International Organisations

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 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’.

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Given the diversity of the organisations in this sector, career opportunities are wide-ranging and cover a 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 commercial organisations. You could be a lawyer, medic, accountant, 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.

International organisations typically require a relevant postgraduate degree and professional work experience, as well as fluency in English and at least one other language. It is to your advantage if you have some work experience or internships carried out abroad, in particular in what are described as 'hardship' locations.  You need to demonstrate your interest, passion and motivation to work in this sector.  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,  below are a few examples of such schemes.

United Nations (UN)

The UN recruits into a number of occupational groups/divisions, as and when required and core staff from eligible countries (based on the requirements of the UN quota system of representation) are usually initially recruited for advertised junior posts or can begin their career via the Young Professionals Programme (YPP) .  

Most graduates enter the UN via an internship in their chosen field.  These are highly competitive and many require you to have a Masters degree. It is important to research applications with the UN agencies in addition to the Secretariat. You need to apply to these separately.  Your cover letter and CV are key to getting you shortlisted.  Even if you do not speak a second language fluently its is important to show that you are taking classes outside your studies to gain a second language.

More senior ‘entry’ level positions with the UN usually 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.

Another of the UN's recruitment programmes is the Junior Professional Officer's Programme (JPO) Candidates are recruited under bilateral agreements between the UN and donor countries, so JPOs  are usually nationals of donor countries, with the exception of some donors who finance nationals of developing countries.
The main objective of the JPO Programme is to provide young professionals with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field of multilateral international cooperation through a learning experience under the supervision of specialists, and to contribute to the advancement and furtherance of their organization’s mandate, particularly with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Individual divisions have their own criteria for applications so check carefully what they are for the divisions you're interested in. 

The World Bank Group

The World Bank Group is not a ‘bank’ in the common sense, but an international organisation 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 organisations, other aid agencies and the private sector. The Bank is also not a single organisation, 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 Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes – ICSID

The Bank has several entry schemes, depending upon the level of experience required. For more information about these visit The World Bank website.

The World Bank Group Young Professionals Programme (WBG YPP) is the most high profile programme. The programme recruits on behalf of the World Bank, IFC and MIGA 

This is a two-year leadership development programme at the start of a five-year employment contract. Young Professionals (YPs) start the programme in Washington, DC, where they engage in intensive training—on-the-job and in the classroom—learning the fundamentals of leadership and development operations across institutions, and how to identify opportunities for joint impact. Candidates must be under 32 years old, have a Masters or PhD/DPhil and specialise in a field relevant to YPP business areas

European Union

European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) website is the best place to find out about vacancies, internships and programmes at various EU institutions including:

  • European Commission 
  • European Parliament 
  • Council of the EU
  • European Court of Justice
  • Court of Auditors 
  • European Economic and Social Committee 
  • Committee of the Regions
  • European External Action Service
  • European Ombudsman 
  • European Data Protection Supervisor 

The EU also has traineeship programmes which offer an opportunity to get a taste of what an EU career is about. Each year the programme recruits c.2,000 trainees who work for a number of months in the various EU institutions, bodies and agencies 

Demonstrable evidence of an interest in and having the technical and practical skills required for the sector, are very important as in a highly competitive international market you will need to "stand out from the crowd" of other applicants. Below are some general skills that are useful to have for the sector:

  • Language skills - most people working in the sector speak at least 2 languages fluently
  • An international perspective - including the ability to work effectively in multi-cultural/national environments
  • Flexibility  
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience

Most jobs require 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 to 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 and build your networks (with 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

As mentioned above, most positions require specialist technical expertise so think about how you can develop that through postgraduate study and work experience. When choosing a course, make sure that it will give you the technical knowledge and skills needed for your chosen role

International experience

It's usually better to gain some relevant international experience before undertaking postgraduate study. This will  help you to identify/clarify which global region(s)you're interested in and will also give you the opportunity to experience what working in an international setting could be like. Read our career briefings on International Development and Charities for further resources about how to gain relevant experience.


Some international organisations don't pay interns a salary or may only offer a stipend to cover all or some living costs, so make sure you carefully check whether it's a paid or unpaid internship. Also check the relevant employment law of the country you are working in to understand your employment rights.

In the UK, internships and summer jobs are governed by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the UK government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce, and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and insight events that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers.

Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act and the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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