UN Internship FAQ

Once upon a time, I was an intern at United Nations headquarters in New York. Back in the spring of 2010 in fact. I wrote about the experience on this site, and didn’t really actually finish documenting it (story of my life). However, it seems there is still a demand for information about the internship programme, considering the amount of emails and comments I get receive.

I’ve kept this here more for posterity than anything else. I’m sure there is much more up to date and relevant information does exist now on the internet.

But anyway, below are some frequently asked questions regarding the internship programme that were relevant at the time I did the internship (2010).

Keep in mind, they’re answered from my own perspective and are not intended to be definitive answers. I’ve provided some answers to questions that keep cropping up, but if you have a specific question, leave a comment on the post and I’ll try to get around to addressing it. You can also catch me on Twitter. Naturally, comments are moderated, so play nice. Inappropriate language or aggressive trolling will be discouraged.

*Editorial disclaimer #1* Keep in mind – I do not work for the UN nor am I affiliated with the internship program in any way. I’ll re-emphasise: these are practical tips that I’ve formulated based on my own experience of doing a ten week internship at UN headquarters in New York. UN documentation, including internship documentation, will trump anything I’ve mentioned here. The intention of this guide is to simply give you a reassuring and dynamic resource as well as insight into life as an intern at the UN.

*Editorial disclaimer #2* – Inspira – Since I completed my internship, the UN have moved to an online application system called Inspira (or the UN’s careers portal) (here’s a link to how to use Inspira). I haven’t used this system so I cannot answer questions regarding how to apply using this system. If someone out there has some helpful comments on using this system, please get in contact and I’ll put them up here.

Who am I? Well, read about me here.

Table of Contents

  1. Why do an internship?
  2. What do you do in an internship?
  3. What qualifications do you need?
  4. How do I apply for an internship and what tips can you give me on applying?
  5. What happens in the selection process?
  6. How many applications are received and how many interns get accepted each session?
  7. How do I ensure I intern in a department or area I’m interested in?
  8. What departments offer internships?
  9. What are the alternatives?
  10. How long does an internship last?
  11. How much work does one do on an average day?
  12. What are the costs of an internship?
  13. Can I get funding?
  14. How much should I budget for accommodation?
  15. Where should I get accomodation?
  16. What visa do I need?
  17. Need a further question answered?
  18. Comments from others, former and current interns and the like
  19. Other resources

1. Why do an internship?

Well, why not? The United Nations is pretty much the jewel in the crown for students of international relations, international development, or international humanitarian law. It is a great water-cooler topic of conversation. It is something that will make all your friends jealous.

I can tell you this, if you’re thinking about applying, it is worth the expense if only for being able to spend a few months in New York, quite possibly the greatest city on the planet.

Internships can be valuable experience for those about to enter the work force. One can learn much about the office environment and the daily pressures of working for large bureacratic institution. There are, of course, some office politics, but I was fortunate enough to work in a great team. I did, however, hear a few horror stories from other interns. Rest assurred, it is possible to change departments should it not work out (though chances of success are unknown).

Many people do internships under the impression that it looks good on the CV. As I said, working at the UN may make you the envy of your friends but do not expect it to land you a job, either within the IR field or within the UN.

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2. What do you do in an internship?

It varies. You may find yourself doing administrative work, compiling reports, providing recommendations, running errands, attending meetings, taking meeting minutes. It really depends on the demands of your supervisor or the particular department. With reference to my own experience, I assisted with peacekeeping training documentation, copy-editing, as well as provided specialist IT assistance.

Do not expect to spend your internship hanging with Ban-Ki Moon, being called in to provide expert advice at the Security Council, nor solve all dilemmas on the Korean peninsula.

Outside of the formal ‘work’, many things intern activities do occur. You can get involved in the various intern committees that the internship department sets up. These committees do things like organise visits to the various national missions to the UN, organise social or sports events, publish an intern paper talking about events at the UN or places to eat or drink or even stories from specific interns.

During my time, I was head of the sports committee and help publish the intern newsletter and it was a very rewarding experience, mostly because I got to know many of my fellow interns.

You’re also usually permitted to attend many of the conferences, meetings and other open forums that occur in UN headquarters. I was once lucky to get the opportunity to attend an open UN Security Council discussion on violence in Palestine as well as a NGO-organised discussion on nuclear weapons (it was organised by ICAN and was very interesting because it preceded the review of the NPT treaty in 2010).

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3. What qualifications do I need to undertake an internship?

To be an intern, you must be enrolled in a university or higher education degree as a student. Typically those who intern either are studying their masters or are doing a relevant PhD. You must be doing postgraduate work to intern (i.e not undergraduate).

However, the backgrounds of interns is highly varied. I met interns who had backgrounds in international relations, international development, humanitarian law, business studies, information technology, geography, communications and even architecture.

Unfortunately, it seems that being unemployed or simply being interested in the field doesn’t cut it. Sad face.

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4. How do I apply for an internship and what tips can you give me on applying?

As I said, you must be a student to get an internship. Unemployed doesn’t cut it. Every now and then, typically three to four times a year, the UN advertise the internships on their jobs board. You will have to go through the motions, create a ‘personal history profile’ with all your relevant details, skills, education and work history, and draft a cover note to attach to your application.

One thing that pays to bear in mind is that the majority of people applying for UN interns will probably have skills in, or are studying, degrees like law or politics or international relations or development. If you’re doing those, you’re going to have to emphasise not only your skills in these areas but also your other skills.

