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Talks@Diplo: Are you ready for a career at the UN?

NOTE: This post was written by Carolin Braxenthaler, a second-year graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Diplomacy and International Relations and Strategic Communication. Carolin is a Graduate Assistant for the Office of Internships and Career Development and for the Office of Professional Services at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She is a German national and fluent in German, English and Spanish with intermediate knowledge in French. Carolin interned at the Madrid Junior Chamber in Spain, at a District Court and at Munich Reinsurance Company in Germany, as well as at the Latin American Parliament and the German Embassy in Panama.


On Wednesday, October 7, the School of Diplomacy and International Relations hosted an event for students titled “Careers at the UN”. Mr. John Ericksen, current Chief of the Outreach Unit in the Office of Human Resources Management of the UN Secretariat in New York City, and Sarah Husseini, School of Diplomacy and International Relations alumna and Elections Officer at the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the UN, provided their insights into the inner workings of the UN and shared their knowledge about how to get a foot in the door. Current Thomas and Ruth Sharkey Visiting Scholar on UN Studies at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Hugh Dugan, who has over 30 years of experience in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, moderated the talk.

The purpose of the event was to give our students insights into career paths within the UN system and into the application process and requirements. It was inspirational and humbling to hear from distinguished professionals, who have been through the process and do what many of us aspire to.

If you would like to be part of the United Nations and consider applying, there is a number of questions you have to ask yourself first.

  1. Do I want to make a difference in the world?
  2. Do I want to be a part of a bigger purpose in the service of humanity?
  3. Am I willing to travel to and work anywhere at a moment’s notice?
  4. Am I comfortable working in a truly international and multicultural environment every day?
  5. Do I fully respect, appreciate, and promote diversity?
  6. Am I a true team player?

If you answered the above questions with ‘Yes’, the UN is potentially a good fit for you. The United Nations system offers placement opportunities for almost every job profile in any part of the world. There are two different ways to contribute to the United Nations. Mr. Ericksen shared his experience from the international civil service point of view and Ms. Husseini brought the perspective of the national government side of the UN to the talk.

Mr. Ericksen shared some of the starting points of a career at the UN. He distinguished between internationally recruited, locally recruited, temporary, and other positions, such as internships or volunteer opportunities. Mr. Ericksen focused on the internationally recruited positions, among which are the Language Competitive Examination for editors, interpreters, proofreaders, and translators; the Young Professionals Programme (YPP) for applicants under 32 years of age; and the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) or Associate Expert Programme, which is a temporary opportunity of two years to gain professional experience.

Sarah Husseini focused on opportunities at the Permanent Missions to the UN and explained their structure with positions in the elections division, protocol division, media and outreach division, and administration. Benefits to working at a Permanent Mission to the UN include the opportunity to experience the government side of policy making and negotiation; attend both UN meetings, as well bilateral and multilateral meetings; and learn about national Foreign Service programs for those interested in a career in Foreign Service posts.

The application process is fairly long and requires a lot of time, dedication, and due diligence for both career paths, be it as an international civil servant, or as a representative of a Permanent Mission to the UN. It is paramount to tailor your application to demonstrate your fit to the specific position. Needless to say, generic application materials will not suffice to be selected. An application to a position at the UN can be considered one of the most extensive and detailed ones there are.

Both Mr. Ericksen and Mrs. Husseini stressed professionalism and preparation as a key to success. Each position description includes some or all of the UN’s core values, such as integrity, professionalism, and respect for diversity; as well as core competencies, such as communication, teamwork, planning and organizing, accountability, creativity, client orientation, commitment to continuous learning, and technological awareness; and managerial competencies, such as vision, leadership, empowering others, managing performance, building trust, and judgement and decision-making. Prepare examples of past experiences where you demonstrated those skills and embodied those values. Mr. Ericksen introduced the CAR(L) principle, useful for both the application itself and for the interview process. C stands for context. You will be expected to give an overview of the situation. A stands for actions. Be specific about what you did, name specific events and instances you were responsible for. R stands for results. Explain the outcome, impact, and results of your actions. L stands for learning. This determines your capability to think critically, reflect, and learn from the past.

Although the process seems tedious, it is all worth it, if your goal is to use your skills to further the UN’s mission and work. Mr. Dugan stressed the opportunity to give back and to inspire future generations through making the most of our diplomas. One way to do so is a career at the United Nations.


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