7 tips to take you inside the United Nations

1 October 2014
Guest Blogger Rachel Kaye

YOA’s first networking night kicked off on Wednesday 17th September, when young opportunists were invited to learn from and liaise with four remarkable individuals who had each spent time interning in various capacities at the United Nations. As wine and beer circled the outdoor patio at Holliava Lounge, Adam, Erin, Sophocles and Anna (full biographies here) spent two generous hours sharing their experiences, answering considered questions and handing out practical tips to those seeking to acquire similarly sought-after internships, at the United Nations and elsewhere.

As someone fresh out of university, eager but equally overwhelmed at how to go about scoring such an opportunity, the information I took away from this evening proved invaluable.

YOA founder Margaret Quixley, herself having interned at the United Nations only last September, launched the event by explaining its purpose: to provide valuable, concrete, accessible information for young internship-seekers regarding ways to obtain and prepare for such an experience and what to realistically expect; material she wished she had access to five years earlier when she set about converting her dream of working at the United Nations into reality.

From explaining the benefits of undertaking such an opportunity to imparting practical suggestions (like the amount of funds necessary for a six-month stint in New York), the presenters provided attendees with a comprehensive overview of the internship experience.

For those unable to attend, below are some key pieces of advice reaped from the four speakers:

Networking is key. For Adam, some of the highlights of his time serving as Australia’s Youth Representative to the United Nations were the people he met and the conversations he took part in; for Sophocles (who, unashamedly, ‘networked his head off’), chatting with others and taking contacts out for coffee meant that he left his four-month stretch at the United Nations with an offer from the Thailand Institute of Justice. Indeed, the four speakers unanimously championed the benefits of networking. (As someone who can think of no act more terrifying than approaching strangers, I might add that this did not come as welcome news).

Attendees were thus advised to meet and converse with people, but not just your supervisors or those in higher positions – your co-interns, your colleagues. These are like-minded people who you will surely re-encounter in your field of interest. Margaret stressed that it was only through chatting with a fellow university classmate that she learnt about her internship possibility. Network while you are at your internship and when you return. Connect with people over a warm beverage, in the halls of your building, anywhere and everywhere… (but perhaps not at the lounge of the United Nations where there may be secret service agents lurking).

Persistence pays off. For Erin, obtaining an internship with UNESCAP in New Delhi was no easy feat. After close to 100 applications and endless rejections, she was finally afforded the opportunity she had been yearning for in 2012. Her message: whether its one rejection letter or ten, don’t give up chasing your dream. If you remain determined and persistent, you will get there in the end. And it will be worth it.

– Be strategic. Both in terms of choosing your preferred internship destination and in pursuing it. Erin advised attendees to assess their skills and determine how these could make a contribution to your desired organisation. In her case, she was embarking upon her PhD when she applied to New Delhi and knew that the United Nations could utilise her strong research and technical skills. Adam’s advice was similar: find the intersection where your skills match your passion. According to Sophocles, pursuing further academic research might just give you that edge. Having a specialised understanding of a topic relevant to your chosen field and being able to publish your findings will help you stand out against other applicants. Another handy hint: cater what you do now to where you want to end up. If you want someday to be posted with the United Nations in Iraq, for example, commence your enrolment in an Arabic class.

– Make it personal. Erin’s approach to scoring an internship was rather atypical – she went about it the old-fashioned way, sending personalised letters in the mail to potential employers. Further to that, she demonstrated in her correspondence that she was familiar with their position and their expertise. Attendees were advised to follow a similar route: seek out people you admire, express that you have read their latest article or conjure up a question to ask them relating to your field of interest – in this way, you create an introduction for yourself and can begin to build a personal network of contacts. You never know when this may prove useful.

– Take that extra step. To boost your CV, turn minor tasks into major accomplishments. Having spent six months interning at the United Nations’ War Crimes Tribunal, Anna shared some methods that she had taken to jazz up her resume and help her stand out: sending her best essays from university to get published in journals; involving herself in organisations and committees that took up little physical time commitment but nevertheless looked extremely impressive in print – in her case, this constituted the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. These little things all add up.

– Actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate your passion through your activities. Whilst sifting through cover letters and CVs during his work at Adam Bandt’s office, one thing was made clear to Adam: those who are genuinely passionate about a cause are already doing something about it, and that passion and commitment comes across in applications. His advice: get involved now.

– And that old adage – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply for everything, and anything. Don’t rely on one specific opportunity because it may disappoint – better to be like Anna, who was advised that her application to work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was successful only once she had already embarked on her internship at the Hague.

If you’re itching to know a little bit more about these talented individuals, check out their full biographies here. They have certainly achieved great things; you could be next!


Rachel Kaye is a Masters of International Relations graduate with an interest in strategic and defence studies. When she’s not road tripping around the U.S. or sampling Melbourne’s hippest cafes, she works as a legal secretary, commissions reviews for E-International Relations and brainstorms ways to single-handedly kick-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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