Careers in International Organisations are nowadays becoming a more and more important professional field. That is because international Organisations are responsible for a wide variety of services management, from meteorology to fighting art trafficking to vaccinations. The common goal of all these services is to reach peace and justice, under the umbrella of UN fundamental goals.
But why should an individual go for an international career? First of all, we should rethink our idea of professional life of an individual. As a matter of fact, an individual professional life has mainly direct consequences on his own existence. Nevertheless, each professional experience also plays a public and social role, which is even higher when we talk about employment on multilateral and intergovernmental basis. One of the added values of this field is that both international Organisations and national Institutions generally foster citizens’ presence in these organisations, therefore boosting the creation of a multicultural environment. The reason for this tendency is that each individual’s background in terms of education and culture makes him bring his own “world vision”, which reflects the one of his country of origin and therefore has an influence on the way he thinks and works. This is considered a value both for local institutions, as the individual is potentially acting in a way that converges with the State position, and for the Organisations that take advantage of a multicultural point of view. What is also worth to say is that working in these kind of contexts certainly requires some specific requirements. The main ones are with no doubt adaptability, flexibility, interpersonal relationships skills, willingness to spend time abroad, openness as to intercultural dialogue and the obvious language competences. International careers are a means, although difficult to take, to improve day by day these characteristics that are valuable in any working context.
Before having a look at how we can pursue a career in international Organisations, it is worth to have clearly in mind what exactly they are. There are more than 250 international Organisations in the world and they deal with very different contexts. That is why it is very difficult to find an absolute definition. A first useful step could be dividing them into:
Intergovernmental Organisations: these organisations are based on an agreement among States, which must be at least three, and have a permanent active Secretary (e.g. United Nations).
Non-governmental Organisations: these organisations deal with a wide variety of topics and are not based on an agreement among States. Even though they might be active in different countries, they still remain a private body (e.g. the Red Cross).
In this article, we will deal with Intergovernmental Organisations, as they have more or less common paths in order to start a career. This is not the case for non-governmental organisations, as they deal with even a bigger variety of topics and therefore usually ask for a wide variety of requirements.
Intergovernmental Organisations are usually divided into four sectors:
1. United Nations system: United Nations represent a big umbrella under which many other Organisation act pursuing their main values assessing different contexts in a more specific way, e.g. UNDP (United Nations Development Program), UNICEF (United Nation International Children Emergency Fund) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees);
2. International Financial Institutions e.g. IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank;
3. European Union and all the related institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the ECB (European Central Bank);
4. An heterogenic group of the remaining Organisations, covering different topics, e.g. WTO (World Trade Organisation), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and OSCE (Organisation for Securuty and Co-operation in Europe.
All these sectors offer a wide variety of jobs that meets any type of education background: from the legal sector to the translation one. That is why it is rather worth to talk about the general steps to start working in this sector. We are certainly dealing with a demanding field. As a matter of fact, this professional context is generally reserved to those who already have some experience in intergovernmental Organisations. Therefore, the final goal must be achieved step by step, starting from an internship to towards temporary positions and even more stable ones. In order to better analyse all these steps, we will talk about them sector by sector.
The United Nations System
... if you are about to graduate or you have just graduated
Most of the international Organisation give you the opportunity to apply for an internship. If you have a good academic preparation and you are fluent in English and at least another of the UN official languages, this is the best starting point not only to become familiar with the general professional field and the activities connected to that, but also to experience that flexibility and open mindedness required to start any international career. Perhaps the main disadvantage of these internships is that all travel and living costs are to be paid by the intern. However, it is worth saying that doing an internship in United Nations doesn’t necessarily mean to go to New York headquarters. This huge organisation has got many offices all over the world. Have a look here for more information.
The Young Professionals Programme is another great opportunity to launch your career and get an even richer experience in the field. It is a recruitment program directed at citizens of the member states and it is based on a wide range of programs for professional development and career planning. Access to the program is determined through an annual examination. Click here for more information and here for more opportunities.
...Once you have acquired some experience
Vacancies for Staff categories are regularly published in the UN careers website and they seek for a wide variety of professional role. What is worth to say here is that these jobs can be applied for mostly when you have at least 2 years experience in the job field. As a matter of fact, professional categories are divided into requirements ranges according to the number of years of experience required. For more info click here,
Another interesting opportunity could be a temporary position as a consultant. A consultant is determined as an individual who is a recognised authority or expert in a professional field, with special skills or knowledge not possessed by UN staff members. Consultants are normally engaged in advisory or consultative capacity work and perform result-orientated tasks of a temporary nature for which there is no continuing need in the Organisation and which the Organisation is unable to meet from within the staff. Typical consultants’ assignments include analysing problems, directing seminars or training courses, preparing documents for conferences and meetings or writing reports on matters within their area of expertise on whichever their advice or assistance is sought. Moreover, it is common practice in many sections to offer such contracts to interns upon the end of the internship. Please kindly note that this is subject to the section’s needs, funds availability, satisfaction with intern’s work and other factors. Click here for more information.
Translation jobs represent a special sector of UN careers. Applicants are usually recruited through a special examination called Language Competitive Examination and they are required to know how to translate from at least two of the UN official languages. Other available positions are Editors, Interpreters, Verbatim Reporters and Language Assistants. Click here and here for more detailed information.
The International Financial Institutions
The most important ones are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Requirements for this branch of international Organisations are usually higher, but they don’t lack great opportunities that make you reach the peak step by step.
... if you are currently enrolled in a Master’s degree or have just graduated
The World Bank Internship Program offers the opportunity to experience the institution’s general mission of international development. Interns not only have the opportunity to bring new ideas and perspectives, but also to improve their skills in the Bank’s work and therefore to experience a unique learning by doing mix. For more information and opportunities click here.
The International Monetary Fund Internship Program also provides this opportunity to gain experience of the integrated work of IMF focused on member countries. This opportunity is mainly suggested for those who want improve their research skills. Click here for more information.
The Young Professionals Program is also a recruitment program in The World Bank. Like the one in UN, this program is designed for highly qualified and motivated candidates willing to improve their skills in international development strategies and to grow their role in the institution. It is a unique opportunity to experience development and gain exposure to the World Bank’s operations and policies. Click here for more information.
...Once you have acquired some experience
Vacancies for staff are regularly showed both in The World Bank and IMF web sites. Once you have acquired the necessary experience inside this institution or in the general professional field, you will be able apply for a diverse range of job families related to international development, management and economy. Job fields go from Administration to Water and Sanitation in The World Bank. As far as the FMI is concerned, they mostly stick to the economics sector. Find out more here and here.
European Union and all the related institutions
...if you are about to graduate or you have just graduated
Like the worldwide institution, also European Union gives students the opportunity to do an internship in their institutions. Sometimes, paid internships are also possible.
The European Commission and European Parliament both offer two five months traineeships every year, starting 1st of March or 1st October. It is an amazing opportunity to experience the policy making process of EU Institutions and also to do that in different sectors: law, human resources, environmental policy, journalism, human rights work etc. Find out more here and here.
If you are interested in other institutions traineeships, follow these links: