Thomas Wooden

Are you considering applying for a legal internship with the United Nations? Are you unsure how to approach the application process? After securing internships with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT), I want to share some personal tips with you in the hope that it will help you obtain an internship with the UN.

1. Be Organised

It’s obvious but it needs to be said: The sooner you apply to your organisation of interest, the sooner you will receive a response. Some organisations take weeks to reply whilst others take months. Applying for organisations like the ICTY and UNAKRT requires a number of documents from you. These can include letters of reference, resume/CV, cover letter, availability and preference of position, sample of writing, academic transcript and insurance information. Some of these documents will be reliant on other people, for example the letters of reference. Your referees may be busy and it could take up to a month to receive a simple one-page letter. Try and set a deadline for obtaining all the documents and sending off your application.

2. Slay Your Cover Letter

The cover letter is your opportunity to showcase your skills applicable to, and your undying passion for, the position at hand. This one-page document is the only chance you have to demonstrate how all of your experiences and acquired skills have led to this one internship opportunity. Don’t be shy about your abilities and why you want this internship – they want only the best.

3. Be Yourself

I will, personally, only work for an organisation that accepts me for who I am. On my resume/curriculum vitae to the ICTY and UNAKRT I did not hide the fact that I was involved in a university club that is queer-related. Although not explicitly stating that I am gay, there is a strong inference of my diverse sexuality and/or gender identity. As a gay man, can I encourage those wondering how to navigate the system with diverse sexuality and/or gender that you are to be given equal consideration within the UN. I must stress that this is a personal conviction of mine and only wish to serve as an encouragement that these opportunities are possible for those who identify as part of the queer community.

4. Pursue Your Interests

All work and no play? No thank you. As well as the many skills you may have acquired through studies or extra-curricular activities that make you suitable for the position, it’s important to pursue hobbies, groups or clubs that actually interest you. These pastimes not only shape your life by bringing you into contact with a diverse range of people, they also make you a more interesting candidate. The interns I was surrounded with had all sorts of talents and interests – they were rich in intelligence and personality.

5. Transfer Your Skills

The door is not closed to those who have not studied international law and are wishing to undertake an internship in this area. Of course, experience in this area will only strengthen your application, however I met interns who had never studied international humanitarian law but who exhibited skills gained in other areas of law that qualified them to intern with the UN. The buzzwords are “transferable skills” – skills gained elsewhere that make you suitable for the job in question. To those individuals worried about a lack of experience in this area – have hope!

6. Be Old Enough

I began my internship at the ICTY after completing my fourth year of university at the age of 22. I was the youngest intern in my office, with the average intern age being 27 years old. For those who have proceeded straight from high school to university like myself, I would recommend waiting until fourth year onwards to complete your internship. This is not only so that you may be mature enough to work alongside your fellow interns and lawyers, but also because your years of experience at law school will aid you. Another bonus is the ability to engage in conversations with interns from Commonwealth countries about common law cases and finding out which of the classic cases still hold precedence. Donoghue v Stevenson is still going strong in many Commonwealth countries, don’t you worry.

7. Believe In Yourself

Lastly, can I encourage you to have confidence in your abilities. It’s true that applications to these institutions are highly competitive. Sometimes patience is important, and sometimes things will surprise you and change your life forever. My experience was a combination of both.

The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ICTY. Thomas is in his fifth year of law school at The University of Adelaide and is currently working as a Research Associate with the newly launched University of Adelaide Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.