A guide on entry-level access schemes: the good, the bad and the ugly


I work with development for 9 years. I give lectures about defining yourself as a development professional. I even wrote a book about how to get a job in international development. The number one question I get, regardless where I am is how do I get my foot on the door? Or something along those lines….

For my first article for AidBoard I decided to help you with that… Some practical information on how to start working in development through access schemes. Now, I’m not saying this is the only way you can start working in development, but they are usually a very good place to start.

Access schemes are basically traineeships for international, regional and cooperation organizations. These programmes focus on “young talent”, so there are not aiming at experience, but “potential”. Well, at least in theory. That’s why we are separating then in the good, the bad and the ugly!

The Good

Here is this category are the programmes that are what they say they are without some twist, crazy application process or requirements.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – Graduate Trainee (IHL)

The ICRC’s offers traineeships in their Legal Division for a period of one year at its headquarters in Geneva.

Tasks and Responsibilities:

Trainees at the Legal Division undertake a variety of assignments, including carrying out research and writing project briefs on specific legal questions primarily related to IHL, both in French and in English. They also review legal documents, contribute to the preparation of meetings, prepare draft reports or minutes of meetings and give presentations on IHL to groups visiting the ICRC.


  • A university degree in law or international relations and a Master degree in international law (or an equivalent post-graduate legal training).
  • Excellent knowledge of IHL (shortlisted candidates will be tested in IHL during the course of the interviews).
  • Fluency in either French or English, and a very good understanding of the other.
  • Age: Applicants should be between 25 and 30 years old at the beginning of the traineeship.

Why is it good? Besides being a great way to start building a career in humanitarian standards and protection, the ICRC actually has a fairly consistent process of selecting trainees and their stipend is reasonable.

For more information, check their page here.

UNHCR – Entry-Level Humanitarian Professional Programme (EHP)

The Entry-Level Humanitarian Professional Programme, or EHP, is a competitive point of entry into UNHCR for talented professionals under 40 years of age who have a passion for humanitarian work. This recruitment initiative is designed to identify highly qualified and motivated individuals with the right profiles, willing to be deployed to locations where they are needed most.

Selected candidates will join the programme at the P2 level on a two-year cohort program and will be deployed to the field after having completed a comprehensive orientation program.


Applicants will need to fulfill the following minimum requirements:

  • Advanced university degree, at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution;
  • Two years of relevant working experience in the respective functional area;
  • Excellent knowledge of English and at least one other UN language (Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish). Additional languages are an asset;
  • Ability to work in a multicultural team;
  • Willingness to serve in conflict zones, deep field locations;
  • Willingness to rotate every few years.

Why is it good? UNHCR has taken YPP, NETI and other UN-born talent initiatives and it has made it better. The process is really consistent, well-publicized and they recruit within several of UNHCR specific and functional areas, so the topics are not so broad that can gather the interest of everyone.

More information about this programme at this page.

The Bad

Should I say it more, the category “bad” is relegated to programmes in which the “intended” applicants have no chance of getting in or there is a pretty significant catch.

United Nations’ Young professionals programme (YPP)

The young professionals programme (YPP) is a recruitment initiative that brings new talent to the United Nations through an annual entrance examination. For young, high-caliber professionals across the globe, the examination is a platform for launching a career at the United Nations.

Are you eligible to participate in the young professionals programme examination?

  • Do you hold at least a first-level university degree?
  • Are you 32 or younger by the end of this year?
  • Do you speak either English and/or French fluently?
  • Are you a national of a participating country?

The examination is held worldwide and is open to nationals of countries participating in the annual recruitment exercise – the list of participating countries is published annually and varies from year to year.

Initially you will be appointed for two years and then be reviewed for a continuing appointment. The Organisation promotes mobility within and across duty stations and job families. As a new recruit you are expected to work in a different duty station for your second assignment.

Why is it ugly? It builds on the premise that everyone can be a part of the United Nations, but the criteria are so broad for most of the areas selected that it is almost impossible for an entry-level professional to be selected. A lot of the selected professional have been working in the area for at least 7 years, speak more than one of the UN official languages and have a graduate degree. So, the promise does not match reality.

For more information, check this page.

UNESCO Young Professionals’ (YP) Programme

The Young Professionals’ (YP) Programme provides the opportunity for young university graduates and young qualified professionals from non- and under-represented Member States* to join UNESCO early in their professional career.


  • Age: less than 30 years.
  • Education: an advanced university degree in education, culture, science, social and human sciences or communication, or in a field of direct relevance to the management and administration of an international organisation.
  • Languages: fluent English or French and a good knowledge of the other working language. Knowledge of Arabic, Chinese, Spanish or Russian is an additional asset.
  • Previous experience: initial professional experience is an asset, but not mandatory.
  • Nationality: non- or under-represented Member State in UNESCO.
  • Values: Integrity, professionalism, respect for diversity and a strong commitment to the UNESCO mission.

