How I got my dream work experience gig: Georgie's UN story - updated April 2019
17 year-old Georgie reveals how she's bagged herself an impressive work experience stint at the UN and what her time in Geneva was like. What can you learn from her story?
What can you learn from her story when it comes to sorting out your own work experience?
- Pre-work experience: how Georgie applied
- Post-work experience: Georgie reflects on her time in Geneva * April 2019 update
Pre-work experience: how Georgie applied
You've got some great work experience lined up. Can you share any tips for applying to placements?
Don't allow yourself to get into the mindset of 'this company will never let someone like me work with them'.
I say this because that's how my whole work experience story started.
One of my amazing teachers recommended I apply for work experience at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. I initially ruled it out as I expected the capability of students applying to be so high that it would be extremely unlikely that I would get a place. Why set myself up to fail, right?
Because I wanted to learn about a career in law, I applied to several different firms asking if they had any work experience placements. However, I wasn't successful with any of them.
This further solidified my thinking that if a firm in my own small town didn't want me, I'd have zero chance trying for the UN.
So, how did you end up getting your dream UN work experience?In August, I saw that YouTuber Eve Bennett was on the same work experience placement at the UN that my teacher suggested.
Honestly, it looked so amazing and she was gaining insight into all of the things I want to learn about. Plus, she was getting to travel to a beautiful city and make new friends.
In that moment, I felt so foolish for not applying. That could have been me in Geneva, learning and developing all of these new skills that would benefit me in the future. It was my own negative outlook that had stopped me, not the company saying ‘no.’
Did you apply there and then? Was it difficult?Yes, that night I found the work experience placement online, and I applied straight away. It was quite complicated as I had to print lots of pages off, write a mini-personal statement about myself and post it.
I soon heard back that I had secured a place for a study trip in August 2018 – I was ecstatic!
What was it about the UN that stood out?As part of my placement, I'll be gaining insight into the UN and the human rights field as a whole – in the future, it's an area I'd like to work in. My dream job would be with an international charity dealing in world issues of some kind.
Plus, going abroad for this placement will hopefully help me become more independent, which will be essential for when I go to university.
I am nervous to catch a plane by myself for the first time, though!
How else do you think this UN placement will help with your university plans?Cambridge is one of my university goals (to study theology), so having something like this on my application will, hopefully, help me stand out against others.
Any work experience you have that's related to the degree you're applying to would be impressive on your personal statement. It can also be a good talking point in an interview to break the ice.
- Applying to Cambridge or Oxford? Explore our full Oxbridge advice
What would you say to a student who doesn't know where to start?I understand that finding work experience can seem scary. You might be tempted to go down the easy route, such as going back to your primary school for a week because you know your teachers there.
However, looking further afield for work experience is one of the most effective ways to narrow down your career choices! It can either confirm that this is something you want to do, or teach you that the career you have dreamed of is actually not at all what you expected.
Whether you're a Year 12 or 13 student picking up extra things for your university application, or you're a super-organised GCSE student beginning to think about your future, work experience is really useful.
Where can students look for work experience opportunities?The best way to find work experience that's unique and suited to you is simple: research, research, research! This step is really easy – just Google and see what comes up.
For example, for work experience and summer schemes in the legal area, I found a site called All About Law.
I would highly recommend applying to as many different placements as you can. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain.
Any final tips for those looking for work experience?Don't get discouraged! Apply for every single work experience placement you see that you think you'll benefit from, even if it's not the exact area you're interested in.
You never know – you might even get your dream placement out of it, like I have.
Post-work experience: Georgie's time at the United Nations [April 2019 update]
Tell us about your work experience in Geneva. What did you do?It was fairly varied as it depended on which organisation we were visiting.
I received a tour of the Palais Des Nations, the heart of the United Nations in Geneva; visited the Red Cross museum; and had numerous talks at different, amazing organisations, from Medecins Sans Frontieres to the International Labour Organisation.
We were expected to do some research prior to each visit to ensure we had a good understanding of their goals (and therefore, ask relevant questions).
Also, we had to be very independent, catching the trams by ourselves and being on time at meeting points all over the city.
Tip! Before sorting out work experience, make sure it’s doable in terms of arriving on time where you need to be each day. Check the route on Google Maps or ask someone who does a similar journey – if possible, do a practise run before your first day so you know where you’re going.
Also, make sure you know what your employer does, so you can get the most from your time with them. Don’t just follow instructions without understanding exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing; you’ll get much more from your time this way ie when writing about it in your personal statement.
Build your personal statement draft with our tool.
Did anything surprise you?Yes. Despite each of the different organisations being a part of the United Nations, they appeared to be completely separate in most of their aspirations.
For instance, the World Meteorological Office’s emphasis on reducing human impact on the environment is very different to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’s (UNHCR) intense hands-on approach to saving the lives of refugees across the world.
How will this experience help you in the future?I am going to study Theology at the University of Cambridge in October. This work experience has reassured me that you do not need to study Politics or International Relations in order to work for an international organisation like the United Nations.
The UN representatives that I met had studied a variety of subjects, ranging from Media Studies to History of Art.
Plus, this will be a great asset for my Ucas application as I was able to gain real insight into many different fields, which is relevant to many different interests and degrees.
Tip! If you wait until after your work experience to evaluate what you learned, it can be difficult to remember everything you did or thought.
Keep a diary and take 10-15 mins each day to jot down what you did, what you learned as a result and how it will help you in the future (eg in your university decision, personal statement etc). Download our free work experience diary here.
See what entry requirements you need to meet – search for a course now. Alternatively, read our guide to entry requirements.
What was the best bit?The clear highlight for me was visiting the UNHCR as this is the field that I would like to work within in the future.
I was able to learn about all of the different career routes, as well as the real nitty-gritty parts of the job.
Outside of the working hours, I stayed in a hostel with six other girls, which while daunting at first, was my favourite part. After catching a plane by myself, forging friendships with some amazing people and exploring a beautiful foreign city, I feel much better prepared for university because I am aware of my own independence.
Also, it was just pretty awesome eating pizza and drinking wine by the stunning Lake Geneva!
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Would you do anything differently?While I would recommend the trip, I wasn’t quite prepared for how expensive life in Geneva would be.
I knew prices were more expensive than the UK, but in the end my friends and I resorted to eating fast food almost everyday so we wouldn’t run out of money. Even a Burger King was 15 Swiss Francs!
However, there were ways around this. For example, we just grabbed hot food from the nearby Lidl and ate that by the lake.
I have 20 Swiss Francs left in my purse but I can’t exchange them where I live in Wales. So I wish I’d spent them while I was there.
Tip! When sorting out work experience, ask about any expenses your employer will cover eg travel, lunch. This can add up over a week or two…
Check out our full career prospects advice, including our guide to internships and how to boost your job prospects while at uni.
You can also learn more about different job paths in our subject guides, plus see employment stats for a specific university course before applying – try our search tool now.