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How to find UN internships that best match your interests

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How to find UN internships that best match your interests

February 19, 2021

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

best UN internship

You’ve made up your mind. Powered up your laptop. Fingers ready on the keyboard. It is time to get that coveted UN internship which will kickstart your career. As you go through Inspira –the UN’s human resources website– you find yourself skimming through an intimidatingly vast range of opportunities in an enormous variety of fields. How do you decide which ones to focus your Herculean efforts on? After a certain point, frustration starts to creep in and you just want to get the ball rolling- what does it matter whether you apply to intern at the Office for Disarmament Affairs or at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs? Why waste your time reading through multiple job descriptions when, at the end of the day, waving the UN name high on your CV is what really counts?

Don’t fool yourself– this point of view is baselessly myopic. Meaningful work opportunities set the stage for vital personal growth. Employers are concerned with what skills you’ve developed and the insights you’ve gained from these experiences rather than simply seeing an organization’s name on your resume. Your propensity to observe and absorb is increasingly heightened when interning at the correct places, where you are doing things that you genuinely care about. Internships that are meaningful add much more value to your thought process, development and resumé. 

Discover our eBook UN Internships: The Complete Guide

Where to begin?

Start by identifying which economic, political and social issues genuinely interest you. Dig a little deeper into what you are passionate about. Do rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers and more frequent droughts spur you into taking decisive action? Perhaps eradicating child hunger is what drives you.

Whatever it may be, it is imperative that you recognize and keep it at the forefront of your agenda when browsing through the myriad of offices you can apply to. When you are passionate about what you’re involved in, your work imprints a lasting sense of personal satisfaction on you.

Drawing on your past internships and/or volunteering opportunities is a useful starting point. Look back to recall which experiences stuck with you during these periods. You should have a preliminary idea of which UN Offices will be apt for you based on your preferences.

Here are some UN offices that could align with your areas of interest

Area of Interest 

UN Office


United Nations Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD)


United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

Domestic Violence

United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women)

Social and Economic Policy

Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA)

Immigration Policy

International Organization for Migration (UN IOM)

Human Rights

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)


UN Division of Healthcare Management and Occupational Safety And Health (DHMOSH), World Health Organization (WHO)

Hunger/ Food Security

United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) 

Water Scarcity

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Peace and Disarmament

Department of Peace Operations, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

Recognizing your strenghts

The next step is to identify your strongest skill sets. These are broken down into soft and hard skills. Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easily measurable. It may be that you are adept with information management and graphic design (computer skills) or find statistical analysis easier than others. Being bilingual or multilingual is extremely useful too– especially knowing one or more of the six official UN languages (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian).

In contrast, soft skills are personal habits and traits that shape how you work on your own and with others. People might have told you that you work very well in a team or that you are adaptable to new environments. You may have garnered a reputation for being a problem solver, a skill that has held you in good stead in prior roles.

There are plenty of soft and hard skills apart from the aforementioned that you will discover for yourself. The reason why identifying these is important is that they help you unveil your ideal job description.

Making your UN Internship experience satisfying

Depending on whether you work better following direct instructions or prefer taking initiative, or whether you can fluently speak Chinese or Russian, being able to align your most advantageous competencies with the expectations described on the listing will lead you closer to a more meaningful work experience. This is not to say that you need to have exactly all the capabilities that will ever be needed for a particular internship: after all, UN internships are about exploring your abilities and adding new skills to your repertoire. Demonstrating a keenness to learn and grow is paramount. However, being able to use your pre-existing strengths will certainly help in making your experience more fruitful.

Being curious is an integral part of any internship experience, and this curiosity is best brought out when doing things that are intellectually stimulating to you. Although handpicking an opportunity that is meaningful is a more tedious task, it is also one that is more rewarding.

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