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Top 5 UN Humanitarian Early Career Jobs

Taking your first steps into the humanitarian job market can be a pretty daunting process. More and more people have begun to enroll in academic programs geared toward aid and development work, making a once fairly dry supply of capable workers now plush with talent. The talent pool is ever-expanding with individuals with similar educations, so how exactly do you gain an advantage over your ‘competition’? Luckily, several big-name agencies have created and implemented programs aimed at giving young professionals the opportunity to make the mark in the humanitarian aid community. In this article, we’ll focus on the programs offered by the largest humanitarian entity in the world: the United Nations.

UN Young Professionals Programme

The UN Young Professionals Programme (YPP) is a 2-year program designed for professionals interested in working with the UN. After submitting the initial application, interested applicants must take the YPP examination, which consists of a written portion and an oral portion. Applicants who pass this exam are placed on the P1/P2 roster for assignment within the Young Professionals Programme. From the roster, candidates can be offered a 2-year fixed term contract for placement at the P1 or P2 level. From this program, participants have the opportunity to move into a full-time, regular position through various pathways. More information about the process, including FAQs, can be found on their website.

In order to qualify for the Young Professionals Programme, applicants must have nationality of a participating country, have at least a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject, and be 32 years of age or younger. Fluency in English or French is also required. Additional questions about eligibility can be found in the FAQ section on the site.

This program is an entryway for young people to make the first steps toward getting hired for a job in a UN agency. It is run by the UN Secretariat and aims to help early professionals begin their international civil servant careers. The clout associated with this program is appealing to the masses, with the program averaging around 40,000 applicants each year, meaning the competition is fierce. All applicants must pass an examination to be considered and, if accepted, continue to pass exams each year. The positions in the YPP are various, differing by sector, so each exam is tailored to the applicant’s job preferences. The subjects presented on the exam also change with the times each year, reflecting the current needs of the UN. Generally speaking, any particular subject will be offered every other year, so no two exams are identical. Subject matters range from social and legal affairs to statistics and administration, and test prep is offered across the web in order to help students prepare.

It’s important to note that passing the exam does not automatically win you a job. There are other qualifications that must be met, as well. For example, the exam is only open to citizens of certain countries, and the list of eligible nations changes each year. Candidates must be younger than 32 years old at the time of applying, be in possession of a high-GPA university degree, and be fluent in English or French- bonus points for both! If hired, program participants are offered professional development opportunities throughout their tenure. A young professional can expect to earn anywhere between $37,000 and $80,000- both strong salaries for entry-level aid workers. You really need to research and prepare in order to have a shot at entering the program, but if you are dedicated and driven, it’s a great option.

UN Entry-Level Humanitarian Professional Program (EHP)

The EHP is a fairly new recruitment (and conversion) initiative run by UNHCR- the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Another point of entry for the UN, it allows outside applications to be converted into full-time, deployable employees. Participants of this program will enter the UN at the P2 level and must be willing to take assignments anywhere in the world. The EHP runs on a cohort system, bring together people with similar interests and aims for the purpose of sharing information and working toward a common goal. This system has shown a great success rate, and participants of this program report high degrees of satisfaction.

To be eligible for UNHCR’s EHP, you must possess (at minimum) a bachelor’s degree and two years of relevant work experience, as defined by the UN grading criteria for P2 level positions. Written and analytical test screenings must be passed before being granted an interview with a panel. Applicants must also be under the age of 45 at the application closing date, in addition to being fluent in English or French (the working languages of the UN). The EHP, on average, only takes on around 50 new participants each year.

If selected, candidates do not determine their positions. Rather, they are put into the cohort that best matches their skills profile. This may be in protection, programming, supply, or administration and finance. Candidates also do not have much of a say in the location of their posting and, as such, must be willing to go wherever they are needed. Oftentimes, this can be a conflict zone or developing area, so be sure to fully consider the scope of the commitment before applying.

UN Volunteers

This is a great program that offers individuals the opportunity to get experience either in their home countries or in the field abroad. Each assignment is different and will have its own unique requirements, so be sure to check for opportunities related to your sector of interest regularly. UN volunteers are given large amounts of responsibility in various roles, which in term allows the volunteer to gain invaluable experience for building their resumes. National roles require a higher education degree and have a minimum age of 22, while international service is open to people 25 and above. There are also opportunities to volunteer online.

UNESCO Young Professionals’ (YP) Program

Another branch of the United Nations, UNESCO also offers an employment scheme for university graduates and young professionals who are early in their careers. The program aims to promote gender parity and representation in the Secretariat.  Applicants must have a degree, be under 30 years old, and speak one of the working languages of the UN (English or French), with a second language being desirable. The YP holds diversity as one of its highest priorities, and individuals from under-represented Member States are strongly encouraged to apply.

UNHCR Junior Professional Officers (JPO) Program

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees offers a Junior Professional Officer program for young graduates and professionals to gain experience either at headquarters or in the field. Participants must be interested in refugees and internally displaced and stateless people. Being apart of this program gives young people the unique opportunity to gain training and exposure to UNHCR’s humanitarian work, focusing on certain areas of expertise, including law, social sciences, and public administration. Applicants must meet the same general criteria as other UN-run programs.