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Step 1. Determine Your Targets

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s likely that you will not land a job which is the best fit for you simply because you will not know what your dream job entails. Firstly, you need to set a target: what is the developmental area you would like to contribute to through your work at the United Nations, what region would you like to contribute to, and through what responsibilities to make your contribution. This is the very first step to get a job at the United Nations.

Development Area

Every development area is important, but it is likely that one of them is the most special for you. Have a look at the list below and analyse which issues you most care about?

Agriculture and Food Security
Support for agriculture is fundamental for reducing poverty and boosting growth. Professionals working in this area help communities, nations, and regions address food insecurity by championing solutions that lead to resilient and sustainable livelihoods, including increasing agricultural productivity and production, expanding opportunities to increase and diversify incomes, employment, and food, as well as raw materials for industry and exports.

Economic development
Economic development works towards poverty reduction, economic growth, increased standard of living, focusing on inclusive and sustainable growth. Professionals in this field work on domestic and global markets, small business development, microfinance, microeconomics, macroeconomics, quantitative research, statistics, and more. Economic development programs have a wide focus, ranging from business cooperatives for small farms to working with governments and big business to increase global market access.

Environmental areas of international development deal with climate change, water sanitation, green spaces, biodiversity, energy, and more. Professionals in this specialisation work towards sustainable solutions for energy, clean air and water, green urban development, sustainable agriculture, and preservation of nature and wildlife, among other issues. Many environmental development projects work to build infrastructure that leads to better sanitation and environmental protection, change energy resources into renewable energy, create parks and green spaces within cities, and develop agricultural practices that will preserve the environment and biodiversity.

Global and public health plays a major role in sustainable international development. Preventable diseases, HIV/AIDS, maternal/child health, infectious diseases, health access, and nutrition/food security are examples of what professionals in the field are working on to increase livelihoods and promote health. Programs in health development focus on promoting better health practices, building the capacity of health systems in developing countries, strengthening access to health services, and preventing common and curable diseases.

Gender Equality
Gender development focuses on creating opportunities and equality for women and girls within sustainable development goals and programs. This development area encompasses many of the other specialisations but adds a focus on gender issues and inequality. Gender programs aim to increase access to education, human rights, job markets, and health resources.

Education is the key to sustainable development practices. Issues with education include access to education, literacy, inclusivity, and quality. Programs focusing on access and inclusivity in education generally target girls, children in rural areas, children with disabilities, and children from other various vulnerable groups. Increased literacy is another main goal of education development projects, as is increasing the quality of education offered to children, especially in developing countries.

Culture & Society
Culture and society professionals help understand the populations they work with, including their needs, customs, and strengths by studying people in-depth, interviewing the people, learning about their customs, culture, and ways of life. This area encompasses topics such as religion, nationalism, ethics, and other areas of society. Professionals who focus on culture and society can influence development projects to be inclusive of the target groups and sustainable within the existing cultures. By understanding how the societies work, they help determine the best types of projects and the best implementation methods.

Governance & Human Rights
Development professionals working with governance and human rights focus on building up the infrastructure to support sustainable development and progress. They focus on issues like inclusive participation in government, decentralisation of government, human rights for vulnerable and minority groups, accountability and transparency, freedom of the press, policy reform and legislative strengthening, and more.

Justice and Security
Programs in enhancing security and justice focus on improving the effectiveness, accountability, transparency, and responsiveness of security and justice institutions such as the police and the judiciary. Development professionals work to help identify gaps in security and justice provision, mobilise citizens’ participation in reform efforts and strengthen channels to advance their demands for improved services. They also help national governments and donors improve systems to measure reform results and increase transparency to enhance accountability and enable evidence-based decision making.

Migration & Refugees
An interdisciplinary and holistic approach to global migration and protection of people affected by displacement is key to sustainable and inclusive development. Professionals in this area of specialisation work towards the development of international and national responses to displacement, mobility, and refugees with emphasis on its role as an intrinsic part of broader processes of development, political, social and economic change, and globalisation.

Peacebuilding, Conflict & Disaster
Part of sustainable development is managing conflict and disaster crises. Development professionals focus on early warning systems, prevention methods, hazard assessment, trained first responders, rapid and durable recovery methods, and humanitarians systems of many forms. Much of this work is in the field, giving humanitarian aid for food, clean water, shelter, and other necessary and important resources, as well as training community leaders, medical professionals, and other key first responders to deal with crises and disaster events with quick and effective response methods. Others work to implement policies and programs that will prevent crises and strengthen durability against conflicts and disasters.


After you have determined the developmental area you would like to work with, the next step is to explore the destinations for your professional contribution. Having a specific geographical focus will help you further narrow down your professional choices and make your profile more focused, helping you to start and develop a UN career in this direction.

Remember that focusing on a specific region in your professional career does not mean what you must live and work there for your entire life, but you will work towards the advancement of that specific location in particular. The questions below will help you analyse your preferences.

  1. What are the most interesting locations to work on the development issue(s) you selected, or which locations are in most need of assistance?
  2. Do your language abilities allow you to communicate with the locals in the region? If not, are you ready to advance your language skills in the nearest year or two?
  3. It is likely that at some point in your career you will need to stay in this region for at least a year or two to build field expertise. Will you be comfortable with living and working in this region?

Based on your answers, make a decision about your preferred destinations to develop a career:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • North America
  • Oceania

Your selected region should be in line with your answers to three points we raised above.

Professional Roles

There is a diversity of functions international development professionals perform at the United Nations. For every development area and in every region your responsibilities may vary significantly. It is therefore essential to figure out what type of work is most in line with your professional interests. Broadly speaking, professionals roles fall into four categories:

  • Policy & Advisory

Functions within this role include conducting research, collecting and analysing data and interpreting your findings to produce recommendations to improve a situation on a global, regional or national scale.

  • Practitioner

As a practitioner, you will be responsible for planning development projects, creating projects proposals, monitoring their implementation in the field and evaluating results.

  • Advocacy & Outreach

This professionals role is associated with planning and implementing media and communication campaigns, lobbying, fundraising initiatives.

  • Support

Other roles that help run international development organisations, including human resources, finance, logistics, IT, etc.

Carefully think about the activities associated with each of these riles. As a young professional, you are likely to think that you enjoy the Policy & Advisory role most because you have performed these responsibilities during your studies. However, do not limit your choice only to those responsibilities you have expertise at – instead, think what activities you enjoy most doing.

Feel confused?

Understanding what job is best for you in the international development area is not easy. However, when you determine what your preferences are, your career vision and the next steps to proceed becomes determined and clear.

In case you are unsure of what development area, region, and professional role suit you best, there are a number of options that can help you figure that out:

  • Internships

The UN Internship Programme is a perfect way to get introduced to various development areas, regions, and professionals roles within the United Nations system. They do not require any prior work experience and are a great way for young professionals to get exposure to various UN activities, and figure out what you enjoy most.

  • Career Consultation

Talking individually to a professional about your career is a great way to receive personalised feedback and recommendations. Nowadays most of the universities offer a career counseling service which is provided free of charge to current students, and you are highly recommended to schedule a consultation if you have this opportunity.

However, if you have already graduated from your university or are an experienced professional looking for advice to build a career at the United Nations specifically, you may take advantage of our exclusive Individual UN Career Coaching service. The session is designed to give you an opportunity to talk to an international development career expert, discuss your background and preferences, and get professional recommendations on the strategy to help you set and achieve your professional goals within the UN system.