Admissions Blog

Landing My Dream Internship with the United Nations Through SIPA - How I Navigated the Internship Search Process and Leveraged SIPA’s Resources

By Leen Sawan '24
Posted Nov 14 2023

Like many of my peers, I came to SIPA with a goal and a vision in mind. I chose SIPA because I wanted to transition towards a more globally-oriented career, with the hopes of working with the United Nations after graduation. As someone with private sector experience, I knew that the internship requirement at SIPA would be a critical part of my career pivot towards multilateral organizations. I also knew that one of the things I wanted to get out of my SIPA experience was as much UN-specific experience, starting off with a summer internship. After spending countless hours on my internship search process and multiple visits to the SIPA Career Advancement Center (CAC), I finally landed my dream internship with the United Nations Operations and Crisis Centre (UNOCC), located in the New York headquarters office. While the internship search process was definitely daunting, there were so many resources available at SIPA that made the process much easier. Keep reading to find out how I navigated the internship search process and made use of the many resources SIPA had to offer!

The internship requirement is a fantastic opportunity to make use of your time here at SIPA and alongside the capstone project, is a key part of the practical component embedded into the SIPA curriculum. While the internship requirement can be waived on a case-by-case basis (if students have at least 4 years or more of relevant professional experience), most students choose to complete the internship. Because of that, almost everyone around you is also in the daunting process of finding an internship while at SIPA. SIPA students come from all across the world and have incredibly interesting experiences, and I’ve seen many cases where students end up getting their internships through networking with their peers in classes and at events!

I kick-started my internship search towards the end of my first fall semester, knowing that I wanted to land an internship with the UN during the summer. Even though I started my real search process in December, I was still able to get a headstart because of the many resources I had access to throughout the semester. The SIPA Career Advancement Center (CAC) hosts weekly career-focused events throughout the semester, including employer information sessions and workshops for navigating the internship and job search process. The CAC also sends out a weekly master list, consolidating hundreds of internship postings and job opportunities across various sectors. I made a habit of checking this list every Friday and noting opportunities of interest -  this was extremely helpful when it came time to hunt for internships because I already had a long-list of UN departments and agencies I was potentially interested in and knew were hiring interns.

Alongside this master list, the CAC operates an online portal called SIPA Connect, which contains hundreds of direct job and internship postings and is the go-to tool for all things internship related. Every single SIPA student who completes an internship is required to submit a detailed internship report (like a “review” of their internship) on SIPA Connect, which includes tips for navigating the application process for that specific internship, as well as the contact information and their supervisor (useful information for networking purposes!). This is an awesome resource to make use of while at SIPA - it’s both another repository of internships and an easy way to connect with other SIPA students or SIPA alum who completed an internship with an organization you might be interested in. I personally reached out to several SIPA alum after reading their internship reports to get an even better understanding of how UN internships worked, and I was always amazed at how accommodating and supportive SIPA alum were!

Once I narrowed down what type of internship and which UN agencies and departments I was interested in, I booked a session with an advisor at the CAC. The CAC offers each SIPA student 45-minute career advising sessions, which is your opportunity to discuss anything career-related with a professional. During these sessions, the CAC supports with everything from resume and cover letter building, mock interviews, case studies, and even creating your own tailored job search strategy. I was able to get detailed feedback on my resume and cover letter, as well as tips on how to tailor them to maximize my chances of success with UN-specific internships. My advisor was also able to connect me with current UN professionals, including someone from the HR department at the UNDP, one of the agencies I was keen to intern with.

Beyond the CAC resources, the International Organizations/United Nations Students  (IO/UNS) specialization hosts incredible events that are also fantastic networking opportunities. The specialization’s director, Professor Daniel Naujoks, is always hosting interesting UN-focused employer information sessions and panel discussions with UN experts and practitioners. One of the events which I found most useful was the Annual UN Roundtable Conversation event, where Professor Naujoks gathered experts from more than 15 UN agencies and allowed students to engage with them. This was just another excellent opportunity that I used to get an insider’s perspective on what UN practitioners valued in prospective applicants, and what skills I needed to build to position myself as a solid applicant. 

With these resources, I was well-equipped to dive headfirst into the internship search process. I eventually found my internship with the UNOCC through SIPA Connect, applying directly through the portal, and received my interview a few weeks after submitting my application in February. I have no doubts that the information I was able to gather from the many resources at SIPA were instrumental in securing the interview and the internship!