Top Tips for a Career in International Affairs
Careers in International Affairs are highly desired, and it is no secret that the competition is fierce. That is not to say it is not worthwhile to pursue this career path; if anything, this warning should motivate students and job-seekers to start thinking at the earliest possible stage about entering the world of global affairs. I would like to share some useful advice that we have been given from a diverse range of excellent speakers at the annual Global Diplomatic Career Event on April 26th, 2016.
There are many essential attributes that a potential candidate should bring, and this list is not exhaustive; however, the following are the indispensable assets mentioned that a future International Affairs candidate should bring along:
GET INVOLVED – SHOW INDEPENDENCE OF THOUGHT AND ACTION
A major mistake many students make is to focus exclusively on their grades and university career in such a way that they miss the opportunity to get involved. However, if you have a regular commitment outside university, you will be developing a range of skills over and above those you develop in your course work, and those skills are the ones that will distinguish you from other candidates. As Lembit Öpik, British politician and former Member of Parliament, says “you need three things: a vision (your telos or story), values, and commitment; without these, career in global politics is absolutely pointless”. This also includes the fact that it is not enough to be 'generally interested in the subject matter'. There is no replacement for genuine, unbounded curiosity, and in many cases this might be more helpful in the long run than above-average grades in obtaining the job you desire.
Another valuable piece of advice that was offered by Jonathan Paris, London-based political analyst, and which is linked to the former idea, is how very important it is to improve your writing skills and start publishing your ideas. Not only is it satisfying to see the results of your hard work going into print, but it also establishes you as a member of the research community.
Furthermore, it forces you to clarify your thoughts and to fit them in the current state of research in your field. Writing book reviews or blog posts could be a good way for those who are still in the early stage of their careers to get published.
PLAN YOUR INTERNSHIPS/TRAINEESHIPS AT LEAST A YEAR AHEAD
If you are a first-time job seeker or a career switcher, then assistant positions or internships are a good place to start. They are more accessible than junior positions, but they still help you to get an understanding of a particular career field and raise your visibility in the community, not to mention the valuable contacts you get that might give you access to unadvertised job opportunities. International Organisations such as the European Union, the U.N., or multinational corporations all have annual internships available. However, for these organisations, planning ahead is vital. Consider possible visa restrictions, travel arrangements, scholarship applications and more importantly, internship application deadlines. We were given information by Paul Kaye, E.U. representation in London, that application processes can take up to several months; it is thus recommended to start thinking about those internships at least a year ahead.
ALTERNATE EDUCATIONAL TRACKS
Another important point that Paul Kaye clarified is that degrees in International Relations or other related fields are not exclusive prerequisites to enter the sphere of International Affairs. There is no single educational path to international jobs, as his curriculum vitae shows. Before joining the E.U. he worked in a range of jobs, including translating and radio presenting. He then entered his position at the E.U. not through the conventional route, by joining the E.U. Fast Stream, but through an E.U. translator recruitment position. Hence, experience in non-related fields and non-related educational background can even be considered an asset if one is able to use it to his or her advantage.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE: WORK, STUDY, VOLUNTEER, AND LANGUAGE SKILLS
International experience is a critical supplement to any sort of educational background in entering the job market of International Affairs because it will broaden your international mind-set and improve your fluency in a foreign language, says Nigel Watt, Coordinating Committee for international Voluntary Service. Recruiters in the international arena look at candidates’ proven language ability. Exotic language combinations can be a major asset in finding a job in this field. Studies abroad or volunteering experiences are the perfect opportunity to experience international relations at a personal level. For more information about volunteer options from the Coordinating Committee for international Voluntary Service, please find the link below.
PHD OR NOT TO PHD?
A Ph.D. is the conventional career path and an indispensable prerequisite to enter an International Relations career in Academia, but successful curricula vitae like Jonathan Paris’s show that is not the only way to be successful and respected in the field of International Affairs. It is not clear that a Ph.D. is worth the extra effort, unless one is highly interested in a specific research question. If not, the years and money spent on a doctoral dissertation could be spent more efficiently by gaining practical experience in or outside of your home country.
BE A MAVERICK
To finish with Lembit Öpik's words: “To do what you may want to do, you don't have to be a maverick, but to be a world changer, you have to show independence of thought and action!” Hence, the most important thing is not to sit around and wait for a job. One has to be pro-active, take risks, do research on what organisations exist and what interests you, and, most importantly, get involved. The speakers list and links below might give an idea of potential employment options which exist in the field of International Affairs.