In my instance, while I studied a degree in international relations, I also had a degree in history and information technology and five years experience in database systems. Therefore, I could emphasise these skills in addition to my knowledge of international relations.

The key to making a good application, I believe, is to emphasise skills that will help you in a general office and administrative area because, in many ways, that’s probably what you will be doing.

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5. What happens in the selection process?

The intern department will send around a pool of applicants to various departments and teams within the UN who have expressed interest in having an intern. These teams then peruse the intern list, decide a shortlist and then approach the potential candidates.

In some cases, you will do an interview, typically over the phone. This doesn’t happen in all cases, however I did a phone interview and fortunately passed!

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6. How many applications are received and how many interns get accepted each session?

I’m told there is over 3,000 applications for each session of which around 250 are accepted at different stages of each session. So success rate is below 10%.

That shouldn’t discourage you though. I applied to the programme twice, and got it on the second go. Actually, I got offered three internships on the second go. So miracles can happen.

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7. How do I ensure I intern in a department or area I’m interested in?

Short answer – there are no guarantees. You may be offered multiple internships at different stages of the process As I said, I got offered at least three at different stages including two very interesting ones after I accepted my first offer – but that’s the luck of the draw!. Each offer could be correlated to my specific skills in areas such as IT and procurement rather than my university marks or interest in international relations.

My advice is, if you are offered an internship that is of at least some interest, TAKE IT. You most probably will not be offered another one.

If you are trying to get into a specific department, I do not really have an answer other than to research key people and perhaps see if you can approach them. However, You will still have to go through the whole application process.

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8. What departments offer internship?

Any department may request an intern and many do. My memory fails me, but I do recall that the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) usually gets a large chunk of the intern intake. I worked in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) which also seemed to take a large number of interns. The Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) also had many lawyer types interning.

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9. What are the alternatives to the UN?

Missed out on UN internship? Don’t fret! There are other often more interesting options!

There are lots of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) based in and around UN Headquarters. They often do very valuable work in conjunction with the UN and are sometimes even much further advance on particular issues than relevant departments within the organisation. Often interns at NGOs get to a lot more exciting things like lobbying diplomats or organising international conferences on specific issues. You might consider approaching them.

There are also internships available at the various national missions to the UN. These may be of interest.

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10. How long does an internship last?

Typically, the UN asks you to do a minimum of ten weeks. It is also very common for people to extend their internships and you shouldn’t be surprised if your supervisor or your department asks you. So if you’re really keen, you may want to make allowances for this possibility.

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11. How much work does one do in an average day/week?

Most departments don’t expect interns to do more work than the average working week. You’re looking at a usual 9-5 day job. Although I know of certain Norwegians who worked outrageous hours 🙂

As long as you ask in advance, your supervisor is usually more than happy to give you a reasonable amount of time off to go to interesting things in and around the UN secretariat.

Keep in mind that you’re an intern. Not a slave. You’re paying a lot of money to get to the UN so, therefore, you want to maximise your enjoyment of the experience. But also, there is an agreement in principle not to abuse the priveleges of being an intern so requests to go hang out in the Security Council chamber every day probably won’t be looked on favourably.

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12. What are the costs of an internship?

As far as I know, the UN do not pay interns. I’ve heard rumours of external funding, but do not count on this. No one I knew in the programme got outside funding. Everyone was entirely self-funded, including me.

Living in New York is costly. Very costly. Particularly if you like to socialise. Your costs will include flights, food, accommodation, social activities and transport around the city.

The life of an intern is incredibly social, so you should make allowances for ‘doing things’ – whether that’s going to attractions, eating out, bar hopping, or simply having lunch out with your fellow interns.

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13. Can I get funding?

Good luck.

Seriously, don’t bank on funding. As I said above, the UN don’t pay interns. I didn’t know a single intern who had received funding when I was there. I wouldn’t even know where to start to try get funding. Be 100% prepared to rely on your own funds.

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14. How much should I budget for accommodation?

Accommodation varies but typically budget up to $1,500 USD a month should be enough. I lived in midtown Manhattan for $1050 a month in a two bedroom apartment which was a good deal.

The internship programme director usually gives you a great accommodation list. Look through that in detail. I do not recommend using Craigslist. I had a bad experience as did many other interns I met. Best to avoid.

If you’re desperate, you might try roomarama.com.

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15. Where should I get accommodation?

The UN Secretariat is in midtown Manhatten, not far from Grand Central. Therefore, living on Manhatten is probably ideal. I was lucky enough to live a few blocks away, but living that close is largely unrealistic. Many live in Brooklyn, some in Queens. One (crazy) intern lived at the other end of Long Island and commuted in. Most places in Manhatten are expensive to live in. Harlem seems a good choice for those wanting cheaper accommodation. Many interns end up living here. Living in the Bronx or further north will mean an hour+ commute via subway.

In hindsight, if I was going back to intern, I’d love to live in East Village or Lower East Side. Lots of cool stuff happens here.

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16. What visa do I need?

Probably the most common question asked by any potential intern.

Unless you’re a US citizen, you’re most probably going to need to get a visa to enter the country. We all know the UN is international territory, but unless you’re planning to arrive via helicopter into the UN Secretariat and camping hobo style on the front lawn, you’re most likely have to enter the United States of Barack Obama.

Visas are a bit of a minefield. My best answer is “whatever the US embassy in your country of residence says you need”. Many come in on the 90 Day Visa Waiver programme available to certain nationals. You have to pre-register with the US embassy for this and it can be done online.

