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International Organisations | The Careers Service International Organisations – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

International Organisations have international membership, scope, or presence and can be divided into two main types.

Intergovernmental Organisations (IOs), also known as international governmental organisations (IGOs) are made up primarily of member states. Examples include the United Nations (UN), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (CoE), European Union (EU), and World Trade Organization (WTO).

International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that operate internationally, include bodies such as the World Organization of the Scout Movement, International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.

The information below covers IGOs. For more information on INGOS, see our information on ‘International Development’ and ‘Charities’.

Types of job

Given the diversity of the organisations in this sector, career opportunities are wide-ranging and cover a tremendous number of issue areas, themes and professions. Jobs can be technical, field-based, policy-based, strategic, or administrative – just as they are within the UK’s civil service and within many more commercial organisations. You could be a lawyer, medic, accountant, police officer, soldier, economist, conflict specialist, negotiator, water and sanitation specialist, nutritionist, or logistician… in fact the list is nearly endless!

Most entry-level positions require a number of years’ experience and openings for graduates at the start of their careers are relatively rare. The high level of interest in employment opportunities in this sector leads to competitive entry standards, particularly as there are normally quotas for nationals of different member countries. Knowing how to navigate the opportunities that do exist and planning how best to access them, through building and marketing your skills effectively, is essential.

Entry points

International organisations typically require a relevant postgraduate degree and a few years of pertinent professional work experience, as well as fluency in English and at least one other language. Some of the larger organisations also set an upper age limit for entry-level posts. Certain international organisations operate fixed contract ‘Young Professional’ type schemes, or ‘Junior Professional Officer’ programmes available via your Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Below are a few examples of such schemes.

United Nations (UN)

The UN recruits into a number of occupational groups, as and when required. Examples of these include:

• Administration
• Demography
• Economics
• Finance
• Human Rights
• Information Technology
• Language and Related Work
• Legal Affairs and Related Work
• Public Information
• Radio Producers
• Security
• Social Affairs
• Statistics
• Web Designer / Developer

Core staff from eligible countries – based on the requirements of the UN quota system of representation – are initially recruited for junior posts at P/2 level of entry through the Young Professionals Programme (YPP) Examination (formerly the National Competitive Recruitment Examination [NCRE]). Applicants should be 32 or younger on 31st December of the year of the exam, a national of a country participating that year, and hold a first degree relevant to the occupational group to which they are applying by the time they submit their application – no other experience is required. More information can be found on the YPP website.

Examinations for language positions are held on a more ad hoc basis. Candidates for translator positions are required to translate from at least two of the six official UN languages (English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish). Interpreters are required to interpret simultaneously into one of the official languages and must have full auditory comprehension of at least two others. See the Career Briefing on ‘Translating and Interpreting’ for more details.

More senior ‘entry’ level P/3 posts with the UN require an advanced university degree and five years or more professional experience relevant to the job for which you are applying. For mid-career and senior level positions, progressively responsible work experience is required. Individual bodies within the UN system each have their own recruitment notices that can be accessed via their specific websites.

The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme is administered by the JPO Service Centre (JPOSC) for the following organisations:

United Nations Development Programme and its affiliated funds/programmes:

  • United Nations Capital Development Fund
  • United Nations Development Operations Coordination Office
  • United Nations Volunteers
  • United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
  • Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
  • United Nations Population Fund
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research
  • United Nations Office for Project Services
  • United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
  • United Nations System Staff College
  • United Nations University
  • Universal Postal Union
  • World Health Organization

The JPO Programme offers one-year contracts that are normally renewed for a second (and in some cases a third) year. Whilst a small number of JPOs do continue to serve within the UN system, the aim of the programme is not to provide long-term careers within the UN, but exposure to the co-operative work of the divisions. Typically, applicants should be 32 or under, have a Masters (or equivalent) degree relevant to the work of the department, possess relevant work experience in a developing country (one to two years minimum), and be fluent in written and spoken English and at least one other UN language.

