UN Internship Q&A

Following Darragh Murray  great FAQ page on the UN internship, I though it would be useful to make my own with some advise and updated information that might be useful for all those aspiring interns. Please, keep in mind that these are just my opinions based on what I saw and experienced when I was an intern and might be completely different from the impression of other interns.

  1. First things firs, what should I write in my application to ensure I am accepted?
  2. Who picks the interns?
  3. How do I ensure I will be picked by the department I am interested in?
  4. What’s the internship really about?
  5. Why should I pay for working?
  6. How much does it cost?
  7. Where can I find accommodation?
  8. Do I need a visa?
  9. Will I see Ban Ki-Moon?

1. First things first, what should I write in my application to ensure I am accepted?

I don’t think there is one type of application that will ensure you are accepted to the UN. l think other factors are more important (like your nationality and your availability) than what you write in your application. Nonetheless I think your application letter should contain:

  • True and honest information on what you are willing to do. If you are willing to do anything you are told, say so (not in a desperate way), but let the office know you are ok  doing menial clerical duties and you’ll be grateful even if you are asked to prepare coffee and lift boxes. If, on the other hand, you are looking for more professional experience and you won’t be very happy just scanning and photocopying all day long, also be sure to say that, so the office know what kind of help they will be getting from you.
  • Be sure to let them know you know what the UN does, that you understand what a great opportunity it is and you will really appreciate to work there.
  • Tell them about your achievements and how your interests and area of study relate to the UN. Let them know what you will bring to the office you are applying to.

2. Who picks the interns?

Usually in each office they have someone in charge of picking, contacting and interviewing the interns. In other offices, the person who needs an intern for a special project will ask for the files of the aspirants. Other times, simply other interns pick the new interns! I’ve heard than in some offices, the current interns have the task to go through all the CVs and shortlist what in their criteria, will be the best successors.

3.  How do I ensure I will be picked by the department I am interested in?

Well, until last month that wasn’t possible, but from the next session (September 2011) everything has changed. Apparently each department will be able to post their own vacancies for internships, so instead of applying to a general internship, now you will be able to apply yo the area you really want. Also I heard the rumour that all those applications for the session starting in September won’t be taken into account because the UN is in the middle of this transition. Therefore, if you applied for that session you need to check any announcement of the UN Internship page in case you need to reapply directly to the department of your choice.

4. What’s the internship really about?

Like Darragh points out, it really depends on the department you are in, but I would say that most of the times you’ll be doing something clerical or nothing… In fact a lot of interns complain most of the time they do not have any work at all so they are on Facebook, in missions or rambling around all they long. In my case in the first office I was I had something to do 50% of the time, even when I asked for more work they gave me little tasks with a low level of responsibility. On the second office however I had  more input on my supervisor’s project. 

In my experience you will be doing tasks such as: registering participants for events, stuffing envelopes, scanning documents, doing photocopies, taking notes of the sessions (that nobody reads afterwards), making clippings of relevant news, lifting boxes, carrying stuff from one place to another, researching on a given topic, updating databases, etc. 

I strongly advise you ask beforehand detailed information of what you will be required to do during the internship if you are worried you might be doing clerical work only.

5. Why should I pay for working?

That’s a good question that I cannot answer. I suppose that having a UN badge and being able to “pimp the CV” with an extra-line is enough incentive for some people to do it. Also, I saw a lot of interns have the idea that if they are really good interns, they will  get a job at the UN. Sadly, most of the time that doesn’t happen.

6. How much does it cost?

The internship does not cost anything but living in NYC is expensive… you should be prepared to spend at least:
  • $1000 a month for a decent accommodation
  • Around $8 for lunch (x20): $160 a month
  • $104 for a monthly Metrocard
  • Plus drinks, food, attractions, clothes…

7. Where can I find accommodation?

  • Join the current Facebook group of the UN interns/aspiring interns. Usually interns post details of their rooms when they are leaving, so you might find something suitable there.
  • Craigslist: I have to say that I contacted a lot of people and I couldn’t get anything decent there. I also went once to visit a property that was a scam. So if you cannot visit the property in advance, probably this is not the best alternative. Advise: DON’T send money in advance… and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Airbnb: I found my accommodation here. It’s not cheap because you have to pay to Airbnb around 10% commission, but is definitely better than paying $1000 to a broker. You can also check reviews from previous guests and normally you are not required to leave a deposit.
  • Roomorama: I personally hadn’t use it, but it is very similar to Airbnb, though I think commissions are higher.
  • NY Habitat: A friend recommended this page to me because she told me she received a good service when she used it. The places available look quite nice, but the broker fees are simply ridiculous (though they are pretty normal in NY). If you are renting for less than a year I think they charge an extra-month of rent and if you rent for a longer period they charge you 15% of the rent each month.
  • You can also use the UN housing list, although to be honest I don’t think it’s very useful.

8. Do I need a visa?

Yes, unless you have an American passport you need a visa. Even if for tourism you don’t normally need a visa, for this kind of work you must have a B-1 visa.

9.  Will I see Ban Ki-Moon?

Probably. For what I know Ban Ki-Moon takes a group picture with the interns eventually. I only saw him once when he was ratified for his second term at the General Assembly.


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