My visa story? I decided it was worth the time and money to get a B2 tourist visa. This meant I had to fill and application form online, provide passport photos, fly to Sydney (where the US embassy is located in Australia) to do a quick interview and give them my passport so they could attach the visia to it.

If you chose to do it in a similar manner, you should give yourself a lot of time to sort this out. As soon as you’re confirmed as an intern, get visa’ing. It would be pretty bad to turn up at JFK without a suitable visa and the immigration official denying you entry.

Getting a longer visa (like the B2) is essential if you’re making plans to extend your internship. If you only plan to stay the 10 weeks, perhaps visa waiver is the best.

With regards to the above, do not take my word as gospel. The US embassy is the ultimate authority on US visas so get in contact with them.

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17. More info? Need a question answered?

If you leave a constructive comment below, I’ll do my best to answer with reference to what limited information I have. I also use twitter fairly regularly.

Please don’t email me or leave comments like ‘can you look over my application’ because, I can tell you now, it won’t happen!

Also, if you’ve been an intern and want to add to, expand, or correct any of the above, feel free to also comment or contact me via twitter.

Best of luck!

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18. Comments from others, former and current interns and the like

Some have graciously contributed further insight. Here is a selection of messages I have received regarding the FAQ.

Noemi from the UN Interns LinkedIn group wrote in:


I interned at the UN secretariat for 4 months and had a pretty similar experience. I have a few things to add.

  1. The average length of an internship is 3 months that can be extended to a maximum of 6 months. You basically begin in the department that accepted you, but you can look to change the department you intern once you’re at the UN. I was in the Dept of Public Information and was constantly asking for an internship with the Office of legal affairs and I got one in the end. You just have to send emails with your CV to the different departments you’re interested in. It is best to finish your initial internship first and then look for a new one for the rest of your time permitted at the UN. If after 6 months you still have the money and the disposition to intern. Legally you aren’t allowed but you can ask to be a volunteer, or you can work with NGO’s or your country’s mission to the UN. When I was there I finished my internship with DPI got my internship at the OLA department and then asked for one at my country’s mission to the UN. There are a lot of options for you guys to intern there. The hardest thing is to get hired by them.
  2. Interning at the UN does in no case guarantees you will be hired by the UN after your internship in fact there is a rule you cannot be a hired as a professional at the UN for 6 months after the end of your internship. The exception is G-level positions – that is executive assistant work or consultant positions that are temporary. They most likely expect you to have at least 5 year of professional experience in the field of the job posting. Basically they appreciate our work but pretty much will not hire us after, which is fair thinking of how many interns go through the UN in the three sessions of internships they have per year (around 750) so it would be hard for them to hire all of as. Anyways don’t go there thinking you’re going to get a job there it most likely not going to be the one in a thousand that gets hired, but it helps with working in some other places.
  3. Third and final thing I want to add is that the only way to control which department you might end up is to focus your cover letter towards the area of interest you have. If you’re interested in journalism and you want to work for UN Radio, talk in your cover letter about your passion for journalism, radio and so on. This is just an example but I’m sure you guys catch my drift. The only way to get to where you want to go is RESEARCH – do research on the issues your desired department is doing now, main news in the department, possible outside organisations they collaborate with and develop some experience related to those issues, or organisations the more your education extracurricular activities fit in with the department the more chances you will have to get asked to intern for them. Know what you want, do your homework and you will get it.

Best of luck,

A commenter, Isabel, asked in April 2011:

Hello! Thanks for the FAQ, very helpful!
I am interested in applying for the UN Office in Viena, as I am researching crime and UNODC is based there. They don’t have a deadline for applications, and I suppose the process is pretty much the same, maybe less competitive, as there may be less applications than to NY. What do you think?

A friend of mine and former student colleague of mine, Michael Addicott, is presently interning at the UN in Vienna. He had the following helpful advice.

The UNODC in Vienna does not impose deadlines as they take a steady stream of interns all year round. On any given week, you will find new interns about the offices.

My advice is ensure you are thorough with your application. From the other interns I have met, each department takes their interns based on that interns experience, be it professional or academic.

I am doing my internship with the corruption and economic crimes branch due to my Masters course and work experience in banking.

If you are researching crime, I would be very specific about the areas of crime that interest you the most, and the reasons why they interest you.

There was no interview process for mine. It was a case of the department I am in coming forward and requesting an intern, then the intern coordinators find the most suitable candidates. So your task in the application is to make yourself the most suitable candidate for the department you are most interested in. Be sure that your references are informed of your application, because they WILL get an email asking them to fill out a form about you and your suitability. You are likely to be contacted about an internship before your references are though.

I can’t shed any light on the number of applicants they take. I do know, however, that they maintain a database for a year or so of potential applicants, so I would imagine they would receive quite a few, particularly from Europe.

I received an offer approximately a month or two after my application was submitted. If you don’t receive anything within 3-6 months, I would suggest applying again. From what I hear around the office, most departments take interns at least once a year, so keeping yourself at the forefront should eventually get you seen if your application is suitable.

I hope this is some sort of help and that you do end up getting an internship in Vienna.

Cheers, Michael!

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19. Other resources

Harvard University have a interesting Insider’s Guide to United Nations Jobs and Internships that looks to be a great resource.
Another great discussion thread on internships is located here under the heading “Why the (UN) internship should be unpaid”.

