Geneva, Switzerland is the longtime home of the UN family and supports a thriving community of expats on long and short term contracts. For anyone looking for an alternative to teaching English or working as an au pair, short term employment with the UN is a sometimes overlooked option.
There a seven UN organizations based in Geneva– WHO, ILO, WIPO, UIT. Other Europe-based UN organizations include the FAO in Rome and UNESCO in Paris. Each organization also has several– sometimes dozens– of regional and country offices all over the world. The majority of employees at UN organizations are renewable short term contracts (STCs) lasting 3-11 months. STCs cover everything from web programming, to administrative work, to medical doctors and statisticians.
Negotiating the UN bureaucratic maze can be daunting, but getting a STC can shortcut a lot of the complexities of working in another country and lead to an interesting couple of months that look great on a resume. UN employees usually do not need to apply for a work visa in the country they are employed in, nor do they need to pay any taxes on their salary in either their home country or country of residence. A UN contract can also streamline the process of renting or buying a home and opening a new bank account. Many STCs will include a round trip plane ticket from your home country– but this doesn’t extend to other family members, nor will they usually pay for any other relocation costs like shipping.
Finding a job
Finding out about vacancies at any of these organizations can be the hardest part of the job. While some organizations maintain online job centers, many openings are announced only internally or on paper at organization offices.
There are several different types of UN employment as well as involving complicated salary scale based on “grades” and “steps”.
Employees are separated into three categories: D-staff are directors who are expected to have a Ph.D. and extensive background in their area as well as general management in a large organization. P-staff are professionals usually with a MA or at least a graduate degree and several years experience. G-staff are general staff who make up most of an organization’s staff. Each year of employment (each 11 month contract counts as a year) earns you 1 step which translates to a salary increase and often an increase in health and dental benefits. Knowing the grade of employment you are qualified for will make the job search easier.
UN organizations also have country quotas that restrict how many people they can hire from each country and give preference to applicants from under-represented nations.
If you have dual citizenship or are a national of a country besides the US, UK, or Canada be sure to state this on any esquires or applications.
Knowing one of the organization’s ‘working languages’ besides English is also an asset. In Geneva the working languages are English, French, and Spanish. If you aren’t fluent in another language– or are a complete beginner willing to learn– you should mention that as well since the UN provides free language classes to both short and long term staff.
Each organization has a Personal Information Form that can be downloaded from their website. The completed form, a copy of your resume, and a passport photo are needed for each job you apply for through ‘official channels’. Less officially, if you know the name or email address of a potential employer you can try sending them a cover letter and resume directly.
Excerpted from “Finding A Job At The UN: Learning Where To Look For A Job In The UN” in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 43.