A couple of years ago, I found myself amidst a career pathway rut and I decided to apply for a UN Internship placement. Having recently completed another internship, I was on the lookout for my next stepping stone.
As a recent graduate, I was stuck in a job that merely paid the bills, a job that barely scratched the surface of my skills and educational qualifications. I had reluctantly applied for a few government graduate programs (as that’s the trend and following footsteps of every newly graduate in the nation’s capital of Canberra), and my chances had fallen through in the final rounds of the interview selection process – I was giving up hope. You could call it an early career existential crisis.
What Drove Me to Apply
I was living in a city that I had forever dreamed of escaping; and I only continued residence there, post-graduation due to the long-term boyfriend, family and friends. Although, even the family were finding themselves in a new temporary home in France. So really it was the boyfriend, who was not ready to cut the chord with family ties: the emotional inclination of the archetypal European son – sound familiar anyone?
Whilst this restless “escapism” saga was unrolling in the background of my life, one of my best friends (and housemates at the time), had returned from an internship placement with the UN in Bangkok. She couldn’t stop raving about the experience in all its facets: culturally, career-wise, socially, spiritually… she made it sound so damn good, that you would have thought she reached enlightenment and soared through the whole cosmos and back.
So, I began visualising myself amongst that scene, it was me to a tee: my family (myself included) had been refugees and immigrated to Australia when I was only a baby; I had moved back to my native land and lived with my grandparents for a small segment of primary school; I had lived abroad as an exchange student and lived amongst people I couldn’t communicate with until I learnt their mother tongue; I had grown up with diplomatic friends my whole life; I had studied international relations and had just wrapped up an internship with an international affairs think tank. I justified my reasons and convinced myself to take the leap of faith and – just do it. I barely spoke to my boyfriend or my family before submitting the application – this moment was sacred and I didn’t need the opinions of others to distract me in the process.
How I Applied
Start your application process on the UN Careers Website. There is an array of UN agencies listed there, which you can apply for.
The application process was fairly simple. It comprised of an online application form with all the general details: Name, Country of Residence, Educational Background etc. and then two questions that were pivotal to your shortlisting:
Question One asked you to sum up why you’re applying (this is the question that relates to character and psychological factors – showcase why and how you care about the cause).
Question Two focused on the what you can offer them and asked you to expand on your skillset, education and how you’ve put these skills into practice (e.g. the tangible outcomes – showcase how you’ve put your knowledge and skills into actionable deliverables).
I summarised the entirety of both these questions within 300 words give or take. Remember to be precise and succinct with your answers, people don’t have time for chronicles.
To summarise the sensation of submitting an application with the UN: it’s like throwing something into a big black hole, as you have absolutely no grasp or control of what happens to it. I don’t even recall receiving a confirmation email after submitting the application.
So life goes on. I heard zilch, nada from them for almost 5 months. I forgot I had even applied, and moved on with my aspirations. I had applied for post-graduate studies in linguistics and was well immersed in my first semester when they contacted me with an offer, and subsequently an interview.
I had moved cities with my boyfriend by then. This is the point when life turned topsy-turvy. I naturally accepted the Skype interview, which due to time zone differences was my midnight. I never over the span of my lifetime, ever imagined that I’d have an interview with UN officials… over a skype call, and in my pyjamas…
Given my attire, it was the most comfortable I had ever felt in a job interview, I genuinely believe it was an influencing factor to why I landed the interview. Elmo PJs and stripy fluffy socks are my secret to getting into the UN… To find out how I secured my spot, read How I landed a UN internship.