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  1. Nicely done!
    The only thing I would add is that Canadians can usually just show up at the border and get the visa, although in some cases the border guards can really grill you about why your are entering the States. In my case, the guard didn’t know what UN was.

  2. Hey Darragh!
    Great post, very useful and witty. I have a question for you, when did you receive your first offer? lets say, how many weeks/months prior to the internship?
    I’ve applied for the summer program and to be honest,right know my hopes are inversely proportional to the waiting time… Knowing how was in your case might be helpful for me.

    1. Hi Katya. Thanks for writing in.

      I applied initially in September 2009. I heard back that I had made the provisional list in mid October 2009. I did my interview over the phone in late November 2009 and was fromally accepted about 2-3 weeks later. My memory is blurry on this, but thats probably the correct chronology. I got offered at least two other ones about mid-November. (but I rejected them in favour of my first offer).

      Keep in mind that the rules are not hard and fast. The internship department try to do the best to stick to a schedule but in many ways they’re slave to the whims of the various departments. Some people didn’t get offered places until a week BEFORE the session was scheduled to began. Internships were even offered out during the actual programme (so six months after I applied!).

      Hope it all goes well for you.

  3. Hey! thanks for having this space -it’s very helpful and I really wish I’d discovered this before submitting my application…

    The only concern I have is that I submitted a pretty shitty application because I simply did not have time! I just modified the letter that I wrote for grad school and did not write any employable skills (IT skills etc) and why I wish to intern at the UN etc….. really regret it so much now 🙁

    Surprisingly though, I am “rostered” (since 2 weeks ago) but for the above reason I am skeptical….. how many people actually get to be “rostered” and what are the chances of getting the intern from here? and how much longer should I wait?

    Do you think it is ok to send them an email (not apologizing for my crappy application but rather expressing my enthusiasm) to make up for the original application? Do they care about any kind of lobbying letter/additional emails from the candidates?

    I am sorry for leaving a long comment and list of questions… I am dying to get this internship!!!

    1. Hi Moe. Thanks for commenting.

      It is a good thing if you’re rostered. I believe most people get rostered first before their CVs go to the various departments and peoples interested in having an intern. The UN does move slowly on these things so I’d expect you may be waiting more weeks, perhaps even months.

      My writing about is simply reflective of my own experience and what I did. I ended up with an internship so it worked for me. It might be very different for you.

      As for sending them an email – you can, if you wish, but I’m unsure of what good it will do you other than make them doubt your original application. If it was me, I wouldn’t do that.

  4. Thanks. I really appreciate your quick response.
    so…. sounds like being rostered is not a big deal.. I thought it’s like the last stage of the selection system after they eliminate many (at least like half) applications already. Either way there’s nothing much I can do at this point…. *fingers crossed*

  5. Hi! thank you for writing such an insightful post. I was just wondering how your interview was. I got an email to do a phone interview and I’m hoping that means I’ve been shortlisted for an internship. Is the interview just like any other job interview? Or is it different?

    1. Hi there Raji, thanks for writing in.

      My memory of my phone interview is a bit hazy (I did my interview late 2009), but it was similar to a job interview. They asked about my skills, some basic questions on my impressions of what the department did as well as the role of the team that I was interviewing for.

      My recommendation is to visit the departments website within the UN site and read their most recent annual report and other information about their role and purpose. Have a good idea of what your potential team do and how you might fit into it.

  6. Hello Darragh,

    I received your email and get went quickly into the link.
    Thanks for the post, I got online on the same website where I submitted my application and my status says “under consideration”. What exactly does this mean?
    I submitted it on February 27th a day before the deadline, so it’s been a month a week. Your chronology is on average 2 months waiting before they contact you in case you are selected right?
    Thanks in advance

  7. Hi Elena

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to say when and if you get selected. The process is highly variable (perhaps inefficient?). While a former student colleague of mine happens to be doing an interview this week for the internship, the truth is it might take two months, it may take three.

    I’d recommend not fretting about it – if its meant to be, its meant to be. As I said above, I got contacted 5 months after application so its hard to say with any certainty.

  8. Hi Darragh,

    I am so excited to find your blog and there are lots of useful information here. I applied for UNHQ summer internship back in January and I haven’t received anything from UN since then. Yesterday I logged in to my UN application and saw my status changed to “Rostered”. I don’t know when it changed but anyways…I guess the only thing I can do now is to wait =)

    I have a concern because I am currently enroll in a master degree program but I will finish all the courses and exams this May. Well, I will get my exam results in July and also obtain a temporary certificate of completition of the program. However, I am not enrolled in any classes after May and I will get my diploma in this November. Sorry about the confusion, but I am worrying about I am not qualified for doing the intern since I finish all the courses for my master degree in May.

    What’s your opinions or advises base on my situation? Thank you very much and All the best!

  9. Hi there Danny.

    Can’t really give you advice other than if you haven’t graduated yet, you’re still a student, are you not? Sounds fairly clean cut to me….I think you’ll be fine.

  10. Hi. Just want to make one comment about increasing your chance of getting selected by a department of your choice. If I remember correctly, in my application I actually included my top 3 choices of departments I would love to intern in including why and how it will help me my career. Luckily I was chosen by my top choice! Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Sonia. Good comment. Yes, that is a good approach. But keep in mind, CVs can go to departments based on key-words. One assumes the UN get many applications (I indicate 3,000 above per session) so people may get offers from departments they didn’t nominate on their application.

