Watch out for fake UN Democracy Fund vacancies

Before we start, just a quick reminder: I’m NOT the UN and I’m NOT speaking on behalf of them. I make it a point of the UN Job List, NOT to actually host any job advertisement but to ALWAYS link back to the ORIGINAL vacancy announcement. I advise you to be very suspicious of any job advertisement that does not link back to a reputable and verifiable source.

So, please watch out for fake job advertisements when you apply for UN Jobs. I know that a lot of you want to be part of the UN System, but be suspicious and careful if you get advertisements if you can’t verify the source. Currently there seems to be a wave of fake UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) vacancies. This is a warning I saw:

Fake vacancy announcements have been repeatedly circulated in the name of the UN Democracy Fund, UNDEF, via non-UN websites and email imitating UN email addresses. In some cases, correspondence falsely signed in the name of real UNDEF officials has ensued, asking would-be applicants to part with copies of personal documents and even money.

As part of the UN Secretariat, UNDEF posts job vacancies only at and, in the cases of temporary vacancy announcements, on the UN Secretariat intranet site iSeek. Please disregard any emails, or non-UN websites, purporting to announce UNDEF job vacancies, and pass on this warning to anyone you think may be affected.

I have written about fake vacancies in the past, so have a look here on how to avoid being scammed.

If it sounds too good to be true… Beware the scammers

This world is a great place with a lot of people who are trying to help out. Many people try to improve things for their friends, families and even complete strangers. However, there are also a few people out there trying to take advantage of you. And I want to make sure you’re not a victim of these kinds of people. So if you receive and email allegedly coming from the UN and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

I have written about fraudulent job offer emails that have been going around for some time here. But since there seems to be a new wave of attempted scams I wanted to briefly touch on this topic again. So if you receive an email like the below – disregard and delete it. It is a fraudulent email and not from a UN organisation. But don’t take my word for it, read the fraud warnings on the UN site here:

Now let’s have a look at the scam email. The emails tarts as follows:


Your Ref: SNT/ATM/822

Dear Esteemed Beneficiary,

Inline with the United Nations millennium development goal to
eradicate poverty and hunger by the year 2015 i am directed to
inform you that your payment verification and confirmations is
completed, Therefore we are happy to inform you that
arrangements have been concluded to effect your payment as soon
as possible in our bid for transparency.

Already here all alarm bells should ring: From typos to contradictions in the logic of the argument to the “too good to be true” part all classic elements of a scam are present. The mail goes on as follows:

You have been granted the sum of $500,000.00 USD in the United
Nation Development Program UNDP world Aid/support promo, for your
Personal, community and education development and do note that at
least 40% (Percent) of these total fund must be use for such purpose.

The United Nations collects all the email addresses of persons that are active online among the millions that subscribed to the Internet and only five persons every Year are selected as our Beneficiaries through electronic balloting System without the winner applying.

On that note we congratulate you for being one of the beneficiaries.

This is the part where the “too good to be true” part unfolds in it’s entirety. The UN never conducts lotteries, the UN never reaches out to random people and the UN most certainly does not award half a million USD for personal development just like this. In fact, for anyone who ever worked with or for the UN and knows what kind of approval processes behind even the smallest payments for clear and justified development purposes is this section is so far from reality it makes for a good joke.

To file for your claim, you are requested to contact the events Manager/Claims Department,
send your winning Identification Numbers and the following information.

These are your identification numbers:


Yours faithfully,
Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

This is the end of the scam email and of course no scam is complete without asking for personal information and private details so this part is expected in any such email.

