MSc in International Relations, 2009
Associate Political Affairs Officer, United Nations
Career so far
Associate Political Affairs Officer, United Nations (2009-2011)
Associate Political Affairs Officer, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2011)
How did you choose your career?
My background, being Mexican and French and having lived and studied for a decade in the United States, pushed me to seek an international career where I could continue exploring the world. September 11th happened when I was in school, and my experience during those formative years cemented my interest in international politics and multilateral diplomacy. I was fortunate to find my calling early, as this allowed me to focus my university and graduate studies around the goal of pursuing a career in international diplomacy. I considered a career in the diplomatic service but I found the United Nations to be the only organisation with guaranteed exposure to multilateral diplomacy. While the diplomatic service can take you around the world, there is no certainty that you’ll actually stay working in your specific area of interest. With the United Nations, you can choose to remain inside the same job network (eg PolNet – the political, peace, and security affairs network) for your whole career. In addition, the political neutrality of the United Nations Secretariat greatly appealed to me, as it works to the principles of the United Nations Charter and to serve the interests of humanity. I was fortunate to join the United Nations after passing the National Competitive Recruitment Examination in the field of Political Affairs and my first post was in New York in the Security Council Affairs Division. After two years, I volunteered to go to Afghanistan (where I am presently posted) to further my goal of becoming a wellrounded political affairs officer. While the first instincts of a graduate in international politics might be to work in one of the main policymaking centres – New York, Brussels or Geneva – my view is that work tends to be more rewarding in “the field”. Hierarchical structures are more horizontal and younger staff are entrusted with more significant responsibilities earlier. And if your aim is to understand the needs of the people you’re trying to help, you have to be close to them. Field experience is highly sought-after in the United Nations, not least because many of the programmes are implemented in regions experiencing conflict or recently emerging from it. Furthermore, it’s generally easier to gain field experience early in your career when you have fewer commitments and responsibilities. There are many organisations operating alongside the United Nations, all of which can provide recent graduates with valuable experience and exposure. In addition, the United Nations Volunteers programme is another good option for those seeking field experience before beginning a career with the Organisation.
How has an LSE education influenced you and what skills should students develop?
In the field, there are many LSE graduates working in international organisations, international NGOs or private sector companies. The LSE connection provides instant common ground, given the shared educational experience. Furthermore, as an LSE education relies on students' individual study to complement the content of taught courses, this prepares graduates well for a job where they are expected to find creative solutions on their own. Before leaving LSE, students should develop solid research skills if they hope to distinguish themselves in international relations. Certainly familiarising yourself with the work of the United Nations is imperative before applying.
Best and worst aspects of the job?
People who work at the United Nations often find themselves far away from their home countries and separated from their families. While the United Nations provides unparalleled exposure to the world and to the greatest challenges and most salient issues of the day, it can also take a toll on your personal life. Nevertheless, for the moment it is possible to remain in the same duty station for lengthy periods of time – longer than is usually possible in the diplomatic service, for example. This helps United Nations employees to establish themselves in a particular region of the world. And the United Nations Secretariat is really a family of its own – those who spend weeks collaborating on projects that they are passionate about can bond in remarkable ways, particularly in the field.
Any advice for LSE students?
While it is possible to join the United Nations after graduation, the vast majority of people who join do so after a few years of work experience. There are many applicants for careers in the Organisation, so focus your early years after graduation on developing relevant work experience to strengthen your application and to make a smooth transition to the United Nations. To determine what skills and experience are considered relevant, look on the Organisation’s recruitment website – careers.un.org – and specifically at positions you might not be qualified for at the moment. This will show you the skills that you should be developing now so you can apply for a similar job in the future. Field experience is also a great asset and should be prioritised early on in your career. Finally, mastering English and one or more of the official languages of the Secretariat (Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish) is greatly beneficial as some positions require specific language skills.