  11. The article looks to be quite comprehensive and interesting and informative to those who seek internships. This would have been further elaborated with more news which is on the UNV web page. I see this as an avenue for those who seeks higher professional qualifications to be more meaningful to gain practical knowledge on the areas intend to master. I strongly believe that an wide range of opportunities are essential to be made available in this area with more transparency.

    1. Hi Lalith

      Thanks for the comment. I had forgotten about the UN Volunteers site (linked here for those interested). This is also a good resource for those who want to help the UN without necessary interning there. Though, I’m told, its still hard to get in this way!

  12. Hello! Thanks for the FAQ, very helpful!
    I am interested in applying for the UN Office in Viena, as I am researching crime and UNODC is based there. They don’t have a deadline for applications, and I suppose the process is pretty much the same, maybe less competitive, as there may be less applications than to NY. What do you think?

    1. Hi Isabel. A university friend of mine is interning there at the moment – I’ll see if he might be able to give you some info. Watch this space.

  13. Awesome post mate!
    When I applied for the UN internship, I wished an information source like this existed!
    Keep up the good work and I hope all is going fine in Oz-land.

  14. I need your advice urgently!
    I am forced to make a pleasant yet difficult choice between OCHA and DESA…. it is for the summer 2011 internship and i have to answer them asap…

    for OCHA i will be working with the coordination and response division, Africa team 1 (Congo, Somalia, etc)
    for DESA I will be working with the division for social policy and development, with a focus on “disability”….

    in a broad sense, it’s like field-work (OCHA)vs dealing with inter-governmental bodies and the implementation of conventions etc (DESA)..

    any info/opinion is appreciated!

    thank you!!

    1. Hi Moe. It’s a difficult choice as both sound very interesting but go with your gut feeling on what sounds the _most_ interesting.

      Considering that most internships will probably be a lot of admin (and consequently not meet everyone’s expectations), I’d lean towards OCHA because it sounds like you might be doing more practical work.

  15. thanks for the quick responses’ but i would want to ask if
    those who still in university in bachelor studies for example those who remain with one year of studying so that they get bachelor degree, can they get internship?

  16. Hello, thanks for the FAQ, was really interesting.

    My name is Aadi and I am writing this from India.
    I have been admitted to a college in New Delhi- the OP Jindal school of international affairs. If you haven’t heard of it, its because the college started two years ago. The course the are offering is an MA in DLB ie Masters in Diplomacy Law and Business. I applied cause I have always been interested in international affairs and regularly write articles in a student magazine here at my home town. I have been admitted with scholarship to this program.
    I have a very vague idea about the career opportunities in IR and am hoping you can enlighten me about the same.
    I also have serious reservations about this course, cause of the claims the admissions team has made, and I hope you can help me clear some of them.

    Firstly it seems to me that MA in Diplomacy Law and Business are too vast a field, respectively, to be covered by one degree.

    Secondly, the college has no placement cell ( a committee that connects students with employers). In fact the college has categorically said they cannot help you find a job. When I asked, again and again, they said that one can find jobs in Non Profit organisations, or the UN

    Thirdly, the college has some kind of strategic partnership with the UNU. They are guaranteeing an internship with the UN, SAARC or some other international organisation . They say that this internship will help me secure a job in such an organisation.

    I want to know what are the avenues of employment for a graduate in International Relations.

    In your opinion, is this college worth doing the course in and can you suggest some other colleges. PS hopefully they are affordable or have some scholarship scheme.

    And finally is it possible to convert an internship into a full time job.

    Also i would greatly appreciate it if you could help me out within the next few days, cause I have to either accept or decline admission by the 26th.


    1. Hi Aadi. Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I can give you any career guidance. I can say that career opportunities in IR are varied. From what I understand.

      As for internship placements, I know that the UN internship programme categorically states that an internship does not guarantee a job. It is dangerous to assume this. some people might get jobs, but most don’t (many won’t apply or have other priorities). Personally, I think it’s misleading and irresponsible for a tertiary institution to be saying that you’ll get a job at the UN. It might ‘help’ you, yes, but it’s not a given. Also remember, as I’ve indicated above, less than 10% of applicants globally for an internship period get a placement. A fraction of these people might end up working for the UN.

      However, I always say – where there is a will, there is a way. IR degrees get people jobs in state government roles, and you can also look at your country’s foreign affairs service. You just have to be open to flexibility.

  17. Hi,

    I have a quick question, I applied for the fall internship at the Rule of Law Unit last week. Although I am still under consideration, someone from the admissions committee sent me an e-mail a couple of days after I sent in my application asking me to clarify which university I am currently attending.

    I know this is a pretty simple question but should I take that e-mail as a good sign? How long do I typically have to wait in order to know whether or not I am rostered or accepted for the internship? As well, would you recommend I send an e-mail to the individual from the admissions committee regarding the status of my application? Or would that seem to pushy?

    Thanks so much, I really appreciate your advice!


    1. Hi Karmjit. Thanks for commenting. I can’t say whether this email improves your chances, but I would take from it that it is a good sign that they’re looking at your CV. Whether you get an internship is another factor…there usually is a lot of candidates. In terms of time frame, I can only comment from my own experience – it took about 2 months from application to find out I had been shortlisted. Hope that helps. As for emailing – I’m unsure. I probably wouldn’t hassle them for information but perhaps you feel an email to clarify the detail of the university (I wonder, was your university not made clear on your application?)

