Some key concepts for a holistic understanding of the United Nations Common System will be presented in this section, namely:
– Staff Categories: the United Nations workforce is made up of different categories of staff –the main ones are the Professional and Higher Categories and General Service Staff. Each one reflects a different level of responsibilities and requirements.
– Job Family and Job Network: given that professionals from a wide range of areas work to guarantee the smooth operation of an organization, the UN Secretariat, based on its functions and fields of work, has defined different categories of working areas. It is important to understand these divisions, in order to identify job opportunities at the organization and the professional profiles that are usually in demand.
– Appointment Types: work at the United Nations is dynamic and involves a wide range of specialties. Three types of appointments fit the nature of the work and allow the UN to plan and budget effectively for the work to be performed: temporary, fixed-term, and continuing.
– Types of Entrance: the United Nations Common System workforce is not only made up of Staff
Members, but also consultants, interns, and volunteers. These types will be explained in further detail later on in this article.
The United Nations staff service conditions are coordinated and regulated by the International Civil Service Commission, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly established in 1974, and formed of 15 members, who they nominate. Therefore, the Commission administers UN staff, which are divided into two large categories: the professional and higher categories, and general service staff. There are two other smaller categories, such as the field service and national professional officer categories. The table below demonstrates the nature of each one:
In addition to the categories listed above, there are Senior Appointments linked to the highest positions in the Secretariat. For these positions, the Staff Member is nominated by the organization`s legislative bodies or the Chief Administrative Officer (UNITED NATIONS CAREERS, 2020). The United Nations Common System itemizes each category with letters that refer to a specific function within it. Thus, there are Senior Appointments SG, DSG, USG and ASG, which are the Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General (USG) and Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) respectively (UNITED NATIONS CAREERS, 2020)10. The other categories use the following abbreviations: Professional and higher categories. (P and D)11, General Service and related categories (G, TC, S, PIA and LT)12, National Professional Officers
(NO) and Field Service (FS).
JOB FAMILY X JOB NETWORK
In addition to specific selection programs – such as the UN YPP –, the UN Secretariat also offers various job vacancies to professionals of all levels, separated by large thematic areas, called “Job Networks”. Note that in this section, the Job Families and Job Networks presented were defined by the United Nations Secretariat for this organization. However, each organization within the UN System may present its own division between different fields of work and functions, not necessarily following the logic established by the UN Secretariat.
There are currently 9 Job Networks that are part of the UN Secretariat, which are:
ii) Management and Administration;
ii) Economic, Social and Development Network;
iii) Political, Peace and Humanitarian Network;
iv) Information and Telecommunication Technology Network
v) Legal Network
vi) Public Information and Conference Management Network
vii) Internal Security and Safety Network
viii) Logistics, Transportation and Supply Chain Network
xi) Science Network
Therefore, the first step is to define the possible UN System areas of activity that you are interested in, and are more in line with your educational and professional background. This does not mean that if you graduated in Administration, you will have to limit yourself to the “Management and Administration Network”; it all depends on your previous experience and the skills and competencies that you have developed.
The UN System advertises various job vacancies, distributed throughout their organizations, funds and departments that focus on global development. The standard process to attain a job at the UN is by searching the online recruitment systems, or applying to specific selection programs. Applications are often made by sending documents by e-mail, or registering on specific platforms for each body.
There are varying work regimes in the System. In addition to permanent Staff Members, distributed throughout different career types, other types are also placed, with a reasonable variety. A large and complex system such as this inevitably requires a range of job types and labor relations.
Therefore, another important concept to understand these relations is “Appointment Types”. As mentioned above, work at the United Nations is dynamic and involves a wide range of specialties. Three types of appointments fit the nature of the work, and allow the UN to plan and budget effectively for the work to be performed: temporary, fixed-term and continuous.
A table is provided below, giving a general description of each of these appointment types:
TYPES OF ENTRY
Staff Members of the UN Common System, depending on their employment status, are entitled to benefits such as health insurance, public holidays and annual leave, a pension, and many others (to be explored further in section 5) and may be employed on the basis of any of the above-mentioned appointment types, according to the organization’s needs.
Depending on organizational requirements, the United Nations will need to hire people to carry out short-term tasks, studies and activities, whether because holding a selection process to hire a permanent Staff Member is not productive, or because there is a need for support from specialists on a given topic. Therefore, there is a great variety of roles that could be performed under this type of contract, ranging from translation to software development. Likewise, payment will vary according to the type of activity carried out (or product delivered). A candidate is sometimes asked to present a financial proposal for the service provided. The places of work are established according to the different organisms` requirements, based in different countries.
It is important to highlight that consultants generally receive a net salary, with no additional benefits (health insurance and pension contributions, etc). However, experience as a consultant also tends to weigh positively in selection processes for UN System permanent positions and, therefore, may be an entrance into a career with one of its organizations
UN System internships are usually presented as an opportunity for people interested in entering the world of diplomacy and public policy, gaining their first experience and starting their careers in these sectors. The idea that justifies the activity of an internship in the UN System is basically the same that exists in various other organizations: it is a learning experience for those who are starting to work in that segment, whether because they will have the possibility of interacting with people who are already engaged in work in a specific professional area, or because an intern can apply and enrich the knowledge obtained on their university courses.
We highlight that, despite the interesting advantages of building professional experience, there are some limitations with being a United Nations Intern. The first of these is related to the duration of the internship – between two and six months. The second is related to the “costs” variable. The majority of the United Nations interns are unpaid, and all travel, insurance (including health, which must be presented as a requirement to exercise an intern role), accommodation, food costs, and other living expenses must be paid for by the intern or educational institution.
Volunteering at the United Nations has a minimum duration of six months, and cannot exceed four years of service. However, the Organization does not consider it a career, and it does not guarantee entry into a job there. On the other hand, the experience that can be obtained through volunteering adds value to a curriculum, and may be recognized in a selection process for a job at the United Nations, in at least two ways:
1) if the area of the voluntary work is the same or linked to the area of the vacancy advertised, this experience may be a differential – more so if the volunteer had the opportunity to learn a little more about the organization, its principles, vision, objectives, processes and systems;
2) to a certain extent, it may be considered that someone who does voluntary work is in tune with some of the United Nations` principles, which promotes the perception that the candidate fits the profile – or, more relevantly – that the organization expects. Therefore, although there are no documents stating that volunteers, or former United Nations volunteers, will have preference or privileges over other candidates in selection processes, this activity may help a candidate to stand out in the competition, depending on the area of activity of the vacancy desired.
UN Volunteers might work across different organizations within the UN System, depending on the “host entity”. UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNRCO, and UNCDF are just some examples of the myriad of host entities volunteers can work for.
Unlike an internship, a volunteer receives some financial benefits, since, in the majority of situations, they will participate in an environment with conditions of limited well-being (and, often, safety).