I realize that my previous blog entry pre-supposed that you are interested in working for an NGO. You might really just be committed to human rights or peace or women’s rights and want to work for an organization that defends those principles. So the obvious route is to seek work at the United Nations.
The short answer, if you are American, is that you can’t.
Working at the United Nations
The UN is one of the largest employers in New York City, with more than 7,000 paid staff. There are strict quotas that govern where the UN secretariat’s employees are drawn from, to ensure a diverse representation of staffers from around the world. Because the UN is based in the United States, and our overall dominance of the organization as the only remaining super-power, there are very few policy-level staff positions available for Americans.
The only exceptions to the no-Americans rule is for very specialized, lower-level staff, such as maintenance workers, security guards and cafeteria workers.
In the past, one way around this restriction on Americans working at the UN was to be employed as a consultant. But recent managerial reforms have made it difficult for Americans to get consultancies at the UN.
If you are not American, than you should find out how many of your countrymen and women are currently employed at the UN and what domestic process you need to go through to be considered. Many countries have their own national eligibility requirements in addition to the UN’s general standards (i.e. English and/or French proficiency, plus one other UN language). Recent graduates should look into the “Junior Professional Officer” program in your country, which is somewhere between a paid internship and an actual entry-level staff position.
Some countries are more “in demand” than others for higher level posts for various political reasons, while others seem to fill the middle and lower level positions. For some reason, for example, there are lots of Filipinas in the secretary pool. Japanese nationals seem particularly desirable hires since there aren’t that many to draw from and Japan funds a large part of the UN budget.
If none of this has deterred you, there is a specific webpage at the UN where you can find out about job openings and submit your resume online. It’s broken down by department, location and staff level.
The next obvious question is how do I get a job at the United States Mission to the United Nations?
Working for the US Mission to the United Nations
The United States diplomatic representatives to the United Nations are stationed at the US Mission to the UN ( currently housed temporarily on 45th Street). As I understand it, this is one of the most desired diplomatic posts in the world, and thus subject to tremendous competition.
To even be considered for any staff position at the US Mission, you need to be accepted into the US Foreign Service. There is an entrance exam that you have to pass to become eligible to join the foreign service. If you are accepted as a Foreign Service Officer, you may be posted at any of the hundreds of United States embassies around the world. Only after year’s of outstanding service in various postings might you be potentially eligible for transfer to the US Mission to the UN.
Then again, this is just what I have heard. It’s possible that if you are the son of a prominent Senator or a large contributor to the President’s election campaign you could start tomorrow. Or maybe you could just work on your handlebar moustache.
All of this might seem mighty discouraging if you are an idealistic young college graduate looking to work at the United Nations. Thirteen years ago in the El Paso desert I decided that I wanted to work at the United Nations. It has been a bumpy road, but I’ve been around the world doing some amazing things chasing that dream. If I can do it, there’s no reason you can’t.