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UN Job List Intro Part2: UN System job hunting – Contract Types, Grades and Levels

This is part 2 of a series of posts on job hunting in the UN
System.Read part 1 on the PCD Network
Read part 3 on the PCD Network.
As usual and before I start, I would like to remind you that I’m not speaking on behalf of the UN and can’t help you with any individual requests.

The last post was all about a big outline of the UN System, how to find out which UN organisations are hiring (check to find out) and how much to learn about the UN organization you want to work for (the more the better, you should try to find-out as much as possible).

This post is about job levels and contract types in the UN system. The post itself is not really new in fact much of what I describe has been outlined earlier. Anyways, here is the essence of what you need to know:

Contract Types

The contractual reform in the UN system cut back on many different contract types. But the UN still knows different contract types and the distinction between staff contracts and non-staff contracts still exists.

So let’s start with the Staff Contracts. As the word “staff” implies you will find these kinds of contracts for functions that are at the heart of what the organization is doing.

Continuous Appointment (CA)

As far as I know Continuous Appointment (CA) contracts are not implemented yet. However, it is expected that these contracts will be quite similar in nature to the old “Permanent Contracts” that the Secretariat offered. The standard way to get into a Continuing Appointment is if you are participating in the UN Young Professional Programme (YPP). You will not get a CA contract right away but are then eligible to reviewed for a CA after some time. Outside from the YPP I have not heard (yet) of CA contracts yet (this may change at any time – remember, I’m not a professional HR person). More about the YPP is here:

Fixed Term Appointment (FTA)

The most common “regular” staff contracts are the Fixed Term Appointments (FTA). These are the jobs that you will find in a lot of places in the system. The duration of Fixed Term Appointment (FTA) contracts is usually a year or two. Even though FTAs do not carry any expectation for renewal there is no limit and/or break in service in case the organization decides to extent an FTA.

Temporary Appointment (TA)

Temporary staff contracts for up to a year minus one day of duration are Temporary Appointment contracts. This contract type may be closest to what used to be  “Assignment for Limited Duration” (ALD)  or “Temporary Fixed Term” (TFT) but is strictly limited in terms of duration (both ALDs and TFTs don’t exist any longer). Temporary Appointments carry a “break in service” blackout period to prevent a series of TA contracts.

Non-staff and Consultant Contracts

In the non-staff or consultant category things get complicated. First of all there is a very wide variety of contracts available. These contracts are typically called “Consultant Contract”, “Special Service Agreement (SSA)”, “Individual Contractor (IC)” or “Individual Contractor Agreement (ICA)”. The conditions for these contracts can be quite different from organization to organization. Also more and more organizations see these non-staff contracts as non-HR contracts and administer these contracts under the organizations procurement rules. Typically these contracts carry very few employee benefits. Consultant contracts are either time-bound or per deliverable and often short-term. Many organizations do have break in service rules to prevent longer-term employment on non-staff contracts but all of the non-staff contracts carry benefits since allow for more flexibility than staff contracts.

Contract Levels

Within all these contracts different job grades (sometimes also called “job levels”) exist. The International Civil Service Commission defined grades from ICS-1 to ICS-14 (let’s end at ICS-14 for simplicity reasons). And within these levels there are two big categories. The first is the General Services category up to ICS-7 and then the Professional category usually starting at ICS-8. General Services Jobs often times don’t require a Master’s degree whereas jobs in the Professional grades often require a Master’s degree. However, there is no rule without exception: Sometimes a Master’s requirement can be waived if there is long relevant experience etc.

General Service jobs are national jobs which means that these jobs are usually reserved for nationals of the country the jobs are located in. Professional category jobs can be international and national. National professional jobs are often times called “National Officer” (NO). 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, a fact that is sometimes forgotten about and that can lead to conflict if an organization actually tries to re-assign internationals. International jobs are open for all nationalities from all countries.

In terms of what job grade to apply to within your area of expertise I would strongly recommend reading the job vacancy very carefully. Please make sure that you satisfy all the requirements and assume that there are thorough checks. So if you are required to speak French for a job and you don’t speak French it’s not a good idea to apply. The same thing can be said for years of experience. If a job requires 7 years of experience, there should be no way around that requirement. To give you an idea of what you should aspire to, let’s look at the example of International Professional jobs. These jobs are often following a logic where a P1 (ICS-8) does not require much of experience (but these jobs practically don’t exist any longer), P2 (ICS-9) require 2 to 3 years of experience, P3 (ICS-10) 5 years, P4 (ICS-11) 7 years and so on. How years of experience are counted varies. Some organizations say that you need to have the years of expertise after your master’s other organizations require “relevant” expertise which also can be before your master’s but needs to be “relevant” to your job.

Now to get a sense for how the jobs are distributed, head over to the UN Job List and play with the UN Job List Advanced Search – you can search for different job levels there.

This is a complicated field. And in my experience there is not a single rule without some agency specificities. So treat the information given above as a broad framework that outlines the basics. Once you found a job (and we will talk about how to find this job in the next post), make sure you understand EXACTLY what the organization you apply with requires.

If you have further ideas on how to enhance this post or if you have a question about how this system work, feel free to comment below. Thanks!


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