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Careers Centre

International organisations

Sector Overview

International organisations exist for specific public purposes which require international engagement, 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 have 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 non public purpose 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:


International organisations attributes profile

 Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
Project management skills

Organising roles within societies eg for events. CEED offers courses on Project Management within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Also master the use of EXCEL.

Language skills Improve your fluency in second or third languages. Evening courses are available.
The analytical skills to solve complex problems These are most likely to be developed and evidenced from your academic studies, especially any dissertation or research projects.
The ability to advocate and to persuade Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics. CEED also offers courses on Communication Skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Persistence and flexibility: you will often have to proceed indirectly and by building alliances
  • Resilience: setbacks and disappointments are frequent within large bureaucracies


Nature of sector or roles

There is a vast range of challenging issues to be tackled working for an international organisation. Different types of organisations address various aspects of these issues and work together in highly interconnected webs to achieve their aims. Often having a career working for an international organisation will span across several of these categories:

Think about the role you would like to work in as well as the kind of organisation. Would you like to be involved in policy and advisory work? To be involved in an executive capacity eg as a project manager, administrator or planner? Or do you aspire to a technical role as eg a water engineer or surveyor? Different types of organisations will have different skill needs, and it’s up to you to find a match. First figure out what type of development you’re most interested in, and the role you want to fill, then seek out the organization that will suit you.

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to assist you with your application. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (the Fast Stream has its own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have been accepted on the European and Generalist Fast Stream. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

There are many international organisations which offer work experience, but often to graduates only (see details below).

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:

There are, however, many other opportunities in Brussels beyond the EU. Read the page entitled Brussels related careers.

EU-sample tests The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) sample tests can give you an idea of the type of questions and level of difficulty you will face in a competition.

United Nations

Defence and Security

Financial International Organisations


International Development


How to get a (graduate) job

Although it is possible to get experience in an international organisation, either as a graduate, or while studying 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.

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.

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.

Related links

International organisations


Portal sites

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre Resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:


Other resources

Useful background information


USA resources


The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.


Internships USA