Why is it bad? The bureaucracy of this process is astounding. Not only the processes have to pass through the national commissions who have their own way of communicating with headquarters, hindering any chance of consistency in this process. The internal processes within national commissions tend to be less than transparent and have very little accountability. It is something that UNESCO has been trying to improve in the last 5 years, but it still has a way to go.

More information at this page.

WORLD BANK – Young Professionals Program

The following are minimum requirements to be eligible for the Young Professionals Program.

  • Be 32 years of age or younger (i.e. born on or after October 1, 1982)
  • PhD or Master’s degree and relevant work experience[?]
  • Be fluent in English
  • Please note that full proficiency in one or more of the Bank’s working languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish is desired but not required.
  • Specialize in a field relevant to the World Bank’s operations such as economics, finance, education, public health, social sciences, engineering, urban planning, and natural resource management.
  • Have at least 3 years of relevant professional experience related to development or continued academic study at the doctoral level.

Additional Qualifications

In order to be competitive for the limited number of positions, a combination of the following credentials is highly desirable:

  • Display a commitment and passion for international development
  • Possess outstanding academic credentials
  • Exhibit excellent client engagement and team leadership skills
  • Have international development country experience
  • Be motivated to relocate and undertake country assignments
  • Please note that the Young Professionals Program does not recruit individuals who specialize in disciplines such as: Computer Science, HR, Accounting, Marketing, Law and Linguistics.

Why is it ugly? Besides being known to be a process of somewhat “internal” referral, this process has more minimum requirements than a mortgage loan. It favors Economic majors, Economic majors pursuing their PhDs and candidates from American Universities. Plus, it has a peculiar discrimination against computer science, HR, accounting, marketing, law and linguistics…

For more information, please, check this link.

The Ugly

Here are the processes that would be good, if there was not some pesky catch. At the same time, the little twist is not big enough to redeem them as “bad”.

Save the Children UK: Entry level trainee schemes

Save the Children UK’s entry level trainee schemes are designed to enable trainees to develop the necessary skills in order to launch a long lasting career in the humanitarian sector. The focus may be on programme management, logistics or technical specialties (e.g. health, water and sanitation, shelter) and trainees are placed with a country programmes that has the operational capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance.

Why is it ugly? It is very transparent process, however you have to keep a watchful eye to figure out the time of application and it is restricted to UK and EU nationals.

For more information here.

GIZ – Development Cooperation Trainee Programme

The programme begins on 1 July of each year and lasts 17 months, during which time you will learn hands-on about many different aspects of German and multilateral development cooperation. The programme focuses on technical cooperation (TC). Training begins in Germany with two months of preparation for your assignment abroad, comprising an induction period at GIZ Head Office and a preparatory programme at the German Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ).

This is followed by a 12-month assignment abroad, nine months of which will be spent working on a GIZ project in one of our partner countries and the remaining three months in a partner country or at the head office of another German or international organisation for development. You will then undertake a three-month assignment at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Bonn or Berlin.

Once you have completed this programme, you will be well qualified to take on a challenging post as a specialist or manager at GIZ, or within another German or international development institution.


You need to have a university degree (Bachelor or higher). You should also have gained some initial work experience (this can include internships) or hold a postgraduate qualification. Initial experience of working in a developing country and knowledge of development cooperation (this can similarly include internships) are desirable. The programme is open to people of any nationality, but it is important that you have a sound command of spoken and written German.

The ugly? It is well know to be a great opportunity and YPPs usually get absorbed quickly by the institution – which should be the goal of most of these programmes. It is really consistent and the information easy to find. It is just known to favor applicants that have interned in GIZ before.

For more information, check their page.

First published at Aidboard.

Related: Want to build career in international development? Don’t reach for the UN 

Doing what you love! A Straightforward guide to a career in international development

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2 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    All of this seems so true. I decided at a ‘mature’ age to pursue development studies as an MA. Had I known the extreme limitations to gaining any beneficial employment, I’d have chosen a completely different field. I’m hindered by a) age, b) lack of rich parents to fund years of unpaid internships, c) nationality as many schemes only accept those from developing countries.
    Overall it’s been disheartening to realise that my years of alternative experience are not considered of use in the development field and that the jobs available are guaranteed on the basis of wealth. I’ve met many interns travelling the world who complain about their substandard accommodation or lack of a maid or chef. And these are the lucky ones who will eventually take all those jobs and defeat the aims of aid/development.


    • Natasha Leite says:

      Hi Heather,

      Actually, alternative careers skills like project management, communications or even for-profit work can be very useful in particular areas such as project management, fundraising and corporate relationships and communications. Or working in alternative development projects for Chambers of Commerce. I don’t want to prevent people from working in development, but as you said, I want them to have a realistic picture of the challenges ahead. Best of luck!

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