A Comprehensive Guide to the United Nations Volunteer Program (UNV)

A Comprehensive Guide to the United Nations Volunteer Program (UNV)
Resource by Savannah

Savannah is a humanitarian, content writer, and author of the blog theglobalhumanitarian.com. She is passionate about helping others get their start in the humanitarian aid sector. Follow her on YouTube and Instagram!

Do you dream of working for the United Nations? Are you wondering what it takes to get a UN volunteer job? The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program is designed for skilled professionals to work with UN agencies online, domestically, as well as internationally.

"The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program is designed for skilled professionals to work with UN agencies online, domestically, as well as internationally. The United Nations Volunteer application process can get super competitive, so follow along to learn the best ways to get shortlisted, interviewed, and hired by the United Nations Volunteers program.

In this guide, I will highlight all the important details of the UNV program. I will cover the different types of UN volunteers, how to apply, tips for filling out your United Nations Volunteer application, as well as cover questions about accommodations, living stipends, and more!

Let’s get to it!

What is the United Nations Volunteer Program?

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme describes the program as follows: The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. We work with partners to integrate qualified, highly motivated and well supported UN Volunteers into development programming and promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism. UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reports to the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board. Read more about the added value of UNV, UN Volunteers and volunteerism.

The United Nations Volunteers program requires you to have at least a couple of years of work experience prior to applying. For many international specialist roles, it requires 2-5 years of work experience as well as a Master’s degree. Part of the goal of having a UNV program is for the United Nations to reach its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Watch my SDG’s Explained in 3 Minutes video here!

The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are:

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Well-Being
  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Life on Land
  • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • Partnerships
  • Where Can you Volunteer with the United Nations?

There are three types of UN volunteer locations. You can:

  • Volunteer abroad
  • Volunteer in your home country
  • Volunteer online

For each of these, you apply online through the UNV portal.

What do UN Volunteers do?

United Nations volunteers work along side United Nations staff in a variety of roles. A few job titles include: Human Rights Officer, Child Protection Officer, Social Protection Officer, Staff Counsellor, Nurse, Gender Based Violence Officer, Lawyer, Physician, Psychologist, Human Resources, Finance Officer, Shelter Officer, Resettlement, Teacher, Researcher, and more.

As you can see, there are countless positions. The great thing is that many of the roles will ask for a degree within a variety of sectors (social sciences, law, business administration, etc). This allows for individuals to apply to a variety of roles and does not always require a specific degree. UN Volunteers have expressed that they often feel they were treated and respected like staff. In terms of differences, the major difference would be that you would receive a volunteer living allowance instead of a salary.

Are United Nations Volunteers Paid?

UN Volunteers are not technically paid, however, they receive a Volunteer Living Allowance (VLA), affordable housing or assistance to find housing, flights, health insurance, etc.

The United Nations Volunteers provides the following allowances:

  • volunteer living allowance: a monthly allowance intended to cover basic living expenses (this is not a salary)
  • travel expenses: for travel to duty station upon appointment and for repatriation at the end of the assignment
  • settling-in-grant: a grant calculated on the duration of assignment, paid at the beginning of the assignment
  • insurances: life, health and permanent disability insurance. The description of insurance benefits for international UN Volunteers is available here
  • annual leave
  • resettlement allowance: calculated based on the duration of assignment, paid upon satisfactory completion of the assignment.

You can read more about the United Nations Conditions of Service here.

What are the Requirements for United Nations Volunteer Jobs?

A university degree or higher technical diploma and at least two years of relevant work experience are among the minimum requirements to volunteer abroad with the UN.

Requests for assignments come from more than 140 countries and require a wide range of professional skills and competencies. They mobilize international UN Volunteers at the request of United Nations partner agencies to support their peace and development programmes.

First check whether you meet the minimum requirements below, and if so then you can register your profile in the UN Volunteers talent pool.

The minimum requirements to serve as an international UN Volunteer are:

  • 25 years old and older (no upper age limit)
  • university degree or higher technical diploma
  • at least two years of relevant work experience in a professional background
  • good working knowledge of at least one of UNV’s three working languages: English, French or Spanish
  • commitment to the values and principles of volunteerism
  • ability to work in a multicultural environment
  • willingness to work with people and local organizations to draw upon the synergies between expert solutions and local knowledge
  • ability to adjust in difficult living conditions and sometimes remote locations
  • strong interpersonal and organizational skills
  • prior volunteering and/or working experience in a developing country is an asset

What are the United Nations Volunteer Categories?

