Contract Types and Levels at the UN

PLEASE NOTE: This is an outdated post by now! The newer version of this post is here:

Lately there were some questions on UN contract types and their meaning so I will try to summarize the situation as I see it. For everything I say, remember, that I don’t work in HR and also that this is my personal view of the topic. I don’t pretend to cover all aspects of this topic but if you feel that I should add something, please leave a comment below.

Contract Types

The first thing is that there are very many different kinds of contracts in the UN. In fact many people lost track of what the exact differences between the contract types are and I experienced examples where even the same contract type had different meanings in one organization. I guess the easiest distinction for now is the duration the contract is intended for.

Permanent Contracts
On the top of the list for this are the “Permanent Contracts” that the Secretariat offers. However to my knowledge these contracts are only given out to people who successfully competed in the National Competitive Recruitment Examinations (NCRE). So unless you fulfill the criteria to compete in the NCRE you can neglect this contract type.

Fixed Term Contracts
Next in line are “Fixed Term Contracts” those are the typical jobs that you find all over the system. The duration of any contract is usually a year or two and even though it is sometimes stated differently in the legal fine-print these contracts are pretty good in terms of job security since most of these contracts are renewed without too many questions asked. An interesting curiosity with Fixed Term Contracts is that some of these can be project-funded. These contracts have then slightly different terms and benefits.

Temporary Contracts
Temporary contracts such as “Assignment for limited durations (ALD)” or “Temporary Fixed Term (TFT)” are still staff contracts but are clearly time-bound and typically don’t carry all the benefits of Fixed Term contracts. And even though these contracts can be extended there is usually a limited (e.g. 3 or 4 years) after which the same person is not allowed to be on the post any longer. If you are on an ALD and you hit the limit you have to take a “Break in Service” of a time determined by the organization.

Consultant Contracts
In this category things get really messy. First of all there is a very wide variety of contracts available and then the conditions for these can be quite different. Then, some organizations see consultant contracts not as HR contracts and governs them under the organizations procurement rules. Typically these contracts carry little employee benefits. Consultant contracts are time-bound, often short-term and often have break in service rules, too. The usually allow for more flexibility in salary negotiations. Examples for these contracts are the “Special Service Agreements (SSA)”, “Individual Contractors Agreement (ICA)” and others.

Contract Levels
Within all these contracts different levels apply. Roughly there are two big categories. The first is the General Services category (sometimes also referred to as Local) up to ICS 7 and then the Professional (or International) category usually starting at ICS 8/9. The basic logic is that certain jobs don’t require an international. For example it doesn’t really make sense to pay a lot of money to employ an administrative clerk on an international level since there are usually skilled people for this job locally available. If you are on a national contract you can expect to stay in the country and you will not be required to move. If you are on an international contract you can be re-assigned to any other place in this world easily (a fact that is often forgotten and that regularly leads to conflict if one actually tries to re-assign internationals).
The line between these two categories is not always easy to draw. For instance there is a major difference between Copenhagen and New York where many nationals in Copenhagen execute jobs that would be on an international level in New York. As a rule of thumb jobs that require a Master’s equivalent degree are international whereas local jobs required secondary education or Bachelor’s degrees.

For an overview over what the level and the contract type equivalents roughly are please check out the UN Job List Search page (scroll down). To estimate what your Salary could look like use the UNDP Salary Calculator.

How to get a job with the UN

With the UN Job List growing and growing I receive more questions of people who would like to join the UN and have no idea where to start. To be quite honest, my page is the worst place to start if you don’t know how to get a job with the UN.
Let me explain: On the UN Job List you find UN vacancies by Organisation or Duty Station and you can comfortably search for vacancies. However, if you don’t know how the UN works, I highly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the UN system and its agencies before you apply to any of the jobs listed here.
There are good resources out there that help you getting the process done (like here and here) but the essence is: Know the system! Know what goals the agencies try to achieve, where they are active and what you can do to help the organisations to get their job done in a better way. If you did this part of the work, then start using my site and then there is a real chance that you will find the job you have been hoping for.

Who is hiring in the UN System? The top organisations on UN Job

The UN Job List provides almost all currently available vacancies in the UN System in one easy to search database. For a quick overview over the current vacancies in the different organisations visit: The page provides an overview over all organisations listed and indicates how many vacancies are listed per organisation in total and how many were added in the last week. This provides a first clue for the question about who is hiring in the UN and who is not. However the list on this page is slightly misleading since not all organisations have their vacancies published for the same time. A good example would be the comparison between UNOPS which has publishes opportunities usually for two weeks in contrast to the UN secretariat which has typically posted their jobs for two months.

Now, who is hiring in the UN system? Well, looking at vacancies as collected by UN Job List during the last few months (April 4th to July 21st 2007) the top 5 organisations are these:

1. UN DPKO – United Nations Department For Peace Keeping Operations: 584 vacancies
2. UNDP – United Nations Development Programme: 527 vacancies
3. WHO – World Health Organisation: 519 vacancies
4. UNOPS – United Nations Office for Project Services: 192 vacancies
5. ICC – International Criminal Court: 107 vacancies

But to be fair a lot of the UN DPKO vacancies are open vacancies and seem like they have been around for a while. If you take to open DPKO vacancies out of the picture the top 5 organisations look like this:

1. UNDP – United Nations Development Programme: 527 vacancies
2. WHO – World Health Organisation: 519 vacancies
3. UNOPS – United Nations Office for Project Services: 192 vacancies
4. ICC – International Criminal Court: 107 vacancies
5. UN DPKO – United Nations Department For Peace Keeping Operations: 96 vacancies

As stated above, the statistic includes the organisations which are listed on UN Job List. Some organizations like WFP are not in the UN Job List statistics, since they recruit via a roster and do not have public vacancy announcements. Also, it is worthwhile keeping in mind that this list is about external vacancies only. For obvious reasons the UN Job List does not include internal vacancies and there is no way to determine form the outside if none, one, two or many persons have been hired for a vacancy.

To review current UN vacancies visit UN Job List today at:

Article about UNOPS’ work in the field – The perils of carving a path to the Taliban’s front door

The article is already a few days old but it describes the work in the field in an interesting way. I wasn’t able to confirm all the details mentioned in the article but I guess the exact numbers are not really the point here. It is more about under what circumstances field project work is done:

USA Today: The perils of carving a path to the Taliban’s front door

New organisations on

Over the past days I have been able to gradually add new organisations to the UN Job List. Now there is also the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the list. In total there are now nine organisations listed (CTBTO, FAO, ICC, ILO, UNDP, UNFPA, Unicef, UNOPS, WHO). The goal is still to step by step get most of the UN organisations into the database and if there is any organisation that you are particularly interested in, you can now suggest it on the UN Job List.

The page is obviously still under development and you can help shape its features, too. I already received good feedback and comments on functionality from many colleagues and if you have something to add, just leave a comment below.