Individual divisions have their own criteria for applications so check carefully with those in which you are interested. Salaries are equivalent to those of entry-level professional staff in the relevant division. The governments of participating donor countries generally sponsor applicants, and applications should normally be made through your Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some donor governments also sponsor JPOs from developing countries. The JPO Service Centre website contains further information.

The World Bank Group

The World Bank Group is not a ‘bank’ in the common sense, but an international organization owned and managed by more than 180 member countries – borrowers, lenders and donors. Together they set the Bank’s policies and oversee operations. All Bank Group efforts are coordinated with a wide range of partners, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, other aid agencies and the private sector. The Bank is also not a single organization, but five agencies working together:

  • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – IBRD
  • The International Development Association – IDA
  • The International Finance Corporation – IFC
  • The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency – MIGA
  • The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes – ICSID

The Bank has several entry schemes, depending upon the level of experience required. Some of these are described below and for more information see The World Bank website.

The World Bank Group Young Professionals Program (YPP) offers a two-year initial assignment normally involving several trips to developing countries, as well as numerous training activities and policy-related discussions. Competition is keen: there are 8,000-10,000 applications each year for a limited number of positions, and most of the candidates exceed the minimum criteria. This is a great route into a gaining long term position within the bank; two thirds of the 1,500 applicants hired since 1963 still work in the organization. Candidates should be under 32 and must have a Master’s degree or equivalent in economics, finance, education, public health, social sciences, engineering, urban planning, natural resource management, or a related field. Significant relevant work experience (at least 3 years; most have four or five years) or continued academic study at doctoral level is also required. Work experience in a developing country is desirable, as is a working knowledge of languages relevant to the work of the World Bank. YPP participants earn “competitive” salaries.

The World Bank Group Junior Professional Associates (JPA) programme is a two-year entry-level, non-renewable contract for those whose analytical and research skills extend to areas of specialization such as: economics, finance, human resources development (public health, education, nutrition, population), social sciences (anthropology, sociology), agriculture, environment, private sector development, as well as other related fields. Applicants should be fluent in English and, preferably, at least one other relevant World Bank language (French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, or Chinese). They should also be under 28, hold the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree (with some relevant experience), a Master’s, or be a DPhil candidate with a superior academic record.

Positions may be located in any of the Bank’s offices across the world. The JPA programme is not an entry point for a career in the World Bank and employment beyond the initial two-year contract will be prohibited for a period of two years after the end of the contract. Recruitment and hiring for this programme is ongoing throughout the year. The Junior Professionals Programme for Afro-Descendants (JPPAD) is open to applicants 35 years of age or younger, who are Afro-descendants, i.e. of Sub-Saharan African descent.

European Union

The EU institutions employ over 40,000 people from the 28 EU member countries. The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) organizes ‘open competitions’ to select permanent staff. Each year there are competitions for administrators, linguists, interpreters, translators, secretaries and other staff categories.

EPSO recruits staff for all the EU institutions:

  • European Commission – based in Brussels (Belgium) and Luxembourg. The Commission is the largest employer among the EU institutions, with staff in Europe and offices around the world. A number of specialized posts are available, for example for people with a background in science, languages or statistics/economics.
  • European Parliament – based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg (France).
  • Council of the EU – based in Brussels.
  • European Court of Justice – based in Luxembourg.
  • Court of Auditors – based in Luxembourg.
  • European Economic and Social Committee – based in Brussels.
  • Committee of the Regions – based in Brussels.
  • European Ombudsman – based in Strasbourg.
  • European Data Protection Supervisor – based in Brussels.

Whichever institution you are interested in, the selection procedure and type of contract are the same. Permanent officials are divided into administrators and assistants. Administrators are typically involved in drafting policies and monitoring the implementation of EU law, analyzing and advising. In general, to apply for an administrator competition, you must have completed (at least) three years of university. Assistants usually work in supporting roles and are crucial for the internal management of the institutions. In general, to apply for an assistant competition, you must have completed (at least) secondary school.

More information can be found on the Europa website.