There are three assignment categories for internationals.

International Youth

You must meet minimum requirements plus any role-specific requirements.

International Specialist

In addition to meeting role-specific requirements, you generally need an advanced degree, like a Master’s degree, and five years of work experience.

International Expert

In addition to meeting role-specific requirements, you typically need an advanced degree, such as a Master’s degree, and 10 years of work experience.

Are you looking for national positions within your own country? Please read more about the various UN National Volunteer categories here.

How Does the United Nations Volunteer Recruitment Process Work?

The application process for United Nations Volunteers is straightforward.

  • Step 1: Create a profile on the UNV website and search for available positions that match your skills, education, language abilities, and work experience. Watch my YouTube video on how to get shortlisted for a UNV position here.
  • Step 2: Click apply. Write a short motivational letter. Click send.
  • Step 3: Wait for an email from UNV that states that your profile has been passed on to the host organization (UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, etc). This means you have passed the first shortlisting.
  • Step 4: Receive an email from the host agency with a time and date for an interview. This could be over the phone or by video. The interview is typically a panel and could include 2-4 UN staff. Watch my YouTube video for helpful UNV interview tips for competency based interviewing.
  • Step 5: Complete your interview. The interview will likely be short in duration (20-30 minutes). Typically they will ask 3-5 competency based interview style questions. Each of the questions will ask for you to reflect on your previous life and work experience and give an example of how you have demonstrated a specific skill or attribute. Some example questions could be: - “How have you demonstrated leadership in the past?” - “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult co-worker, how did you handle it?” - “How do you demonstrate gender and inclusivity in the workplace?” - “Why are you the best candidate?”. If the position requires an additional language, they will typically ask you questions in that language during the interview.
  • Step 6: Receive an offer. Do a happy dance. Jet set off to your new duty station!

Tips for the UN Volunteer Process:

  • Provide an accurate representation of your work, volunteer, and language abilities in your application
  • Prepare for your interview by researching the competency based interviewing style and have answers prepared ahead of time
  • Target words in your application and motivational letter that directly correlate to the position you have applied to. I am unsure if there is a computer based system that pulls applications prior to a human being seeing it, but I have read this may be true. Therefore, put your best foot forward by using some of those words listed in the job posting to demonstrate you have the necessary qualifications and get your application SEEN.
  • Get experience within your home country with the populations you may encounter on a UNV assignment (refugees, low-income families, survivors of gender based violence, etc).
  • Remember that the UN Volunteers program want to see that you are someone that stands behind their values. Talk about shared values and mission in your motivational letter. What makes you stand out? What life experience do you have that makes you a strong candidate? How have you influenced others? Give examples.
  • Continue to check the UNV platform and apply frequently. You may need to send out 30+ applications before you hear back. That is OK. Be persistent.

How Long are UN Volunteer Contracts?

Most United Nations Volunteer contracts last 6-12 months. You can serve as a UN Volunteer for a maximum of four years. Once your assignment is complete, you may be offered the chance to renew and stay. Or, you can return home to apply for another UNV position.

Where do UN Volunteers Live While on Assignment?

United Nations volunteers live in a variety of places depending on their assignment. Sometimes they may live on a compound, in shared UN housing, or they live alone in their own form of housing. This could even include a converted shipping container or a tent depending on the country of assignment. The UN will let you know if there is a cost for housing, what that cost is, as well as assist you in finding your own housing if the UN does not provide this. Your Volunteer Living Allowance will always be enough to cover your expenses regardless of which country you are posted to.

Can I apply for a UN Staff position after completing a UN Volunteer Assignment?

You are never guaranteed a staff position after completing a UN Volunteer assignment. However, there are many UN staff that were once UNV’s themselves.

I hope you found this guide helpful in your search to becoming a United Nations Volunteer. I am always happy to help others who are going through the UNV application process. reach out at www.theglobalhumanitarian.com. I wish you all the best!

Helpful links for your United Nations Volunteer Journey:

United Nations Volunteers Website

Sustainable Development Goals Explained in 3 Minutes

UNV Competency Based Interview Tips

How to Get Shortlisted for UN Volunteers Program"

Published 2 years ago (Thursday 30 Dec 2021)