How to find out if an email is a scam or not:

Before engaging with a sender of an email, ask yourself:

  • Is this email too good to be true? If it seems like it is too good to be true, most often it is.
  • Did you enter into contact with the sender first? If not, why does the person contact you? And no, there is no random contacting of people – the UN’s resources are scarce, they are only used in clearly defined programmes and so they don’t reach out to random people just like that;
  • Is the sender who s/he claims to be? Google the name, research the organisation that is allegedly behind the email. Make sure you verify independently(!) that the sender is legitimate. Don’t just ask in the same email “are you who you say you are?” since any scammer would of course gladly tell you whatever you want to hear. If you don’t find anything on the name, call the switchboard of the organisation and ask if this is a legitimate email.
  • Is the cause in the email legitimate? The UN’s resources are scarce and the UN is under tight scrutiny from member states, the media and the general public. The UN will not engage in random acts that don’t fit into a predefined, coordinated and agreed programme that is designed with extensive consultation of those affected and involved in the project.

With all this, keep in mind that I’m not talking on behalf of the UN. So this post is purely my take on the situation. Again, make sure you read the UN’s fraud warning and think before you act. 

UN recruitment – what steps take how long in the process?

When you are considering a career in the UN make sure you bring some patience for the process because applying will take you effort and time. But before we start, let’s clarify, that this post is neither trying to criticise nor defend the UN’s recruitment policies but merely outlining some of the elements of the process.  Also, understand that I’m not representing the UN in any way and the information provided below is merely information from my experience running the UN Job List.

To begin with, let’s be clear that there is not just one organization being the UN but rather a family of different organizations forming the UN. Consequently, there is also not only one recruitment experience, so things can vary from organization to organization and even within organizations based on duty station or department.


What are the key factors that influence the time it takes for recruitment for an applicant?

  1. Advertisement period: To be fair to applicants and to achieve a wide circulation of vacancies most job adverts come with a closing date. This closing date depends on the nature of the recruitment, the different agencies etc. An overview over the differences in advertisement periods can be found on here. Time frame: 2 weeks to many months as announced in the vacancy
  2. Long listing: A typical next step in the process is to take all applicants and sort out the candidates that are not fulfilling the requirements. This is the step where the formal requirements for a job are checked. This may include the years of experience, the educational requirements, checking for relevant work experience etc. Depending on the post advertised, this can be a very long and tedious job since there are cases with hundreds and even thousands of applicants and some of the checks will take some time. In some instances long listing is done by a panel of staff to ensure fairness. This may add additional time to the process as it takes time to coordinate the panel members’ schedules. Time frame: form a few days to several weeks depending on number of applicants and job requirements
  3. Short listing: After the long listing the list of applicants is still very long. In the short listing the challenge is to ensure that the most suitable candidates are invited for a written test. This means that the long list is gone through in more detail and applicants are compared against each other in terms of their qualification and experience. In most cases short listing is done by a panel of staff to ensure fairness. This may add additional time to the process as it takes time to coordinate the panel members’ schedules. Time frame: typically anywhere between one week to many weeks
  4. Written Test: To not rely on interviews only in some cases applicants are required to pass a written test. Designing, administering, correcting and scoring the test can be a task taking several weeks if the job is complex and applicants are scattered around the world. Time frame: a few days to several weeks
  5. Interview: This point is relatively straight forward in terms of what needs to happen. One key challenge is to get all the right people, i.e. all applicants, all panel members into the same time zone and make sure they are reachable i.e. not traveling, being in a location with connectivity etc. Depending on the complexity of the job, several rounds of interviews can be conducted. Time frame: from a day to several weeks
  6. Post interview processing:In this period, some UN internal process steps have to be completed. Firstly, a decision for a recommended candidate based on test results and interviews has to be made, secondly the documentation has to be completed, thirdly there is typically in independent review of the application process in the UN to make sure that the process was transparent and fair and lastly the offer has to be produced and signed. Time frame: from one week to several months depending on the post
  7. Contacting the preferred candidate: What happens next is that the preferred candidate is offered the job. Sometimes by that time the preferred candidate is not available any longer and the second (or even third) in line is contacted if these candidates are found to be fit for the job. It can happen that none of the candidates is fit for the job at which point in time the process starts all over from the beginning. You can identify these cases if you see a vacancy saying “re-advertised”. There is no need to re-apply for re-advertised posts if you already applied for that job in the first round. Time frame: a few hours to several weeks

The above outlines what happens in cases when we are talking about a standard recruitment. The process may be quite different for programmes like the Young Professional Programme (YPP) in the UN or the Junior Professional Programme (JPO) and may be very different for very high level posts. If you want to make sure you understand the process that would apply to your application, check with the organization which advertises your job.


