This page has been written by Paul Brown
, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Paul, or any of our advisers, go to our website to view how and when you can meet them.
International organisations exist for specific public purposes, such as the monitoring and development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, or the exploration of ways of feeding the world's population. They are usually made up of experts in relevant fields supported by administrative and other personnel, all of whom are drawn from the countries making up the membership of the organisation. Some organisations have membership from over 160 states - others as few as 15.
There has also been a great growth in the numbers and influence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on international issues – essentially private sector organisations, charities, pressure groups or political activists. Remember that international careers, in a more general sense, are also available in the private and commercial sectors.
Most jobs in this sector are in one of the following areas: policy making, project management, professional support roles eg finance, technical expertise, education, infrastructure and health.
For other related areas, refer to the Careers A-Z pages on:
How to get experience
There are many international organisations which offer work experience, but often to graduates only (see details below).
The Department for International Development website also has information on internships available throughout the United Nations system and other international organisations.
The European Union
The Stagiaire Programme
The best way for recent graduates to get experience in an EU institution is through this programme, which has a regular intake of stagiaires (trainees) for paid or unpaid work experience placements of 5 months. You cannot apply for a stage until after you have graduated, as you need to send a copy of your degree certificate with your application (if you are currently studying for a postgraduate degree, you can apply before you have completed this degree and send the certificate from your undergraduate degree). Stages are available at a number of EU institutions, principally at those listed below:
- United Nations (UN) – short internships
- Other UN offices, funds and programmes (including UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and the ILO) also offer internship schemes – generally (but not always) for those with/studying for postgraduate qualifications. Check the websites of individual member organisations in which you are interested, using the UN website.
- The United Nations Volunteers programme offers a variety of ways in which people can volunteer either at home or overseas, but does not offer short term overseas practical assignments for students. The UN also offers online volunteering opportunities. For all of these opportunities, you need to be over 25 years old.
Defence and Security
Financial International Organisations
See also Overseas Development
How to find a job
Although it is possible to get experience in an international organisation, either as a graduate, or while stying as a postgraduate, the typical profile of an employee of an international organisation includes a few years' experience in other organisations as well as a postgraduate qualification.
The ambition to work 'in the UN' or the World Bank will only be realised through accumulating a sufficiently experienced and well qualified profile.
If some of these opportunities seem intimidating and unattainable at present (perhaps you are an early years student) then think about ways of gaining the skills to to build up to one of these positions. Any work experience which gives you project management and problem solving skills will be valuable, including volunteering, charity work or serious involvement in University societies.
Many individuals interested in international organisations see the need to focus on a particular angle that will create a pathway to their career. If you are interested in international aid, consider taking the time to be involved in a project abroad. If you would like to work for the World Bank, think about gaining experience in private sector banks. If you know that your languages are rusty then think about experience that will help you brush up. You will probably need to be proactive and make speculative applications to organisations that you are interested in and networking in order to get your foot in the door.
Finally, there are occasionally opportunities placed on our website. In the past we have received vacancies from organisations such as NATO, SNP Europe and The Capitol Hill Programme, as well as many others that could give you relevant skills and the next step on the ladder.
Don't underestimate the value of making speculative applications or the importance of networking. Also use the Careers Alumni Network, a database of St Andrews graduates who have volunteered to offer careers information to existing students.
As you will have seen, obtaining a job in an international organisation is by no means a straightforward undertaking. Whatever you choose, you are likely to have to create the building blocks of your career through a careful mix of postgraduate training, experience, skills and networking. Research the area in which you want to work, work out what kind of work you want to undertake - and work backwards to plan milestones and your immediate next steps.
- Investigate acquiring specialist qualifications in a field appropriate to the direction in which you would your career to develop. It is generally felt that it is better to gain relevant overseas experience before undertaking postgraduate study, such as a PhD. This will not only help you to identify/clarify which direction you wish to pursue, but will also help you to choose the most appropriate course and to get the most out of your studies. Non-EC nationals might like to try for Commonwealth scholarships, the DfID Shared Scholarship Scheme (DFIDSSS) or the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme (ORSAS) awards. Also search the Careers Centre online funding database for postgraduate funding sources.
- Think too, if appropriate, about how you will gain relevant overseas experience – look at our Overseas Development page for resources.
- Networking is an essential skill to develop when seeking to enter an international environment, and you can make valuable contacts through short-term contract opportunities and internships.
- Develop additional language skills. English and French are the working languages of the UN Secretariat and its official languages are English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. The EU languages are English, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish - but English and French are the most widely used.
Young Professional Programmes
Several organisations, including the UN and World Bank, recruit graduates to take part in their Young Professional Programmes (YPP). Entry requirements vary by organisation, but applicants must usually be aged 34 years or younger. Some organisations also require a masters degree or equivalent in a relevant discipline.
The IMF runs The Economist Program (EP) - the "point of entry" for talented young macroeconomist graduates seeking an exciting career soon after completion of their graduate studies.
Also refer to the linked organisations listed under the How to get experience section.
Key Links and Resources
Careers Centre Resources
- Getting into International Development
- The Careers Centre subscribes to 'Going Global', a specialist website with information and job vacancies worldwide. To access Going Global login to 'Access MyCareer' on the Careers Centre website and click on Going Global Database.
- Policy Jobs: the Careers Centre subscribes to Policy Jobs - Public Policy jobs and Internships. Allows member access to its sister sites: Political Jobs, Ethical Jobs and Human Rights Jobs [subscriber's username and password]
Useful background information
- Internships in International Affairs - published by Internships, USA, this online resource provides information on over 130 organizations offering experience in the international arena. Included are government agencies, non-profit organizations, NGO's and international organizations. Access via MyCareer (password required).