  18. Thank you for the great post. I heard UN has 3 internship sessions each year, spring, summer, and fall. I am wondering if you know when does UN usually post ads for intern recruitment. If I want to do internship in summer, when is the appropriate time to apply. ( Or how many months in advance will they post the ads online)? Also, does UN takesinterns in the field of science or health science?

    Thank you


    1. No worries Cherry. For the spring session (Jan – March), I know applications were opened around end of August/start of September the year before, so it’s most probably about six months prior to the start of the session. I think Summer is June – August, so I’d expect that internship applications would open around December prior. You’ll just have to keep your eye on the UN jobs site.

  19. Hi there

    I applied a few weeks ago for an internship and have gotten through to a phone interview (tomorrow morning). They haven’t indicated potential dates (neither did the advertisement) for the internship to start, and I’m concerned it might only be a few weeks away (which, would be very difficult for me to get organised for!)

    Is this something that usually happens? And if it turns out I can’t meet their timeframe, am I in a position to ask what other start date options there might be? Or I guess, have you heard of interns being accepted mere weeks before the start date?


    1. Hi Helen, you know what, I have heard of very short turn arounds regarding the time from interviews to the beginning of internships.

      Probably a good idea to ask during the interview when they want you. I presume you might have to travel internationally? Because if you do, they should at least give you time to sort out a US visa!!

      Ultimately, you shouldn’t feel pressured into accepting an internship which your not financially prepared for. Living in New York is costly and the UN don’t pay, do you need to make sure you can support yourself. If they want you to start next week and you don’t have enough funds, it’s not going to happen.

      Not sure if the above helps, but it sounds that if they want you, they’ll have to be a bit flexible.

  20. Hi Darrah, this blog is a great resource, thanks.

    I am a ‘legal type’ looking to intern with the Office of Legal Affairs in NY. I have a couple of questions, which I’d be very grateful if you could help me with:

    – I have already done an undergrad degree, 2 year law ‘conversion’ course and trained at a law firm in London for 2 years. I will be enrolling on a postgraduate distance learning diploma in copyright law shortly at KCL London, so technically I will be a postgrad student, though not on a ‘masters’ course (the equivalent of that in law is an LLM as you probably know). Will this be sufficient to satisfy the ‘postgrad’ requirement however?

    – What will be required in terms of a written submission with my internship application? Should I demonstrate my interest in the Office of Legal Affairs generally, or within a specific area?

    Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Phil. Thanks for reading. I’ll try my best to give you advice!

      1. I believe you’d qualify, but check with the internship office. I believe it’s anything classified as postgraduate – masters, PhD, grad certs and all that.

      2. From memory, you’re givent he chance to nominate areas of interest and provide a cover letter with your application. So there’s your chance to demonstrate your interest. Of course, you could always try figure out whose working in OLA and see if you can get in contact with them directly and express your desire! 🙂

      Hope it works out for you.


  21. Hi Darragh,

    Whoop. Nice to find your blog with lots of useful information here. Thanks!
    A week ago I received an offer from UN OSAP, so I quickly started to look for some NY accommodation for the comming months. Apparently not a simple task… Nevertheless, I found something reasonably cheap in Yonkers. A “tiny” bit away from central Manhattan, but like mentioned cheap… Do you might have other useful suggestions according accommodation?


    1. Congratulations Ben! That’s great. How cheap is ‘cheap’? You should be able to get something in Manhattan around $1000-1200 a month. I see Yonkers is like at least an hour commute away.

      1. The place in Yonkers was $ 700/month. But you take in account that it will give an extra cost of $ 150/month for the commuter train. When I now balance this attractive price with the unpleasant string of commuting in and out on a daily basis, I am quite leaning towards looking for something in closer (read Manhattan). Plus a room rated +- $ 1000/month would in the end fit into my overall budget.


  22. Hi Darragh

    Do you happen to have any direct dial telephone numbers and/or email addresses for the OLA in NY? The website lists only fax and general feedback. Would be great if so, if you don’t want to list them publicly perhaps you could email me at pchristofides@hotmail.com
    Thanks so much


  23. Darragh,

    I’m a bit confused since you state one can give a preference for departments within the application, however specific internships in specific departments seem to be posted online here: https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=SJ&exp=INT&level=0&location=All&occup=0&department=All&bydate=0&occnet=0
    Currently there are a number of internships in the same department. I was wondering whether it is the same person who handles all these applications to the same department and thus whether it would be considered in bad taste to apply to several of them? Or should I apply to as many as I can?

    Thank you for the informative FAQ 🙂

    1. You are right. It seems the UN have implemented a new system for employment meaning some of this info here is out of date. I’ll have to tweak it a bit to make it more relevant (when time permits).

      As for your question – it used to be (and could still be) one specific department handling internship applications. That may have changed now considering the above. If I was you, apply for as many as you can!

  24. Darragh, I’ve just been offered a 4 month internship with the EU Delegation to the United Nations in New York – I have an aunt that lives in Long Island, its an hour commute to the UN offices. Thing is, since I didn’t hear back form them for SIX months after I applied (in April, they let me know yesterday) I moved to London last week to look for work and start a conversion course for law. Is it worth my while going to New York for 4 months unpaid, would I walk into a legal related job with that experience when I oome back? Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Rose. This is a difficult choice and I’m a bit reluctant to give you advice because of the potential consequences (i.e not taking up the internship v not doing the conversion course & getting a job). What I can say is this: you should not expect a job at the end of the internship at the UN. I personally know maybe 2 or 3 out the 255+ interns managed to get work with the UN post internship, but many don’t apply or don’t get positions. I get the feeling that your chances are better the longer you intern (some did 6 months).