A few considerations to keep in mind during this process:

  • Unless you are short listed and invited for an interview you are not likely to hear anything from the UN. I don’t know the details of why this is the case but it is wide-spread practice so it’s best to anticipate not getting a regret letter if you consider applying.
  • Even if you had an interview, you may not be hearing anything for quite a while after your interview: The reason is simply that aside from internal process review time and the contract administration time regret letters are only sent when the recommended candidate signed the contract. This is to avoid sending a regret letter to the second candidate and then offering a contract in the case of the first candidate not being available for the job.
  • Processes can take a while if things need to be coordinated internationally. Trying to get experts for an interview panel from New York, Geneva and Nairobi to have time to interview an applicant from New Zealand can be quite complicated, especially since most people involved have a regular job and are not dedicated recruiters.
  • The above outlines the regular case. If there are any challenges in the process (e.g. a short listed candidate can’t be reached to get the interview date confirmed etc.) additional delays may be incurred.

The bottom line is: If you apply for a job in the UN do some research on the recruitment time of your organization. When applying, be patient it can take a little while. Also, once you are done with your application, keep applying to relevant other vacancies and don’t be discouraged if it does not work out on the first try. Good luck!

Update: I closed the comments. To discuss this topic – please join the FORUM and ask your question over there.

Update from “the List”: Interest indicator for vacancies beta test

One of the most frequent questions I receive from job hunters is about the competitiveness of different vacancies. Applying to a job is very time consuming if done properly and of course we all want to know what we are up against when applying to a job.

Since I have no insight into the data of the actual agencies I obviously can’t answer the question on how many people applied. Also, if we assume that most people apply shortly before the deadline, the number of applications as information would be too late to be of any real value. However, what I can do to gauge interest is to measure the number of click-throughs to the actual vacancy. What I mean by that is the number of times people decide to leave the UN Job List and view the vacancy on the organization’s homepage.

I have now implemented this view counter and shown the data for this counter on the UN Job List’s vacancy detail page. You will see two graphs on any vacancy detail page: One listing the views per day over the past 5 days:

Views per dayPlease note: The graph is capped at 20 views per day.

And another graph that shows how this vacancy relates to other vacancies on the UN Job List:

Interest in the vacancy

The graph displays the overall average views per day in relation to the average views of all UN Job List listed jobs. This graph is also updated daily and since there is always a higher initial interest in any new job especially after the job has been twittered, this graph is biased towards the “high interest” spectrum right after it has been discovered by the UN Job List.

Please let me know what you think of these statistics and graphs in the comments below – thank you!

UN System Internship Programmes

Lately, I have been asked about UN Internship Programmes a few times so I would like to share some information about these programmes. Please note that I’m not providing this information on behalf of the UN or any UN organization but merely as a private person. So the best advice I can give is to stick to the official resources.

Many UN organisations offer internships. You can check out the UN’s Internship Programme. Typically, for an internship you need to be “graduate [or] post-graduate student”. The official site is not listing specific subjects you need to study in order to be eligible but refers to “diverse academic backgrounds” so check the openings of the UN for details on who they are looking for. On the UN’s website are more links to Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Santiago, Arusha, and The Hague based internships but the opportunities don’t stop there: Many organizations in the UN system offer internships, too.

Just to name a few UNDP, UNICEF, and UNOPS all have internships. So, if you would like to know which organizations exist in the UN system refer to the UN Organisational Chart and find the website of the organization you are interested in. Then, see if this organization offers internships (many do) and work your way down from there.

