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So You Want To…Intern with a UN Agency: Elke’s Experience

by Elke-Esmeralda Dikoume, 

Elke at the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa Hi everyone! I’m Elke-Esmeralda Dikoume, a 23-year old Masters in Public Administration (MPA) Candidate in International Development at Cornell University and a Spring 2014 GCE-US Youth Advocacy Training Alumnae! Following my experience at the training, I have been blessed with beginning my Master’s program in Fall 2014, and starting my internship here at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!  I figured I would share a bit about my experience, so that those interested in International development or working for international organizations (namely the UN), can get a little bit of insight into how to start!

Why the UNDP?

Great question! Well, my family and I moved to New York City in 1996 when my parents began their respective careers at the United Nations. I attended the United Nations International School (UNIS) in New York City from Kindergarten to 12th Grade and thus, my interest in world issues started at a young age. At UNIS, I had the chance to attend many UN conferences and even serve as Moderator, Co-chair and President of a few! I knew right away, that my future lay in international development. I guess you could kind of say that I am a UN baby.

Every MPA Candidate at Cornell is required to participate in an internship program, and given my interest in international development (namely Sub-Saharan Africa) and travelling, I found it fitting to look for opportunities abroad. So I decided to see if there were internships available within the continent on the UN’s Job Portal: Luckily, I stumbled upon this amazing opportunity here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and decided to apply right away. Navigating the UN’s Job Portal can be a bit tricky, but if you take the time to play around with it a little bit, you’ll get the hang of it!

How was the application process?

I must mention before explaining the process, that in order to work for the UN or many of its sub-organizations (especially at the headquarters in NYC), you must be in the process of getting an advanced degree (ie. Master’s degree or above).  Sometimes however, you may come across certain few gems that don’t require that!

Going into the application process, my parents and their colleagues told me just how tedious, convoluted and lengthy the process could be, so I prepared myself for a long-waiting period. I had to answer a few questions about my interest in the UNDP, my background, my skills, my availability and I also had to submit a curriculum vitae (CV). I had done plenty of applications before (including the one for the GCE-US Youth Advocacy training) so I didn’t find it to be too difficult.

Sidenote: many international organizations, including the UN require applicants to submit a CV rather than a résumé because it is more extensive and outlines your complete working history. One main difference between the two is that the CV tends to be much longer (upwards of 3 pages) than a résumé (up to 2 pages).

As noted on the website, only shortlisted applicants will be contacted for the next steps in the application process. Luckily for me, I heard back within 2 weeks that I had been shortlisted and selected for an interview!

Did you have to interview?

Yes! After receiving the letter that I was shortlisted for the internship, I had a short interview with my current (and awesome) boss in which we went through my résumé, spoke about my interests and the internship’s terms of reference. I personally really enjoy interviews because who can talk better about you and your interests than yourself?! It was a great dialogue during which I was able to answer questions, ask questions and talk more about my interests outside of work.

About one week after my interview, I received the great news that I had been selected as a Partnership and Resource Mobilization intern from May 2015 – August 2015! I was so excited and immediately began planning my trip to beautiful Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

What exactly do you do?

Right to the good stuff! Well, my official title is Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Intern here at the UNDP. My official duties and responsibilities include (but are not limited to) the following: research and data management (online database management, research on donor intelligence), knowledge management and communication (organizing events/webinars, write articles/blog posts), and donor engagement support (draft concept notes and presentations, participate in meetings).

Luckily, I get to do much more than that! When I first began my internship at the end of May, I got to meet the team, and the other staff members here at the UNDP. Soon after the introductions, the real work began. My team and I began planning a huge panel discussion for 50+ attendees including private sector, civil society, development partners and UN staff. It was A LOT of work and sometimes went overtime, but it was so worth it and I learned a lot about event planning, database management and teamwork.

Given my fluency in French, I was able to translate a survey (from French to English) that was sent out to 46 country offices throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. I then analyzed the results and created a 17-page report that was sent out to the entire UN network on the findings. It was exhilarating, and very informative to say the least! I wrote two articles for the UNDP Africa site about projects taking place within the continent and helped my team plan another event that took place during the large African Union summit. 

So what are your thoughts on the internship thus far?

I LOVE IT! Seriously, I really love this internship and getting the chance to work in the field really allows me to put my educational interests to use! I get to not only live and work in beautiful Addis Ababa, but I also get to understand what working for an international organization is like from the inside. I get to meet dignitaries, work under an incredibly accomplished (and super kind) boss, learn from amazing staff members and build skills that will enhance not only my personal and professional growth, but my educational growth as well. I’ve learned so much.

What’s next for you?

Well, after I finish this internship, I am actually spending the fall semester in Washington, D.C. where I will be interning at the World Bank! I’m looking forward to that experience and being able to compare and contrast my learnings at two, top international organizations! 

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