sanjitbakshi united nations flag UN flag at the Calgary War Museums. CC BY 2.0

8 Tips for Drafting Your UN Cover Letter

A cover letter is an important part of any job application, but it can especially help set your application apart when you apply to UN jobs. The UN looks for specific language, skills, experience, and attitude, and your cover letter is the place for you to show that you meet the qualifications they are looking for. The UN provides some guidance on what they look for in a cover letter, so we’ve taken some of their tips, expanded them, and added a few more to help you write your best cover letter for your UN application.

  • Keep it brief

The UN recommends a cover letter consisting of 3 to 4 paragraphs. Most career counselors and job development professionals recommending keeping your cover letter to a page. While you want to get information in your cover letter about your experience and skills, you want to make sure to keep it within a reasonable amount of space. Keep the paragraphs concise so that the person reading the letter can get the most information in the least amount of words.

  • Keep it relevant

When you’re writing your cover letter it can be ready to highlight your best experiences and skills, but your best skills and experiences may not always be the best for the job you are applying for. Make sure that your cover letter stays relevant to the job you are applying for, and highlight your best skills that match what the employer is looking for and that are relevant to the job requirements.

  • Find ways to make the most of your experience

Even if you are qualified for a job that you’re applying for, your experience may not be an exact match for the skills and description. If this is the case, use your cover letter as an opportunity to highlight transferrable skills and experiences that you can take with you into the job you’re hoping to obtain. Instead of talking about your passion or issues related to the job, focus on your achievements and things that you’ve accomplished. Be specific, and be honest (don’t exaggerate or lie) but take the liberty to frame your experience in a way that shows you have the qualifications and skills they are looking for in a future employer.

  • Distinguish yourself

Your cover letter provides a chance for you to set yourself apart from the other applicants. Use it to talk about unique skills and experiences that could lead you to be the best candidate for the job. Find an attention-grabbing opening and closing that will keep the employer engaged in your story from the beginning until the end. Make sure this doesn’t outshine your experience but use your cover letter as a way to distinguish what makes you a unique and qualified candidate for the job you’re applying for.

  • Write well

The UN career application tips specifically mention to use action verbs and avoid passive language and clichés. These tips are advisable for any cover letter, but because the UN specifically mentions that they want to see these grammar techniques, make sure to follow them closely. While you want to grab attention with your cover letter, make every word count and don’t include cheesy lines or cliché phrases that take away from your unique skills and experience.

  • Target your cover letter

We’ve already talked about how you want to keep the information in your cover letter relevant to the UN job you’re applying for. In addition to relevant experience, you want to make sure that the language you use matches the language the UN uses in their job descriptions. Target your cover letter to the job and to the audience, showing you understand the culture and purpose of the organization in addition to the actual job. If you decide to apply for multiple positions, tailor your cover letter for each position; don’t send one cover letter for multiple jobs. While all the jobs may be under the UN umbrella, each department, bureau, and team is looking for a specific skillset, qualification, attitude, and applicant.

  • Use “I” instead of “we”

Your cover letter is about you. So if you’re talking about work you did as part of a team or in a group or as part of an organization, make sure that you avoid “we” statements when talking about achievements and accomplishments. This doesn’t mean you should take credit for work you didn’t do alone, but make sure you spend most of your time highlighting the work you contributed to the team or project to show that you gained real, tangible experience, even as part of a group.

  • Demonstrate that you understand the job requirements/description

This might seem like the most obvious tip, but make sure that your cover letter shows that you understand the job requirements and description. How you talk about your experience and skills can make a difference if what you choose to highlight doesn’t match what the employer is looking for. If you’re applying for a position that you don’t fully understand, try to look at similar job postings or even search for articles on the internet that might help you better understand the exact nature of the position you are applying for. Job descriptions, especially for large organizations like the UN, usually don’t go into the day-to-day functions of the position, so make sure that you stay on topic and don’t try to guess what your responsibilities will be outside of what is listed in the posting.

About Allie Reefer

Allison Reefer is a young professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She works with a refugee resettlement agency to help refugees and immigrants in the city and does volunteer marketing for local nonprofits and arts organizations. She obtained a Master in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Writing from Geneva College, focusing most of her academic work on human trafficking and migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to write, read, sing and play bass guitar, practice Russian, and explore her city.

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