Aside from general internship programmes, some internships are also advertised similar to regular jobs. These opportunities are also picked up by the UN Job List, so it is a good idea to search the UN Job List for internships.

A few items to keep in mind

  • Know what you want: Don’t approach an organization only because you came across their website and saw an opening there. Make sure you know as much as possible about the organization. So read up on their goals, their activities, their approaches etc. as much as you can. Try to understand what expertise the organization may need and ask yourself if you fit these profiles.
  • Know what you apply to: In case you apply to an internship opportunity and even if you understand what the organization is about, make sure you understand the specific opening well. Read the opening several times and try to understand where in the organization the internship would be. Apply if you think you are a good fit.
  • Know how to apply: Read the advert carefully and make sure you fulfill all the formal criteria you need to fulfill for the opening. Also, make sure that your application speaks to why you specifically should get the internship. Explain your CV and your motivation and how you could contribute to both the specific internship opening and the overall organization’s needs. At the same time, keep it short and concise. The strength of your argument should not depend on the length of your cover letter.

Also keep in mind that

  • Internships are unpaid and that if you need a visa etc. the logistics and administration is often times up to you.
  • Internships vary in duration. Many organizations have internships from 2 months to 6 months. Check with the organization you are interested in and see what works for them. Sometimes you seem to be able to negotiate a timeframe.
  • Internships are a great way to get some inside into an organization. However, don’t expect to get a job in the UN through an internship. Many organizations have ‘black-out’ periods after an internship in which you are not eligible to apply for any job at the organization you just interned with.

All of this should give you a start in finding an internship with the UN. Expect the overall process to take a bit of time and don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed immediately. Many internships are very high in demand and it is quite possible that you don’t hear back from the organization if you’re not selected.

Having said all this, interning at a UN organization is a great way to learn about the inner workings of the UN system and a great overall experience. Good luck internship hunting!

PS: Please don’t ask about specific job / internships in the comments: I don’t have any more information about opening than the information on the UN Job List. Thanks!

Don’t fall for UN vacancy scams

To many people the UN system is a very attractive employer and it may seem difficult to get a job in the system. At the same time the UN system can be confusing with all the different organizations and contract types. All these factors combined seem to be a fertile breeding ground for scammers who promise you a prestigious job in exchange for a ‘training fee’, a ‘visa processing fee’ or any other fee that they can think of.

The whole issue is not new and warnings are published on the main UN site, but the nuisance seems to come in waves and lately I have heard more of it. Therefor  I wanted to give my personal opinion about the issue and briefly summarize what one should and should not do in order not to fall into the hands of scammers.

N.B.: The UN Job List is not affiliated with the UN and I can’t speak on their behalf. So read the UN’s warning about the scams and follow what they say here.

Let’s clarify a few basic things to start with: All UN vacancies have to be advertised on an official UN website, so be very careful if you find a vacancy somewhere else. This is the reason the UN Job List deliberately links to official UN websites only. What you can’t find on a UN organisation’s website or ReliefWeb, treat with extreme caution. Don’t trust websites that list vacancies on their own website only and which don’t tell you the official website as source of it.

Do not send money
The UN does not charge any fees and is not ever asking you for money upfront. The UN will never ask you to provide money to organize a visa application, application processing fee, training or anything similar to that. The whole application and recruitment process is entirely for free. So don’t ever pay anything for visa processing.

Do not give out your bank information
The UN does not seek any information about your bank accounts. The only time you will need to provide banking information is way after the interviewing process. In many cases first payments are only paid upon arrival to the duty station, so you will most likely be able to work in your job for a few days before you even have to provide this information.

Make sure the vacancy is genuine

To find out if a vacancy is fake or not, try to follow these steps:

1) Is the vacancy from an official source?

