How to Start a Career in International Relations | Top Universities

How to Start a Career in International Relations

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated April 6, 2021 Updated April 6, 2021

This article is sponsored by IE University. Find out about studying International Relations at IE >

Generally, careers in international affairs exist across three sectors: public, private and non-profit/NGO. Governments, international organizations, multinational companies, development consulting firms, NGOs, and think tanks are typical employers in the international relations arena. Here are some tips to help those on the lookout for international relations careers.

1. Get a Masters in International Relations

A graduate degree is a prerequisite in the sphere of international affairs. Recruiters expect their new hires to have not only cross-cultural experience but also cross-disciplinary skills. Among different graduate programs, a Masters in International Relations would be the most relevant, helping give students both the skills and experience necessary.

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the program, a master’s in international relations will open the doors to a wide range of international relations careers. It not only allows students to gain expertise across a wide set of disciplines including languages, humanities, economics, politics and business, among others, but also to gain transferable professional skills including writing, quantitative and qualitative analysis, planning and organization and cross-cultural awareness. Joint degrees in business or law can also serve you well in such positions.

Along with the soft and hard skills developed on a master’s program, you will also be able to draw upon your undergraduate major, your previous field experience, and personal interests in a specific functional topic in order to develop expertise which will serve you well in the international affairs arena.

2. Do some international relations career research

Due to the differing focuses and specializations of international relations programs offered by universities, it is necessary to do in-depth research before sending out an application. Career research needs to be done even earlier than program research, as choosing a program which resonates with your interests and career goals should form a crucial part of your career strategy. This will almost certainly accelerate your professional development.

When it comes to career research, you need to understand the different characteristics of careers in all three sectors. Organizations in the public (government) sector may always be of a bureaucratic nature, but by landing a job there you can get the chance to be involved with important international projects. There is greater flexibility in the non-profit sector and a comparatively casual professional environment. You will have a more ‘hands-on’ opportunities, but salary levels are often lower than the other two sectors. Both the private and non-profit sectors are hard to define precisely, given the huge variety of causes and industries which are encompassed within these broad categories.

One useful resource for conducting program research into international relations careers would be the website of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA.org).

3. Find international relations internships

If you are a first time job seeker in the international affairs sector or a career switcher, then international relations internships or volunteering work with an organization could be a good place to start. Internships offer several advantages: you can get insights into and an understanding of a particular career field, form a network for your future job search, raise your visibility and get access to unadvertised job opportunities. Organizations like the UN, the European Union, international NGOs, and multinational corporations all have annual internship programs for graduate students or recent graduates.

International relations students often have the opportunity to expand their international and professional experience by choosing to do a 3-6 month internship during the program.

Due to the very wide choice of international relations careers, the IE Career Management Center informs students of internship opportunities at private sector, public sector and non-profits organizations throughout the year.

One example of this is an internship program run in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain. Students have an option to take part in an internship with Spanish embassies and consulates all around the world; for each year there are nearly 300 positions available. EMZINGO Group, an innovative company devoted to social consulting projects in emerging markets, also recruits international relations students for their fellowship program in Africa and Latin America.

4. Gain international experience and learn a foreign language

In addition to technical skills, recruiters in the international relations arena look at candidates’ international experience, cross-cultural awareness and language skills. A proven ability to work well in cross-cultural teams, evidence of an international mind-set, field experience in developing countries, and fluency in a foreign language will definitely help you in your search for international relations careers.

5. Use your business networking skills

One of the best platforms to apply your business networking skills would be relevant events or conferences. Websites like Idealist.org, amd Devex consistently post events on their websites. Devex also organize their own professional gatherings in several cities in the world and two career fairs a year.

If you decide to pursue a Masters in International Relations, then remember to network with your professors; the best practitioners in the sector who can help you land your first job and send you along your way to your perfect international relations career.

By Shuo Xing, Associate Director of the IE Career Management Center

This article was originally published in September 2013 . It was last updated in April 2021

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