OECD

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Young Professionals Programme is designed to bring entry-level professionals with diverse backgrounds into the organization. Applicants should have a Masters or DPhil in Economics, with a specialization in an OECD-relevant field, as well as several years of professional experience and international exposure. There are normally more than 2,500 applications for seven two-year positions. Full-time students who can benefit from a Memorandum of Agreement between their releasing institution and the OECD can also obtain an unpaid traineeship within the organisation. Areas of study must be directly related to their programme of work.

For more information see the OECD: Young Professionals Programme.

Skills & experience

A passion for working towards the achievement of co-operation, peace, justice and human rights is key to thriving in this sector. In addition, and just as importantly, you need to offer practical skills, specific knowledge and worldly experience, evidencing that you are flexible in sometimes less than ideal situations, able to work effectively in a multi-national and multi-cultural setting, can cope with unpredictability, re-adjust after setbacks, make tough decisions and display leadership in less than ideal circumstances, and sometimes survive hardships.

Obtaining a job in an international organisation usually involves a combination of postgraduate study, experience, skills and networking. Research the area and group of organisations within which you want to work, consider what kind of role you want to undertake and work backwards to plan milestones and your immediate next steps. You may well also re-define and re-focus along the way.

Talk to people (contacts, alumni, colleagues, tutors, supervisors) – who are already working in a field within which you might want to specialise, or who may know people who are in that field. If you are planning a thesis, already writing one, or undertaking research, think about how this may relate to your future aspirations.

Specialist qualifications

Consider sharpening your specialist qualifications in a field appropriate to the direction in which you would like your career to develop. You might think, for example, of (development) economics in preparation for the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank; conflict resolution for UNDP; forced migration studies for UNHCR, or physics research for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). The Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, the University of East Anglia, the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and King’s College (University of London), Manchester University, Cambridge University, and the Department of International Development, and Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford all offer well-regarded courses.

Funding can be hard to come by, but there are a very limited number of studentships made available by the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council) each year for Home and EC students and some are offered by the institutions themselves. Non-EC students should check any schemes available through their governments.

International experience

It is generally felt that it is better to gain some relevant international experience before undertaking postgraduate study. This will not only help you to identify/clarify which direction you wish to pursue, but will also help you to choose the most appropriate course and to get the most out of your studies. Look at the Career Briefings on ‘International Development’ and ‘Charities’ for further resources about how to gain such experience.

Other skills

Develop additional language skills. English and French are the working languages of the UN Secretariat and its official languages are English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. The EU languages are English, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish – but English and French are the most widely used.

Tailoring your CV

Whether you are looking to start building experience in this sector or already have some directly relevant experience to market, tailoring your CV is crucial. Potential employers need to see that you have an understanding of, passion for and ability to thrive in their organisation and in the role advertised, or that you are applying for speculatively.

Highlight the skills outlined above that you have already gained in your degree – what are the most relevant modules you have taken or transferable skills you have built? How have these skills been further developed outside of your degree, through roles in societies, student editorial work, freelance consultancy, travel, previous work experience and internships, etc.? Are you doing all you can in the way you phrase the bullet points in your CV to convey the research, communication, team-work, problem-solving, numerical, regional, thematic or other interests you know that organisation values?

 

Internships

An internship or some form of work experience ‘in the field’ is often a crucial addition to your CV when applying for jobs with international organisations. Examples of advertised, structured programmes include:

UK Civil Service

For further information, please see our briefing on Government & Public Admin. You can apply for paid work experience during Easter and summer holidays in a government department or agency. Closing dates vary, but usually applications must be received before the end of March, or mid-December for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. If you have an interest in a particular department you may like to contact its Human Resource department directly. Diversity Internship Programmes offer placements with a central government department for six to eight weeks and are open to people with a disability or a minority ethnic background. The Windsor Fellowship was formed in 1986 as a training organisation to support and encourage minority ethnic graduates. For further information see:

British Council

The UK’s international cultural relations organization runs a series of three-month internship placements each summer. Applications start in March each year, and provide a variety of roles within which to gain experience. In recent years, internships have included: Design Assistant, Corporate HQ Communications Officer, Corporate HQ External Relations Officer, Drama and Dance Officer, Education and Society Science Marketing Officer, Education and Society Youth Project Officer, Film Officer, Financial Business Analyst, Partnerships Project Officer, and more – see British Council Internships. The British Council also offers a range of graduate opportunities.