      As for walking into a job with the experience? I can’t say as I have no idea what you’d be doing at the EU delegation. I’ve found that having the internship is a good conversation starter with potential employers, but can’t say whether it has directly increased my employability. I tend to think of it as a life experience more than something that gave me specific job skills. I’m not sure if that helps you at all but hope it might!

      Keep in mind, living in New York (regardless of free accommodation) is expensive – so have some money available if you do go.

  25. I’m about to start an internship, but also have job interviews lined up. What type of job do you have now, and did the internship at the U.N. help you careerwise? I’m torn between working and interning/volunteering. thanks

    1. Hi Dan. Thanks for commenting. I’ll be honest and say that if it did help my career, I didn’t notice. It was more a life experience rather than one that built my career skills (I was 28 when I did the internship and had worked for 6-7 years in various coprorate agencies so I had many of the skills for doing the internship already). I think it would be valuable for someone who hadn’t worked in an office environment before.

      I currently work in the top state government department in Queensland, Australia, working in communications. My masters degree helped me get this, and the internship program was a good conversation starter. I would argue that that is it’s best use – something that defines you as interesting to potential employers.

      Not sure that helps, but hopefully it does. I suppose I’d conclude by saynig that I’d still do one now if I had the chance, even with hindsight. It’s a great experience.

  26. Hello Darragh,
    I have a question for you. I got offered an internship and am getting ready to leave for New York. However I am in the running for another (paid) traineeship that I would accept if I got an offer. The UN internship is for 3 months, but if I get the other internship I would have to leave one month early. So I was wondering if you know what happens when one has to cut the internship short?
    The internship agreement states I should “provide immediate written notice in case of illness or other circumstances which might prevent me from completing the internship”, so I guess this falls under those “other circumstances”? Do you know of any interns who left their internship and how that was dealt with? Thank you for your help 🙂

    1. Hrm, tough one. I knew of interns who left but only because of emergencies. People swapped internships because of various reasons within the programme but your case is slightly different. I don’t know…if it was me and I was offered an internship, I’d look to honour it. Perhaps it’s something that can be negotiated with either the UN intern programme (as part of other circumstances) or with your paid traineeship. I’m not sure I could give any better advice. I’d probably look to talk to my supervisor early on this rather than spring it on them should you get the traineeship.

  27. Hi Darragh!
    Thank you so much for this blog..it is extremely helpful;-) I just have a few short questions…
    Well, first of all, I really really want this internship, but I haven’t applied yet (is it right that there are no longer particular “session”), because I am very insecure about my chances, for the following reason….I am currently enrolled in a PhD programme, in PHARMACY, which really isn’t relevant to any department or office at the UN in New York, but my research addresses international aid and drug donations in third world countries. So, there might be some connection or relevance to the department of sustainable development..what do you think? From what I’ve heard and seen on this blog, they are primarily searching for law and business students…

    1. Hi Melina. Thanks for your comment and praise.

      To partially answer your question, trust me, there were lots of people in other programs that were not law or IR. I met people doing PhDs in geography, architecture, and even land planning. So I wouldn’t assume you’re not relevant. Actually, in many respects, you’re more relevant to the work of UN that other disciplines. I would totally apply in your case, but try focus your application. Hopefully that helps! And best of luck.

  28. Dear Darragh,

    Kudos on your blog, it is really informative.

    I started an internship with the UN recently, and I was given a 6 month contract.

    Before starting the internship, I had been doing a radical job search. Fortunately some got back to me and offered an interview. I’ve been doing the internship for only 2 weeks now. What do you think will happen if I decide to leave it for a job offer? Should I be honest with my supervisor that I want to leave for a paid job? Or should I make something up?

    Thanks in anticipation.



    1. Well, I wouldn’t recommend making something up. I can’t really give concrete advice on this because a) I’m not qualified to and b) it’s difficult to know your explicit circumstances outside of what you’ve written here (like, I have no idea what job you’ve been offered and whether it’s better than a UN internship). All I can recommend is you go with what you feel is best. Ultimately, you have to make your own career choices…so I’d suggest go with what you think is best, but be honest with the UN about what choices you make.

  29. hello!

    I just got the offer from UN for 4 months internship. I want to ask about the visa issue, as it is 4 months internship, which kind of visa should I apply? As I know, usually the visa allows people last for 90 days at once. Could you give me some advice?


    1. Hi Cherry. Pretty sure you might have to look into getting some kind of B Visa probably B2. that’s what I did! Best off contacting your local US embassy. There is an interview process (and you have to book an interview) and a cost involved, but you’ll have to get on to it quick smart!

  30. Darragh, I appreciate the information you have posted and collected about your experience of working as a intern at UN. Your blog will definitely be a factor that I will refer to when accepting a UN internship. I have one question. After your interview, how long did it take for you to hear back from them?

  31. Wow! Thanks for replying so quickly. I also have another question. Do you know if each department does its own hiring for interns, or is it done by one department for example, the HR department?

    1. Hi John, you’re welcome.

      In my time, what happened was specific departments put in requests for interns, the internship department gave them a list of candidates and the departments short-listed them. I have a suspicion this may have changed though and might now all be done online with departments selecting interns specifically. That’s pretty much the best answer I can give you unfortunately.

