13 Best UN Agencies To Work For (And What You Need To Apply)

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Many people want to work for the United Nations. UN jobs are prestigious – they’re well paid and you often get to travel. On top of that, your work contributes to solving some of the greatest issues in the world. But the United Nations is massively complex – it’s made up of more than 30 different agencies, organizations and bodies. So, if you’re looking to work for the UN, which are the best agencies to apply to?

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

One of the most famous UN agencies is UNICEF – the UN’s children’s fund. It is also considered one of the best to work for. UNICEF run projects around the world helping children and families affected by crises and disasters. They also do vital work to lift children and young people out of poverty, as well as tackling systemic issues in areas including education, child and mother healthcare, and childhood malnutrition.

Working for UNICEF is highly prestigious. Everyone who works for UNICEF contributes towards making tangible improvements in the lives of some of most vulnerable children in the world. For this reason alone, UNICEF is one of the top UN agencies to work for.

How to Apply

With over 13,000 employees, there are a huge range of positions at UNICEF. A background in child protection, education or nutrition would help you get a job on UNICEFs frontline programmes. However, previous professional experience in project coordination, logistics, partnership management, grants, finance or HR are also sought by UNICEF.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

A second United Nations agency that is often considered one of the best to work for is UNHCR. As the world’s leading organization working with refugees and displaced people, UNHCR is a great place to work if you are passionate about assisting refugees and campaigning for their rights. UNHCR works in 137 countries, including in many areas with endemic conflict and displacement.

UNHCR is one of the best-known UN agencies. Its work is well-regarded and respected. As a result, UNHCR can be seen as one of the top UN agencies to get a job at. Many people who work for UNHCR move between duty stations working on projects directly assisting refugees. This adds to why its one of the leading UN agencies to work for.

How to Apply

With nearly 19,000 staff there are many different jobs within UNHCR. A passion for working with refugees and an understanding of the rights and issues faced by displaced people will be key. Project management, security, logistics, partnership management, humanitarian protection and shelter, as well as advocacy and communications are some of the top areas to get experience in if you want to work for UNHCR.

UN Relief and Work Agency For Palestinian Refugee (UNRWA)

Another UN agency that can be great to work for is UNRWA – the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. Founded in 1949 to assist Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of the state of Israel, UNRWA works in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Focusing on providing basic services to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs a range of projects including on education, healthcare, social services, camp improvements and emergency response.

For those interested in the Palestinian cause, UNRWA is one of the best United Nations agencies to work for. Alongside running services to assist Palestinian refugees, UNRWA also advocates on issues affecting Palestinian communities in the Middle East as well as providing legal advice regarding Palestinian rights.

How to Apply

If you are interested in working for UNRWA a strong knowledge in the background of the Palestinian plight and the issues Palestinian refugees face will be key. As a large organization with over 30,000 employees, UNRWA will hire staff in roles in everything from HR, and finance to project coordination and technical advisors. UNRAW also often recruits many legal positions.

World Food Programme (WFP)

Another one of the best UN agencies to work for is the World Food Programme. WFP is the largest single humanitarian organisation in the world. With a total budget of 14 billion USD, it reaches over 140 million people around the world each year who are in urgent need of food assistance. It also works on long-term projects aiming to reduce food insecurity and improve access to food for people living in poverty or areas of chronic crises.

The World Food Programme is renowned around the world for its life saving humanitarian work. It is also known as one of the top UN agencies to get a job with. Operating in 120 countries, WFP is on the frontlines of many humanitarian crises – yet another reason why it could be one of the best parts of the UN to work in.

How to Apply

WFP prides itself in its operational capacity. If you have a background in logistics, freight, aviation or fleet management, consider applying to WFP. The UN agency also hires many roles in food security and livelihoods (FSL) as well as project coordination. As in all large UN agencies, WFP also looks to hire support positions, such as in finance and human resources.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

The International Organisation for Migration became part of the United Nations in 2016. Founded in 1951, IOM works with governments in order to improve how human migration is managed. They also work providing direct assistance to people on the move, including running medical, protection and re-settlement programmes. IOM is often seen as one of the best UN agencies to work for.

With a long history and prestigious reputation, IOM is often regarded as one of the top UN agencies to get a job with. Working in more than 100 countries, IOM coordinates closely with other UN agencies, including UNHCR, to directly assist migrants and refugees, as well campaign and advocate on their behalf.

How to Apply

IOM has over 11,000 staff, meaning there are literally hundreds of jobs across the organization. If you’re looking to work with IOM, knowledge of human migration issues will be key. A background in crises response, humanitarian programming, research and data analysis are also sought by IOM.

World Health Organization (WHO)

Widely considered one of the best United Nations agencies to work for, the World Health Organization is the UM body tasked with improving global health. WHO works in a huge range of areas, including with governments to improve primary and secondary healthcare, funding medical research and development and coordinating global responses to pandemics.

As the world’s leading public health body, WHO is one of the top UN agencies to join, especially for those with a medical or research background. WHO has a particular focus in helping low- and middle-income countries improve access to, and the quality of, their healthcare provision. This worthy work is another reason why it’s such as good UN agency to work for.  

How to Apply

As the UN agency focused most on healthcare, those with a medical background are highly sought by WHO. However, as a major UN agency with over 8,000 staff, WHO also needs a huge range of support and coordination roles. Research positions, especially in medical fields, are also often recruited by WHO.

United Nations Online Courses

For those wanting to work for the United Nations we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations In The World. We think it’s one of the best overviews of the UN and it’s work and would be a great addition to the CV of anyone applying for a UN job. Click the link to enrol on the course.

