7 Reasons Why It’s Hard to Get A Job at the UN

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Working at the United Nations can be a fantastic career. Jobs at the UN mean working for one of the most prestigious organisations in the world whilst tackling some of most urgent global issues. However, because working at the UN can be a great career, does it mean UN jobs are hard to get?

It is generally hard to get a job at the UN. The main reasons UN jobs are difficult to get include language requirements, high competition, specific needs for skills and experience, high-level education, the often-complex UN recruitment process and that the UN wants to recruit a diversely as possible.

Although all of these factors can make getting a job within the United Nations tough, don’t get discouraged! We’ve broken each the areas that can make getting a UN job hard and shown ways you can mitigate and work towards landing your dream job at the United Nations.

You Often Need to Speak Two Languages

One of things that makes getting a job at the UN hard is the language requirements. The UN has six official languages. These are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Job requirements at the UN usually require English and at least one other UN language. This makes UN jobs difficult to get as candidates need to have high professional levels of speaking, reading and writing in at least two UN languages.

Although the language requirements can make it difficult to get a job in the United Nations, it does mean learning another language can be a big advantage for those wanting to work in the UN. With time and dedication, it is possible to learn a second language in a few years. Also, as many people are unwilling to make this dedication, you can offset the difficulty of getting a UN job by being among the minority of people who speak a second UN language.

UN Jobs are Highly Competitive

Getting a job at the United Nations is competitive, and this can make them hard to get. UN jobs are well respected and highly paid, as well as allowing for international travel and an exciting career. Therefore, it makes sense that a lot of people want to work for the UN. As a result, UN jobs receive a lot of applicants and often from people with lots of experience and high qualifications, meaning competition can make getting a UN job difficult.

The high-level of competition can definitely make it hard to get a job at the UN. However, it is important to remember that the United Nations is a huge organisation, with 37,000 staff members worldwide requiring a large range of skilled and experienced people. This means that although stiff competition can make getting a UN job tough, dedication, persistence and continued development will allow you to gain a job within the United Nations.

The UN Recruits for Diversity

The UN is made up of 193 countries, all of which send staff to work in its agencies. This can be great as it means all nations and nationalities are represented in the global decisions the UN takes, as well as the day-to-day running of the United Nations. However, it can mean it is difficult to get a United Nations job because the UN actively recruits for a diverse workforce and some countries, especially richer western ones, can be over subscribed for jobs.

The diversity of the UN’s workforce can be one of its major strengths, and it is important that all countries within the United Nations have their citizens represented within the UN’s workforce. The drive for the UN to recruit diversely can really help candidates from smaller and underrepresented counties. However, even if you come from a major country, there are still a large amount of UN roles open to you!

You Will Require the Relevant Skills

Another reason why it can be hard to get a job at the United Nations is that candidates are required to have highly relevant skills for UN jobs. Depending on the specific job requirements, applicants to positions at the UN will need specific technical skills in order to secure a United Nations job. This can make getting a UN job hard because it can take several years of work, as well as formal qualifications, to develop many of the skills needed for jobs at the United Nations.

Knowing what kind of positions within the United Nations you want, as well as what technical skills are needed for those jobs, will make it easier to work for the UN. It might take you a few years working in relevant fields to build the skills needed for the UN job you want. However, taking this time to get the skills the UN needs to will make it less hard to finally get a job within the United Nations.

United Nations Online Courses

If you are interested in working for the United Nations, we highly recommend the online course United Nations Jobs Guide. It’s a great overview of the UN recruitment system and includes valuable tips for anyone looking to build a career within the United Nations. Follow the link to the course’s page.

We also think the United Nations CV and Cover Letter online course is a must for anyone looking to get a job in the UN. It goes through exactly what is needed when applying for a UN position and provides guidance on what exactly to include. It also shows students what the UN recruitment process is like. Follow the link to get full details on the course.

An important step for those wanting to work for the United Nations is to get a strong understanding of how the UN works, and what its global role is. We recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. Not only does it give a fantastic overview of the UN; the fact it is offered by SOAS – one of the top colleges in the world for international relations studies, makes it a great addition to the CV of anyone applying for a job at the UN. Click the link for more information.

You Need Strong Professional Experience

Jobs at the United Nations can be difficult to get because the UN usually requires strong relevant work experience. A good example of this is the Professional (P) positions within the UN:

Entry-Level ProfessionalsExperience NeededMid-Career ProfessionalsExperience NeededSenior-level ProfessionalsExperience Needed
P-22 yearsP-47 yearsP-6/D-115 years
P-35 yearsP-510 yearsP-7/D-215 years

As you can see, even the entry-level professional positions within the UN require a minimum of 2 years’ relevant work experience. Therefore, the level of experience UN jobs require can make them hard to get.

Although many UN positions require several years of experience to get, which can make them difficult to secure, there are some UN jobs that are need less experience. People with less professional experience can apply for the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) or Young Professionals Programme (YPO), which are considered some of the easier UN jobs to get.

The UN Usually Requires Good Education

A reason jobs at the United Nations can be hard to get is that the UN requires a high-level of education for their employees. Almost all UN jobs require a master’s degree in a relevant subject. Many applicants to UN positions have completed their studies at top universities which can also add to the difficulty in securing a job within the United Nations.

The level and quality of education needed to get a job at the United Nations can definitely make getting a UN job hard. However, many universities offer highly relevant degrees for UN work. The United Nations also requires many different skills and educational backgrounds, so studying something specific that the United Nations needs can make it less difficult to get a UN job.

UN Recruitment Can Be Complex

The United Nations is notorious for having a complex and difficult application process, and this can make getting a job at the UN difficult. Firstly, the UN structure and HR set-up can make understanding UN positions difficult. This can mean it is hard to know at which-level you are best to apply. United Nations recruitment can also be bureaucratic and slow, also making it hard to secure jobs within the UN.

Although the UN definitely has a complex application process that can make getting a job at the UN hard, always remember that perseverance and determination will win eventually. If you do not succeed in securing your UN job the first times you apply, keep going! Each time you navigate the UN recruitment process the better understanding you will have of how it works and the more your chances to landing a UN job will increase!

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and how to get a UN job, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.