28 February 2020

#Work4UN: UN Volunteers

The United Nations, with offices in 193 countries and 37,000 employees, is the world’s largest universal multilateral international organization. It inspires people from around the world to join its mission of maintaining peace, advancing human rights and promoting justice, equality and development. 

Securing employment with the Organization can seem like a daunting task, but as the scope of its work is global and multidimensional, there are many different entry points for candidates of varied educational backgrounds and diverse professional experience. UNAI designed the #Work4UN series to help you understand the UN, its structure, and some of the most common avenues available to join the organization. Today’s article is the fifth in the series and focuses on UN Volunteers.

What are UN Volunteers?

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. The programme, administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), integrates qualified, highly motivated and well supported professionals into the work of different UN offices and agencies, and promotes the value and global recognition of volunteerism.

In 2018, 7,201 UN volunteers were deployed worldwide and 81% of them were from countries of the Global South. UNV is directly in charge of the actual recruitment and assignment of volunteers, who support the work of the UN in the field, regional offices, and at the Headquarters with their talent and skills, while obtaining hands-on professional experience with the UN.

Volunteerism is a remarkable way for students and professionals to engage in critical issues while nurturing their global citizenship and developing useful skills. With their knowledge and passion, UN volunteers contribute to advancing the mandates and principles of the UN, and foster multilateralism and sustainability through tangible, hands on work. 

Application Process

There are two basic types of volunteer opportunities: volunteer abroad and volunteer in one’s own country. The application follows a similar process: those interested in becoming UN volunteers must first sign up at UNV’s Volunteer Management Application website and complete a profile to be included in the ‘Global Talent Pool’, which is a roster of people interested in the programme. As many details as possible should be provided regarding relevant qualifications, skills and professional experience.

As per UNV regulations and standards, the minimum age is 25 for international assignments and 22 for national assignments. Basic requirements include a university degree or higher technician diploma (a master’s degree may be needed depending on the nature of the job), two years of relevant work experience and good working knowledge of at least one of the 3 UNV working languages - English, French and Spanish. No proof or test is required to verify the level of knowledge of any given language.

The UN Youth Volunteer programme also looks for motivated and talented youth between the ages of 18 and 29 (candidates must be younger than 29 throughout the duration of their service). The educational background and experience required varies by assignment, but generally work experience over two years is not expected.

Once the candidate completes their profile, there are two ways for them to be selected. The first is when assignments are sent to UNV, a search is conducted in the applicant pool for profiles matching the requirements of the assignment; qualified candidates are then contacted. In the second scenario, the individual can apply specifically to a ‘special call’, which normally requires a faster deployment of the volunteer. All special calls can be found here. Each position has a ‘Description of Assignment’ where the assignment details and requirements are fully described.

Assessment Process

Whenever UNV is considering an individual for a potential national or international assignment, the candidate receives an ‘Assignment Proposal’ and must submit a confirmation of interest by email. Then the name of the candidate will be included in a list sent by UNV to the host agency, who will decide, based on the review of the different profiles, which candidates are short listed or called for the next step in the recruitment process, which is a comprehensive assessment.

The assessment normally consists of a written and an oral phase. The written examination is not mandatory but when there is one, it is administered online and is based on substantive technical questions regarding the assignment. With or without a written examination, the most critical part of the evaluation process is a competency-based interview, ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour, with a panel of interviewers composed of staff from UNV and the host agency. Both the written examination and the interview usually take place in at least two languages.

Recruitment and Work

Successful candidates will remain in the pool and will receive a ‘Letter of Offer’, which is conditional subject to government, medical and security clearances as well as verification of information provided in the profile, in particular academic (including university diplomas) and work references. When all the requirements are met, the offer must be signed for the onboarding process to begin. The final step is the signing of the actual contract.

Volunteers are subject to the Conditions of Service for international UN volunteers and national UN volunteers. Once deployed, they receive digital and on-site training from UNV and the host agency. UN volunteers are entitled to privileges and immunities, similar to those of UN officials as required for the exercise of their duties. Despite having started their recruitment process with UNV, for their day-to-day work UN volunteers are directly managed and supervised by the host agency or partner.

Volunteering Online

UNV also manages a special programme for those who want to contribute to the work of the UN system from their home, using their own PCs or laptops. This programme, called UNV Online Volunteering, allows more than 12,000 people to volunteer remotely every year, using their skills in conducting research, graphic design, proofreading, translating and other work for a wide range of UN entities as well as non-governmental organizations. Interested candidates can sign up for an account to join the global community of online volunteers and browse all the available opportunities.

UNAI conducted a series of interviews with United Nations staff members to provide additional information on working for the UN, and to allow staff members the opportunity to share their professional and personal insights into working for the Organization.  In this video, Fiorella Triscritti, Associate Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), and Omar Hernández, Public Information Officer at the United Nations Department of Global Communications (DGC), describe their work as former UN volunteers and how that experience led to a career at the UN.

Additional Resources

#Work4UN: UN Volunteers