European Union (EU)

Traineeship schemes or ‘stages’ are offered by some of the institutions of the European Community, most popularly by the Commission in Brussels (since it was set up in 1960 it has recruited more than 25,000 ‘stagiaires’ or trainees from 65 countries; every year some 1,200 people are taken on as paid interns), but also by the Court of Auditors, the Court of Justice, the Economic and Social Committee, and the Council of the European Union. Stages are short-term (three to five months long) and are for those under 30 who have recently graduated and can offer a second European language at A-Level standard. The European Parliament offers about 600 internships every year, but not all posts are paid. The European Parliament launched a specific traineeship programme for people with disabilities in 2006.

Currently the majority of applications come from candidates with qualifications in law, political science, international relations and economics. However, the Commission is also looking for trainees with qualifications in other fields, such as: computer sciences, agricultural technology, education studies, bio-chemical engineering, health and food safety, energy management, auditing, aerospace engineering, psychology, financial management, evaluation and strategic analysis (notably systems dynamics), design, multimedia, sports management, and so on. Application times and criteria vary according to the specific scheme applied for.

For further information see European Stages.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)

NATO introduced its Internship Programme in 2004 to provide a small number of current or recent students with the opportunity to intern with the International Staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

There is one call for applications per year, from March until June, with two starting dates, in September and March the following year. Internships will typically last six months. Interns receive a lump sum of 800 Euros per month and must be over 21 at the time of the internship, a national of a NATO member state, have completed at least two years of university study, or equivalent, and be proficient in English or French.

For further information see: NATO Internships.

United Nations

Short internships for students enrolled in a graduate programme are offered (typically) on a two-month basis three times a year at the UN Headquarters Secretariat in New York (mid-January to mid-March, early June to early August, and mid-September to mid-November). This unpaid internship can be extended for up to six months. Proficiency in English and/or French is required.

On-line applications are normally submitted four months beforehand. For more information see United Nations: Internships.

Many other UN offices, funds and programmes also offer internship schemes, generally for those with, or studying for, postgraduate qualifications. Check the websites of individual member organisations for further details.

The United Nations Volunteers Programme

The UN Volunteers Programme offers a variety of ways in which people can volunteer either at home or internationally, including very flexible ‘online volunteering’, but does not offer short-term international practical assignments for students. For further information see the United Nations Volunteers Programme.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The Fund Internship offers 50, 13-week internships – 35 to 40 internships are undertaken between May and October, and another 10 to 15 from November to April. Interns work under the supervision of an experienced economist to carry out a research project and prepare a paper. Typically, these are available to students who are within one or two years of completing a DPhil in macroeconomics or a related field and Master’s students who have not yet graduated. The salary is comparable to senior level support staff and air fares are also covered. For further information see IMF Summer Internships.

World Bank Group

Runs summer and winter paid internship programmes for students currently enrolled on a relevant full-time postgraduate course; prior work experience, IT skills and a second UN language are desirable. Internships run for a minimum of four weeks (May-September and November-January) and are competitive, with 8,000 applications for 150-200 places. The closing date is normally 31st October for winter internships and 31st January for summer internships. For further information see World Bank Jobs.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

The World Health Organisation offers six-week to three-month unpaid internships to students (age 20+) studying in a health-related field (although other disciplines will be considered as appropriate), enrolled in a degree programme in a graduate school (second university degree or higher) both at the time of application and during the internship. Applications are normally accepted between 1st December and 31st January each year or a summer internship and between 1st September and 31st October each year for a winter internship. WHO interns are not eligible for appointment to any position within WHO for a period of three months following the end of their internship. For further information see WHO Internships.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The WTO offers internships to those (aged between 21-30) who have completed undergraduate studies in a relevant discipline and have embarked upon postgraduate study. There is year round availability with a duration of up to six months. The internships are paid CHF60 per day (approximately GBP40). For further information see WTO Trainee Programmes.

