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Here’s how to earn an internship at United Nations; a student guides us

How a LinkedIn post led to an internship at the United Nations — Vishnu Kant Bhadauria talks to indianexpress.com about his journey and advises future aspirants about chasing their dreams of working at international bodies.

UN internship, how to get UN internship, internships, jobs at UNVishnu Kant Bhadauria explains how to earn an internship at the United Nations, or any other sister organisations. (Graphics by Abhishek Mitra)

A random LinkedIn post from a stranger about his experience working at UN Headquarters as a senior official made Vishnu Kant Bhadauria, a 23-year-old boy from Jaipur, also curious about the same and he started browsing the internet for more information.

However, there was not a lot of information available on the internet about how to pursue an internship at the UN and the key skills needed. “Due to the lack of transparency in the recruitment process for interns at UN headquarters and the lack of content available to guide you, I had to proceed through the process entirely by myself,” he told indianexpress.com.

After a careful study of the positions available and making sure he applies all the skills and resources at hand, Vishnu narrowed down his choices.

“With a strong interest in management and strategy positions, I narrowed down a few opportunities, put together my profile and cover letter on their official platform Inspira, and applied to a few internship roles.”

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To make sure that future aspirants do not have to go through the struggle like Vishnu, here are some of the key pointers by him for those who would wish to pursue a similar journey and earn an internship opportunity at the UN.

How did you get to know about the UN internship and how was your application process experience?

With a strong interest in management and strategy positions, I narrowed down a few opportunities, put together my profile and cover letter on their official platform — inspira.un.org, and applied to a few internship roles. Two months later, I received an invitation to a written assessment round which consisted of Excel-based exercises and report writing that was specific to my job role.

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Several weeks later, I was scheduled for a competency-based interview with various senior staff development officers, who tested my skills by presenting various job scenarios and testing my approach to the same.

And finally, at the end of almost six months of multiple written assessments and interview rounds, I was offered a position with the Department of Management Strategy, Policy, and Compliance at the UN Secretariat, New York.

Who can apply for UN internships?

Students in their sophomore year, final year of the undergraduate degree. Those who are studying for their masters or have completed their masters no more than a year ago can also apply.

How can one apply for UN internships?

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The UN and its sister bodies have a number of career pages — careers.un.org — which can be accessed individually or, in a much quicker and less known way, by navigating to untalent.org, which is integrated with all the UN’s and its subsidiaries’ careers pages. 

So, as a starting step, you are asked to write a 500-word cover letter or motivation statement after filling out the basic details on these careers pages. In these letters, you should explain why you are the most suitable candidate for this position. 

Depending on the department where you have applied, you may be called for a written assessment if your application is shortlisted for the second round. However, this is quite subjective, and changes from department to department. 

The next step is a competency-based interview, which assesses your skills by experts asking you job-specific and situational questions, as well as relating those to your previous jobs. You are offered the opportunity after you complete all these steps.

What are the types of questions asked in the written assessment and competency-based interview rounds and how can one prepare for it?

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The types of questions that can be expected in these rounds are:

— Tell us about yourself. And why did you apply for this internship?

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— Can you share a challenging experience you’ve had and how you responded?

— Give me an example of when you had to explain something difficult to someone who did not have your background/knowledge (communication). In this, they can ask some follow-up questions such as: what information did you need to get across? What did you consider when explaining the concept? What was the most difficult aspect of giving the explanation? How did you ensure that they understood, or what would you do differently next time?

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— Please share an experience of needing to learn new technology quickly (technology). In this, they can ask some follow-up questions such as: what did you have to learn and why? how did you approach the task? or what was the outcome? How well did you do?

— Tell us about a situation where you took initiative? What happened? Results? (taking initiative)

— What do you see as your strengths and areas for improvement?

— What skills or experience do you hope to gain from this internship?

—Please share an example of when you had to work with a team to achieve a goal, and when it didn’t go as smoothly as you had hoped.

— Do you prefer to work independently or in a team? Please explain. How would you handle a situation in juggling different tasks within a tight timeframe?

The written assessment may vary from position to position. It can have:

– Excel-Based Assessment: Pivot Table, Vlookup and basic formulas
– Report Writing: Writing summaries of extensive reports
– Essay writing on impromptu topics
– Data visualisation on Power BI

What are the key skills needed to bag an internship at the UN?

There are a few skills every aspirant should try to hone before applying for an internship at the UN or its sister bodies:

— Professional or college experience working on similar projects

— Good communication skills, i.e. the ability to communicate clearly and confidently

— The profile should be balanced with a good academic record and some professional experience

What are the important things that a candidate should remember while applying for the UN?

The name of the department may not correspond to the type of role, so don’t limit yourself to one department. For instance, social media internships may be available in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Another important thing to remember is that one should make sure they apply to at least five to 10 positions and write a unique cover letter for each. Using a standard cover letter would be the worst thing you can do.

The most important thing is that the UN does not accept referrals, and everyone must apply conventionally through the respective career pages.

Is there any common error/misconception that aspirants can avoid?

To be accepted, you don’t necessarily need a 10 GPA or an Ivy League education. Your hard work, experience and willingness to work count, in addition to your skills.

Candidates should remember that the experience they have working with similar projects is the most important criterion for getting an internship offer, not your volunteering or social work experience.

One major misconception is that cover letters are not important. Candidates should remember that cover letters are carefully analysed, so ensure you make them as relevant as possible.

What skills/experiences can one hope and aim to learn as a part of the internship?

In addition to working with a global team, you will be able to take on roles that are not limited to the UN, but also the World Bank, IMF, etc. Supervisors ensure that you network extensively with everyone across departments, allowing you to present your work on a much larger scale. You are more likely to land a full-time position since you are aware of the nuances, and not to forget that the stamp of a global citizen on your CV comes from working as an international civil servant.

Since it was the peak of the Omicron variant of Covid and the situation in New York was pretty bad, all the internships were undertaken remotely and so was mine. But kudos to the officials at the UN who made sure that we not only got to work with projects of different strata but also made sure we networked well with the officers in other departments, presented our work to the senior officials, and even recruited new interns for our department.

First published on: 27-09-2022 at 09:38:16 am
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