At least age 25 (no maximum age limit)
• A university degree or higher technical diplomas
• Several years of relevant working experience
– preferably a minimum of five years
– Prior volunteering and/or working experience in a developing country
is an asset
• Good working knowledge in at least one of the three working UN
languages: English, French, and Spanish
– Arabic,, Portuguese,
g , or Russian are an asset and might
g be requested
• Valid driving license
• Ability to adjust in difficult living conditions
• Ability to work in a multi-cultural environment

International UNV specialists are unsalaried professionals who in

return for their services receive the following entitlements:
• Volunteer Living Allowance (VLA) to cover basic needs including
housing and utilities. The VLA ranges from US$ 1,000 to 2,700,
depending on the country of assignment and the number of
dependants of the UNV specialist
• International travel
(on appointment and at the end of assignment)
• Life, health and permanent disability insurance
• Annual leave at a rate of two and a half working days a month,
(plus Occasional Recuperation Break in hazardous conditions)
• Hazard pay depending on the assignment
• Resettlement allowance of US$ 100 per month of service, which is
paid upon satisfactory completion of the assignment
• A career p
path as a long
g jjourney
y should start
with two questions:
– Who am I?
– Where do I want to go?
• Fair assessment
– My strengths
– My weaknesses
• This sector is extremely competitive
– Over 250,000 applications to posts in peace operations each year
– Besides qualifications, in the United Nations System gender and
nationality considerations are playing a role in recruitment
• There are different ways to begin a career within the UN system
• Long term strategy
In applying be:
• Realistic – apply only for positions within your reach
• Honest – never lie
• Patient – pay attention to the details in preparing your CV, the cover
letter, and any supporting documentation. Similarly, use extreme care
in submitting your electronic application forms
• Perseverant – keep applying
• Humble – meanwhile keep qualifying yourself further
(language skills
skills, short course
course, publishing
publishing, and so on)

• Specialized – gaining specialized expertise either geographical or

sectorial increases dramatically your chances
• Open – do not limit your options
Alternative career paths might lead to a UN career later

• International NGOs

• Humanitarian or development agencies

• National civil service or foreign affairs

• Military service

• Private sector

• Academia
Other relevant websites

• ReliefWeb
R li fW b

• United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


• United Nations University International Courses (UNU-IC)


• University for Peace (UPEACE)

Above everything

Email: sppv70@nus.edu.sg
• Slides 3 to 6 sources:
– "That
That Photograph“
Photograph , Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Corporation, 1999
– "Paradigm shift", Wikipedia, 2008

• Slide 9 United Nations System Chart:

• Slide 12 picture, taken by Mr. Johnny Mua, UNMIL Human Rights
Officer, Buchanan 24 October 2007, celebration 62nd UN Day
• Slide 14 picture, UN Public Information, no further data available
• Slid 16 and
Slide d 19 pictures,
i t M
Mr. Li
Lino S
i property,
Civilil Aff
• Slide 47, compass rose image, Wikipedia, 2008
• Slide 51, “Never Give Up”

R f
Reference material
t i l mostly
tl from
f quoted
t d websites.
b it

A Guide to a Career with the United Nations, United Nations

Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), no date

United Nations Competencies for the Future, 1999