Other opportunities

Every year there are a number of international and UK-based internships offered through the Internship Programme at the Careers Service.

As well as advertised positions, if you are proactive and network effectively it is also possible to create an opportunity through alumni contacts, or through tutors or colleagues who have contacts within organisations.

Advice on Work Experience in the UK

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The United Nations an Introduction
  • The Idealist Guide to Non Profit Careers for Sector Switchers
  • The Idealist Guide to Non Profit Careers for First-time Job Seekers
  • The Non NonProfit

Journals

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Economist, weekly

Subscription resources

  • Ethical Jobs – a series of job sites that we subscribe to on your behalf. It includes policy and political jobs websites.

Podcasts of past events

ICD 2017: World Bank

Ms. Myriam Peltier-Thiberge, Program Manager and Ms. Antonieta Podesta Mevius, Program Coordinator, Youth Programs, World Bank.

Would you like to have a real impact on poverty reduction, have a global career and a global reach, work with a truly diverse group (mirror the world), work in teams to bring sustainable solutions to our clients and work in a place of excellence? If so, join the World Bank Group. The World Bank offers a number of unique recruitment programs that provide learning, staffing and capacity building opportunities for junior and mid-career professionals to experience first-hand what working at the World Bank Group is like. Learn more about the many opportunities offered at the World Bank Group.

ICD 2017 Panel Talk: Policy and practice work with international organisations

This panel explores the myths and realities of working in the development sector. Our speakers  have worked with a variety of organisations and will give candid accounts of the steps they took after University, what has enabled them to move into rewarding roles and advice about any changes in their sector.

  • Dr Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS human rights organisation, Oxford DPhil Law
  • Dr Anna McCord, formerly ODI, economist, independent consultant for DFID and others on public works and political economy programmes
  • Dr Terry Roopnarain, OPM, anthropologist specialising in social development and gender
  • Dr Leslie Groves, formerly DFID, independent organisational change expert specialising in inclusion and human rights

ICD 2017 Panel Talk: Research and strategy roles in governance and development

Working at the interface between research, strategy and implementation sounds exciting and rewarding – but what is it really like? What are the stepping stones following a degree at Oxford? And what are the skills and competencies that count for working within or alongside major international organisations today? Speakers in this panel will share their experiences and insights from their career journeys and current roles.

  • Mr Sam Daws,  Director, Project on UN Governance and Reform, Oxford, and former First Officer to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
  • Dr Annette Idler,  Director of Studies, Changing Character of War Programme, Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College and DPIR, Latin American Centre Affiliate, University of Oxford; and Research Associate at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, Graduate Institute Geneva
  • Dr Neil McCullough, economist, formerly Asia Foundation, OPM, now independent

European Union Institutions

In another podcast recorded at International Careers Day 2016, you can listen to the EU Institutions discuss career opportunities.

Getting into the UN

In this podcast, Michael Emery, Director for the Division for Human Resources at the UN Population Fund, talks about his organisation, routes into the UN system, and ‘managing your career holistically’ in the multilateral sector.

Michael has served for more than 23 years with the United Nations and other international organizations and NGOs in New York, Geneva, West Africa, the Balkans and East Timor. Prior to joining UNFPA, Michael was the Director of Human Resources at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, after holding the position of Chief of Recruitment at UNDP, New York (2006-10). He served with the UN in various roles between 2000-2005 including as Chief of Peacekeeping’s Career Development Unit (2003-05), Chief of the International Staff Unit (2002-03) and Chief, Language and Training Unit (2000-02) based in East Timor. He also was Chief of the Training Management Unit, UNPROFOR/UN in the former Yugoslavia between1994 – 1996. Michael holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Development and Training and a Bachelor of Education.

 

External resources

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Sector vacancies, IOs and Departments

Guides

This information was last updated on 09 August 2017.
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