If you want to know more about how to get a job with the UN then take the United Nations Jobs Guide online course. This course provides great details on the UN recruitment system, what the UN looks for in candidates and what you can do to make your UN application stand out. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

Another online course we recommend for those wanting to work in the United Nations is International Organizations Management. This course shows how large global organizations, including the UN, work. It also highlights many of the challenges these organizations face. Click the link to be taken to the course’s page.

UN Women

UN Women is the United Nations agency focusing on the rights and protections of women and girls around the world. As the issues facing women and girls gain greater global, UN Women is fast being seen as one of the best UN agencies to work for.

Founded in 2010, UN Women works with partner organizations mainly in developing countries and countries facing conflicts and humanitarian crises. UN Women also campaigns on behalf of women and girls who may face exclusion, violence or exploitation. For anyone interested in feminism or women’s rights, UN Women is one of the leading UN agencies to target applications at.

How to Apply

To work at UN Women, especially in a programmatic role, a passion for working with vulnerable women and girls is ideal. UN Women usually works through NGOs or local partner organizations, and so experience in grants management, project monitoring and partnership management are often sought by UN Women.

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UNESCO is another United Nations agency that many would consider one of the best to join. World famous for its preservation of historic cultural sites, in fact UNESCO works on a range of educational, scientific and cultural projects. With headquarters in Paris, France, and project sites all around the world, jobs at UNESCO are highly sought after.

Alongside protecting and restoring cultural sites, UNESCO also works with governments around the world to improve access to, and the quality of, education. The UN agency also funds a range of scientific research. This means if education or science are areas that interest you, then in fact UNESCO would be one of the top UN agencies to apply to.

How to Apply

UNESCO recruits’ people with many different backgrounds. Formal schooling in either education, science or an area related to cultural preservation will help you get a programme job at UNESCO. Grant management and research positions are also commonly recruited by UNESCO.

UN Development Programme (UNDP)

UNDP is the United Nation agency focusing on development. It works closely with the governments of developing countries to form strategies to help improve people’s quality of life. UNDP also leads on the UNs Sustainable Development Goals, meaning environmental protection is at the forefront of it’s work. As one of the most important UN agencies, UNDP is one of the best to work for.

With over 7,000 staff and projects in 170 countries, UNDP has a massive impact across the developing world. For those interested in finding collaborative, and sustainable solutions, to the issues developing countries face, then UNDP is one of the top United Nations agencies to join. UNDP also responds to chronic and complex humanitarian crises, adding to why it is one of the leading UN agencies to get a job with.

How to Apply

If you have an interest in international development, then apply to work with UNDP. A masters degree in development studies, as well as some professional experience working on international development projects is likely needed to join UNDP.

International Monitory Fund (IMF)

Although often seen as an independent organisation, in fact the International Monitory Fund is a part of the United Nations. As one of the primary global economic and financial institutions, the IMF is one of the top UN bodies to join. The IMF is most famous for lending money to developing countries, especially during times of economic crisis. However, the IMF also plays a key role in monitoring the global financial system and helping countries develop stronger monitoring policies

For anyone with an interest in global economics or finance, the IMF is definitely one of the best UN agencies to work for. Based in Washington D.C, in the US, the IMF often deploys consultants around the world to work directly with national governments – another reason why it can be considered among the top parts of the United Nations to get a job with.

How to Apply

Many people who want to work for the IMF have a professional background in economics, international development or finance. However, as a huge organization with over 2,400 staff, the IMF also recruits a huge number of support roles.

World Bank

Another UN body that most people forget is actually part of the United Nations is the World Bank. It’s also one of the best UN agencies to work for. Founded in 1944, the World Bank provides guidance to developing countries on how to improve their governance and economics. The World Bank also assists with developing policies and providing analysis on the global economic climate, especially on how this will impact poorer countries.

Like with the IMF, anyone with an economics or finance background would see the World Bank as one of the top parts of the UN to get a job at. For anyone with an interest in international development, research or policy, the World Bank would also be one of the best UN agencies to work for.

How to Apply

A background in development economics, international development or finance would be beneficial if you want to get a job with the World Bank. However, as with all large UN agencies, the World Bank also employs many support roles including in grant management, human resources and project management.

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UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS)

UNOPS is the United Nations agency working on infrastructure, procurement and providing project management services. It works across other UN agencies, national governments and local partners to support the delivery of complex projects. For anyone with a project management, engineering or with an interest in infrastructure development, UNOPS is probably the best UN agency to work for.

Headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, and with operations across the developing world, UNOPS is considered one of the top UN agencies to join for those interested in international development. UNOPS is able to undertake significant projects with often large budgets. The scale of the development work UNOPS is able to undertake adds to why it is one of the best UN agencies to get a job with.

How to Apply

Experience working on complex projects with significant budgets will be key if you want to join UNOPS. Backgrounds in project management, engineering, construction or partnership management are also often sought by UNOPS.

UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

A final example of one of the best UN agencies to work for is UNFPA. The UN’s Population Fund works to improve maternal and reproductive health worldwide. Focusing mainly on developing countries, UNFPA supports national governments and local partner organisations to make tangible improvements in the healthcare women and girls receive. UNFPA also advocates for women’s rights and against gender-based violence.

Headquartered in New York, US, and working in 150 countries, UNFPA is one of the top UN agencies to join for anyone interested in women’s issues and reproductive health. UNFPA also carries out research on the global population and the impact population changes can have, especially on poorer countries. This means anyone with an interest in this area should also see UNFPA as one of the leading United Nations agencies to work for.

How to Apply

UNFPA recruits staff with a previous experience in maternal and reproductive healthcare. They also hire researchers and policy developers with backgrounds in women’s affairs. UNFPA often works through local partner organizations and so grant management and partnership roles are often recruited.

If you want to learn more about how to get a job with the United Nations, check out 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.