This is easy when you find the vacancy on an official website or ReliefWeb. Also the vacancies on the UN Job List are safe (remember to check they link to official websites only). Watch out for fake UN organisations. If in doubt check if the organization is part of the UN system chart.

My take: If the vacancy is coming from an official UN website or ReliefWeb it is genuine.

2) Is the organization a known UN organization?

If you find the vacancy somewhere else (e.g. your schools notice board), this part can be more tricky.

a) For starters, check if the organization/office/initiative that claims to be issuing the vacancy at hand exists at all. The UN system is quite big and it features a myriad of different organizations, funds, programmes and projects. So a first start is to check if the organization that claims to be the source of the vacancy exists in the UN organizational chart. Make sure you check the wording of the name in particular. While this is not a guarantee, yet it brings you a step closer to figuring out what is going on.

b) If you find the organization which is claimed to be the source of your vacancy, check if the specific vacancy is known to the organization and if the vacancy is on their official vacancy page. It is important to check if the specific vacancy is valid since everyone can just copy any existing vacancy, change the e-mail address and send it out.

My take: If the organization which is claimed to issue the vacancy exists and you find the vacancy on their website you should be ok.

3) Is the vacancy from a legitimate project / country office / other UN initiative?

If you don’t find the source that claims to be the origin of the vacancy, check if it could be a subsection of a known organization. To give you an example: some of the UNDP country offices advertise some consultancies locally so that they appear on a country office website rather than the main UNDP website. If you are in doubt about the legitimacy of the office that claims to be the source of your vacancy, make sure that the country office exists and that the vacancy really is from that particular office.

To check if the office is genuine, make sure you find the reference on the main organisations site. To stay with the UNDP example, make sure that you find a link from the to the country office site and not just from the country office site back to UNDP. The later link is easily created by any scammer. But the other way is harder: no scammer will be linked to from the official site.

My take: If you don’t have the vacancy from a reputable source and it is hard to verify that the organization that is claimed to issue the vacancy exists and is really the source of the particular vacancy you have at hand – don’t pursue the matter. Or at least, be very cautious.

I hope the whole story doesn’t sound too bleak after all these warnings. Considering the many thousand vacancies and applications that go well every year, I personally don’t think that the business of the vacancy scammers is a predominant issue when it comes to the UN. If you stick to the official vacancy pages only, there is nothing you should be afraid of. Then, make sure that you follow the precautionary steps listed on the UN job site and just don’t ever send your personal data and/or money. And lastly, don’t take my word for it; I’m giving you some ideas of what I think makes sense. But remember, I don’t speak for the UN so check their pages for further information.

Some Questions

When working on this post, I got some questions that I quickly want to summarize in a mini FAQ:

This vacancy has the UN logo on it. How can it be fake?

You can easily fake anything these days. It is no challenge to find a UN logo on the web and to come up with some good sounding text. Remember these people want your money so they are willing to invest a little effort into papers that look official.

They sent me all the official (or officially looking) forms – how did they get them?

Many of the forms are openly and freely available on the Internet. Collecting a few of them and sending them to you is no challenge for the scammer.

I found the vacancy on my university’s job site. How can it be fake?

Most job boards publish job vacancies without checking the origin of the vacancy. So some scammers could slip through. Be a good citizen and alert the notice board administrator so that not more people fall for the scam.

One last word: Please don’t report scams to me. Remember I’m not speaking on behalf of the UN. But follow the steps outlined in the UN warning about vacancy scams. If you have any correction, idea or comment on this post, please let me know below.

Good luck with your UN job search.

Update 1 (17-Aug-09)

The UN published a new Fraud Alert page:

Update 2 (30-Jan-11)

Be especially careful with (unsolicited) e-mails. The UN never sends vacancies in an e-mail without reference to a UN website where you can verify that the vacancy is genuine. To be clear, nobody from the UN will contact you personally and ask you to apply. And if a vacancy is “sent to you by a friend” the original vacancy still needs to be on a credible UN website.

A last word of common sense warning: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.