  32. Hi Darragh, it’s me again;-) still waiting impatiently for an answer..:-( I applied in November, and I haven’t heard from the UN since then…I was just wondering if they let you know in case they didn’t take you, does your status then change to “no longer under consideration?” Sorry about this question,…just sick of waiting, cause I want this soooo badly! 😉

    1. Hi Melina. To be honest, I’m not sure. I know that I applied in September in 2009 and got a call in January 2010 offering an internship (fortunately, I had already been offered one in another area well before then). The thing is, the UN is a massive bureaucracy and therefore quite inefficient at times. It’s a bit of a hit and hope. I’m guessing there are no numbers/email addresses for you to contact?

      1. Hey Darragh, thanks a lot for creating this blog and ongoing answers! It definitely helped me getting this intern 🙂 I’m leaving for NYC next week.

        To address Melina’s question: I applied in November, but even until right now after sending all the required documents back to them, my status is still “under consideration”. I’ll keep you posted until it changes!

  33. Hi Darragh! Thanks for this infomative blog!
    I still have some questions, I hope that you have the time to answer them….
    About the status that they indicate at your application page, what did you recieve besides “Under Consideration”? Will they change the status once they sent you an email or something?
    And also…About the phone interview, is this a must? I mean, do all the selected prospective interns get interviews?

    1. Yeah, I’ll try my best though I suspect my guide is out of date because the UN have changed the fashion in which they hire interns.

      Regarding ‘under consideration’ – I got mine via email. I was then accepted for an internship (and thus, not rejected). The first time I applied in 2008, I simply got an email saying I wasn’t considered two months after application.

      Presumably, under their new system, they will let you know if you get in. Though I cannot answer this with any certainty.

      Phone interview is at the discretion of the team looking for interns. Some people, like me, did phone interviews. Other didn’t.

      Hopefully that helps!

  34. Hi Darragh,

    Thanks for the help. Another question, could you suggest me which kind of medical insurance to buy for the internship? is it same as travel insurance? Sorry maybe this is not a professional internship question….

    Thanks a lot.


    1. No, don’t worry, it’s a relevant question! I just went with travel insurance. The medical insurance provided as part of that was suitable for satisfying the UN internship programme directors I believe.

  35. Hi,
    Me again:) I am starting to apply the B visa now, but I have not got the UN official offer yet as they said they only offer within 60 days before the internship begins. But I want to get the visa in advance. So do you think if will be ok if you say to the US embassy that I will go for an internship but without official offer…quite worry about it. Or maybe show them the emails as a prove? I have no idea…What is your experience?


    1. Hrm, rock and a hard place – you’re between it! Ideally you want to have the UN documentation to prove you’re going for an internship. You can’t just wait until you get the official written offer? If not, emails probably the way to go.

      My experience was that I had documentation – i.e official offer.

  36. Well, thanks for the really interesting read… I was approached to complete an internship at UNOG (geneva) in the right to development working group. After nearly 6 years of law school however, i’m pretty much broke… they want me for 6 months… and its in my area of expertise. They have been super helpful… but its just beyond my financial reach right now. Any advice? I’m currently living in Amsterdam, and would appreciate anyone interested in Geneva internships?

    1. Rebecca – not really, other than try get more money 🙂 I’m sure that’s pretty obvious. I actually have some friends interning in Geneva right at the moment though…I don’t really know much about the internships there unfortunately.

  37. Dear Darragh,

    It’s so lucky to discover your blog accidentally. Before reading your FAQ, I thought my 6 applications (which were submitted a month ago) are all doomed. Now it gives me a little bit hope and I can still wait for a while….

  38. Hi Darragh,

    I applied to the UN Environmental Program in Nairobi, Kenya. On my application status, it says “Enrolled.” However, I haven’t heard anything from anyone so far.
    Do you know what that means?

    Thank you,

  39. hi,

    I would like to ask you something about the delays of response after the application 🙂
    I have applied for 6 different internships around 3 weeks ago and last week I got an e-mail from one of the agencies I was applying to, asking me when I would be able to start working (while saying that they haven’t taken a final decision yet). Do you have any idea how long it does take them to answer you or if this e-mail is a normal thing to receive? I kind of see it as a positive sign but maybe I’m just a little enthusiastic 🙂

    thanks in advance,

    1. i never received an email like that. I got told I was accepted and then asked to complete documentation and given a start date.

      Methinks you’ve got it. However, ask them to confirm that it’s an offer in writing. Often the intern office HR dept is a bit slower than the other departments who are hiring, in my experience.

      1. thanks for your answer. I wrote an e-mail and soon got the answer that I was not accepted for this summer.
        well, maybe next time. thanks anyways for your help!

  40. Darragh,

    Thanks for writing this blog and continuing to respond to comments. I was wondering if I applied back in February for the summer internship, did a phone interview shortly after, then didn’t hear anything until just two weeks ago when i received a call from them saying they were “putting my name forward” and that I’d “receive paperwork in 1-2 weeks,” and really no other information, what exactly does that mean? Also, to any other current or previous applicants is this a typical or an atypical experience for someone who is ultimately accepted or rejected? Thanks again.


    1. No worries Sam, I’m glad my experiences can provide some reassurance. In your case, that doesn’t sound unusual. I knew people who only got a few weeks notice.

      With me – I did a phone interview, they emailed me back a month later to say I was successful, then I received paper work a few weeks after that to confirm. It does take some time, so I’d be patient.

      1. Thanks for the fast(est) response. I just came back to the page to satisfy my obsessive tendencies and voilà! That sounds encouraging but I suppose I should probably keep my fingers crossed until I get that paperwork in the mail.

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