International organisations

 

International organisations (such as the UN agencies and the international development banks) were established and are run by groups of countries in order to pool their financial, technical and human resources to address common regional or global problems. 

Each organisation has a designated sphere of responsibilities, e.g., health, food security, refugee welfare, post-conflict reconstruction, institution building, international trade or the international monetary system.

A significant amount of financial aid, technical skills and policy advice to the developing world passes through this multilateral channel, rather than going directly from a donor country to a developing country (as is the case with bilateral aid).

The member countries typically provide financial support to an international organisation in proportion to the country’s economic size and importance. For example, the USA provides around 16.5% of the World Bank’s financial resources, Spain 1.75%, and a small Pacific island state like Tuvalu gives one hundredth of one percent.

The organisation’s staff is drawn from, and normally restricted to, member country nationals (but, in the case of regional development banks, remember that donor countries are also members even though not from the region).

There is usually an effort made to maintain some kind of balance between a member country’s financial stake in the organisation and its share of the staff. Some organisations go as far as to operate a nationality quota system whereby only nationals from under-represented countries can apply (e.g., for the UN National Competitive Recruitment Exams).

The majority of the staff of an international organisation works at its headquarters (e.g., in New York, Washington, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Santiago etc.). That is where their new international staff (as opposed to contractual or local employees) often start, although later in their career they may spend some time in a small regional office. However, it is normal for staff to travel – sometimes frequently – to other, particularly developing, countries in order to carry out their responsibilities.

Useful Information

Routes in

Positions within international organisations require substantial experience, preferring a master's or PhD and 7-10 years experience (except for YPP programmes). Soft skills such as writing, communication, interpersonal and diplomacy skills are also sought after, as are language and cultural understanding and sensitivity. Technical skills are needed for work 'in the field'. The key is gaining relevant experience.

Young professionals programmes (YPP)

This entry level option normally requires a master's degree or PhD and relevant experience exceeding 2-3 years. Applications should be submitted fairly early in the Michaelmas term (and, in the case of the World Bank, as early as 30 June). The sooner you can apply, the better, as the process for recruiting onto internationally based roles relies on everyone being in the same location at once; the earlier you apply the more opportunities you will have to fit into their schedule.

Gaining relevant experience

Competition for the YPP schemes is high and you would always be recommended to have a back up plan; in which area would you like to specialise in in order to gain experience that will be relevant when applying to an international organisation in the future? Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, anthropology, economy roles, education, specialists engineers, environment, financial analytics, law, procurement, PR, public health, HR, IT, accounting, administration to name but a few suggestions. Build your career in one of these areas and then look to apply for a YPP or an experienced position.

Work experience & internships

Most international organisations offer internships to PhD or master's students each year. These are normally research-based projects and lead to the submission of a report at the end of the internship. Master's students should note that some organisations require interns be "continuing students" - come in and talk to us if in doubt. Opportunities for undergraduates are much rarer and may be more admin based.

Placements can be from four weeks to six months, although two to three months is the norm. The length of an internship may be negotiable, organisations recognise that interns need to fit the placement into their academic year, but just a few weeks is unlikely.

Search for internships on CareerHub or on specific organisation websites.

Applying

Most internships take place in the summer months and the application process typically runs from November to January.

Pay

Most international organisation internships are located in New York, Washington DC and Geneva, though some opportunities may also be available in regional offices. The majority of internships offer some form of remuneration, but this can vary widely, from US$1000 to US$4000 depending on the institution and a stipend which may or may not cover travel costs.  

Volunteering

A useful way to get your foot in the door of an NGO or charity, many students begin their path to working in international organisations through volunteering. On occasion a voluntary role can lead to a permanent job within the organisation, and after a couple of years may lead you to consultancy, which can be relevant experience for application to an international organisation.

Many LSE students gain experience during the Summer break, volunteering in a developing country through organisations such as VSO. The Volunteer Centre has some information and advice on volunteering overseas.

Have the experience? What now?

International mobility

The majority of the staff of an international organisation works at its headquarters (e.g., in New York, Washington, Geneva, Vienna, etc.). That is where their new international staff (as opposed to contractual or local employees) often start, although later in their career they may spend some time in a small regional office. However, it is normal for staff to travel – sometimes frequently – to other, particularly developing, countries in order to carry out their responsibilities. 

Personal commitment

Candidates must realise they are choosing a lifestyle which can be quite disruptive of their social and family life. 

As expatriates, the benefits of this way of life tend to come at the beginning of their careers while the social (and financial) costs become more obvious at the end (e.g., Where will your children be educated and in which country will they feel they will belong? How will you keep in contact with, and look after, your ageing parents? After a career living away from your home country, where will you feel you will want to settle on retirement?).