The Pros and Cons of Working for the UN

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The United Nations is one of the top international organisations globally. The UN works on projects around the world from civil-aviation to refugee aid, from climate change to sustainable tourism. Jobs at the UN give you the opportunity to support projects addressing some of the most pressing challenges in the world today.

However, like all organisations, there are good and bad sides of working for the UN. So, before you embark on a UN career, let us break some down…

Positives of Working for the UNNegatives of Working for the UN
It’s highly prestigiousNot always a stable career
You can work all over the worldThe UN can be highly bureaucratic
It can be well paidCorruption within the organisation
You get to work on global issuesThe UN can be overly complex
Can work in fantastic teamsCan’t always choose where you work

Now we’ve given you an overview, let’s look at these down in detail…

It’s a Prestigious Place to Work

The first real benefit of working for the United Nations is that it is a highly prestigious place to work. As the leading international organisation addressing world issues, the UN is a highly respected institution to be a part of. Having a job at the UN can be great because it is known around the world as a distinguished place to work.

Working for the UN is highly regarded and this is definitely a good thing about being in a UN role. The UN is known around the world for working to resolve key global issues such as climate change, the refugee crises and many conflict resolutions. The UN does really valuable work around the world and as a result is seen as a respected, exciting and meaning organisation to work for.

You Can Work All Around The World

Another pro of working for the United Nations is that you can work all around the world. The UN has offices in 195 countries and with projects spread around the globe. Working for the UN can be great as you can move between offices and build valuable experience working in other countries. If you want a job where you can travel, joining the United Nations is fantastic option.

Many UN staff members work in different countries throughout their career. Getting this international professional experience through the UN is definitely a great thing about a UN job. Working for the UN also gives you the opportunity to work in places experiencing disasters and conflicts. If travel to areas of crises and working to assist people affected is your thing, this is definitely a pro of working for the UN.

UN Jobs Can Be Well Paid

A definite good thing about working for the United Nations is that it can be well paid. The UN has a wide range of jobs with a degree of variation in salaries, but overall, jobs at the UN are considered highly paid. For example, ‘professional’ (P) roles within the UN earn these kinds of salaries:

  • Entry level (P1 – P3): 37,000 USD – 80,000 USD
  • Mid-career (P4 – P5): 67,000 USD – 106,000 USD
  • Senior level (D1 – D2): 95,000 USD – 123,000 USD

As these roles show, you can earn good money working for the UN and this is definitely a positive of joining. UN workers also often get added benefits which further increases their salaries. UN staff usually work abroad where their wages can go further. The good salaries are definitely a great part of working for the UN.

You Get to Work on Global Issues

A big positive of working for the UN is that you get to work on addressing real world issues. The United Nation’s focus on crises and development means taking a job their allows you to work on many different projects helping people in need. A great part of working for the UN is using your skills and experience to help solve major global problems.

For those with an interest in working on issues such as climate change, social justice, human rights or refugees and migration, the UN is a fantastic place to be. Working in teams tasked with solving some of the world’s biggest challenges whilst developing a career around assisting people affected are huge benefits of working for the United Nations.  

You Can Work with Highly Motivated People

Working at the United Nations can mean working alongside highly motivated people at the top of their field. This is for sure a good thing about working there. The United Nations attracts talent from around the world. People who work for the UN are also highly motivated to solve some of the major issues facing the world. Finding great colleagues is a fantastic reason to work for the UN.

The UN has a very diverse workforce with people from all over the world joining. This is one of the great things about working for the UN. At the UN you will be part of teams of people from a wide mixture of cultures. This means people are able to bring a huge range of experience together to solve some of the biggest challenges the world faces. The diversity of the UN is definite another good side of working there.

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.

It’s Not Always a Stable Career

A definite negative of working for the UN is that it is not a stable career. Unless you are very lucky and land a permanent UN job, most UN workers jump between short-term contracts. This can make building a career within the UN a challenge and also make gaining traction in your career difficult. The instability of working for a UN is a real down-side to joining the organisation.

Especially early in your career it can be very difficult to get regular and long-term work for the United Nations. This is really a bad part of a UN career. Having to regularly apply for new contracts and jumping between roles is stressful, as well as makes developing a career in the direction you want hard. The difficulties that can be had gaining a permanent job with the UN are for sure a big negative part of working there.

The UN Is Very Bureaucratic

A real con of working for the United Nations is how bureaucratic it is. The UN is an enormous organisation spanning almost every country in the world. It makes sense that it’s bureaucratic. However, the United Nations also has a reputation for being overly reliant on complex systems and processes and not focused enough on delivering results. Having to navigate the crazy UN bureaucracy is for sure a negative side of working there.

UN bureaucracy can become frustrating and the extent to which it can hold work back is seen as a down-side of working there. Often UN workers complain that the organisation prises sticking to bureaucratic mechanisms over achieving real world results. If your passion is to work for the UN to help people in need, finding that you are stuck in the bureaucracy can definitely be a bad thing about working there.


Sadly, the United Nations has corruption within it and this is definite negative aspect of working there. Importantly, the UN is not corrupt as an organisation but there are corrupt people within it. As an organisation with over 37,000 employees in 195 countries, it would almost be more surprising if there wasn’t corruption somewhere in the UN. However, having to face corruption and nepotism within the UN is for sure a bad part of working there.

The United Nations has systems in place to tackle corruption and aims to remove misconduct from its ranks but reports suggest these have had mixed results. If you want to work for the UN, the presence of corruption shouldn’t put you off. However, you should know that corruption exists within the UN system and this can definitely be a negative aspect of working there.

The UN Is Extremely Complex

Another downside of working for the United Nations is the complexity of the organisation. The UN is known for being difficult to navigate and hard to understand. The structure of the UN, as well as its system and processes are not always clear. This can make joining the UN and building a career within the organisation frustrating and can be a definite bad part about working there.

The UN is made up of 15 agencies spread across every continent. It also has different project offices, bodies and bases across almost every country in the world. Combine this with an overly complex structure and it makes the UN a hard place to work. An often complained about aspect of UN complexity of the jobs structure and recruitment – speak to many UN staff and they will say this one of cons of working there.

You Can’t Always Choose Where You Work

One of the downsides of a career at the United Nations can be the inflexibility in where you work and what you do. Many UN staff need to move between positions frequently and this can mean changing jobs as well as locations. Short UN contracts can also mean you regularly need to find new positions within the organisation. A UN career doesn’t always lead to a stable life and this can be a negative of working there.

Although many UN staff join because they want to be able to travel and work abroad, over a long career this can be a downside. UN workers do not always have a choice over where they are deployed and often need to work away from family for extended periods of time. The continuous movements required by some UN jobs can be seen a con of working for the organisation.

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.