Trying to break into the field of international education or advancing at any level can be a challenging process, especially for aspiring professionals. In some ways the cards are stacked against you: You may or may not have your master’s degree. You have little to no full-time experience. You have most likely studied abroad, loved your experience and now want to make a career out of it. Where to start?
If you are dedicated to working in international education and have a passion for it, you will first and foremost need perseverance. The job search process is challenging, as the field is very specific and there are a growing number of graduates who wish to enter. Despite the challenges, Education Abroad (EA) is a very rewarding field and worth the effort.
"Be prepared for a potentially long and exhaustive search. My own job search took a nation-wide effort, about 90 job applications, dozens of phone interviews, a few in-person interviews and a grand total of about a year (nine-months of full-time searching) before I secured my first position at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. There were days when I was ready to give up and resort to being a server at the local chain restaurant which was supporting me during the search, but I knew that I wanted to work in EA and now was the time to put myself out there in order to break in." –Peggy Retka, education abroad expert
Take advantage of online and local resources and stay abreast of the field. Here are some resources to get you started:
This is an email listserv designed to help professionals in the field share resources and information. SECUSS-L provides a place for professionals who work in education abroad to share their experience and knowledge. Advisers, administrators and program directors find postings about programming issues, program and scholarship announcements, job openings and much more. Plus, you can subscribe for free. Follow etiquette and guidelines when receiving or posting to SECUSS-L.
These are designed to address specific topics in EA. You can find more details about these offerings at the NAFSA website. They help you stay up-to-date in the field.
Consider International Education conferences sponsored by NAFSA, the FORUM, Diversity Abroad, or CIEE. There are both regional and national conferences so you can usually find something in your area. Also consider local conferences that deal with the field of international education. While there, be sure to network and look for jobs, but also attend sessions. These give you an idea of the current and relevant topics in the field. "Hot topics" provide you an insider’s view and this knowledge can assist you in the application and interview processes. To help with the cost of attendance, you may want to consider volunteering at the conference in exchange for a portion of your fee.
NAFSA's Career Center contains information on career resources and career paths in international education, along with the NAFSA job registry.
NAFSA's Knowledge Communities helps you “discover new ideas, practice resources, relevant training and events and the latest news about your particular professional area. Seek advice or share your thoughts by participating in NAFSA's 14 Professional Networks sponsored by NAFSA’s five Knowledge Communities.”
Set up a time to meet with study abroad professionals or others in your area. Ask if they are willing to meet with you to discuss their entry into the field and how you might best position yourself for a successful search. Be sure to go in prepared with a list of pertinent questions. You are conducting this interview for information, not employment.
Many metropolitan areas conduct some sort of monthly or quarterly meetings of education abroad professionals. Ask around to see if there is a meeting in your area that is open attendance. These are great ways to network and stay up on those “hot topics” in the field. Boston, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin are a few places that have these professional groups.
For Minnesota and the surrounding states the group is MSAP—Education Abroad Professionals of Minnesota.
If you don’t have a lot of experience in the field of EA, the only way to “get your foot in the door” may be to gain some valuable work experience through volunteer opportunities. You could achieve this at an office near your home or through a national, regional or state conference. Please note that while volunteers do help the organization, they require training and supervision that some offices cannot support. If looking to volunteer, you should also be prepared to to have a background check done.
You can find job postings on the NAFSA Job Registry, Forum Jobs and on each school or organization’s individual website. If you are set on staying in one geographical area, make sure you are connected with the offices in that area. Bookmark your favorite or target schools/organizations and check their listings regularly.
If you are looking specifically in the Minnesota area, and would like to do a broader job search, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Job Board is another great resource.
Limiting your options by refusing to leave a certain city can be detrimental to breaking into the field. If possible it is recommended that you indicate in your cover letter that you are willing to relocate. Be aware that an entry-level position may or may not include moving expenses. Once you have gained 3 to 5 years of experience and have earned your Master’s degree, you may be able to be more selective.
As important as it is to be humble as you break into the field, you also need to make sure that the institutions for which you are accepting interviews and job offers are reputable within the field. Where you break into the field could help make or break the rest of your career. Talk to others already in the field if they work with that particular institution. Would they recommend the programs to their students? Reflect on whether or not this office and the larger institution fit your personality and professional goals.
So you have secured a phone or in-person interview. Now is the time to switch gears and focus on the task at hand. You should spend a significant amount of time preparing for your interview. Remember that your first impression does stick.
If you are fortunate enough to make it to the interview stages (either over the phone or in-person), make sure you walk in ready to dazzle them. Review the employer’s website and publications and talk to anyone you know who works there. It is important to show that you have some knowledge of the organization. Attempt to reference their programs specifically during your interview.
Go through the job description and think of skills that you have which make you the best candidate for the job. Also list specific experiences that you have which illustrate the qualities they are looking for. Try to incorporate any trends that you see in the field. Take notes (especially for phone interviews) and be prepared to talk to their specific requirements. Always have questions prepared in advance, and it is a good idea to organize a closing argument. It is important to not sound too rehearsed. When leaving the interview be sure to shake the interviewers’ hands and thank them for their time.
See our tips on resume building for more ideas on how to eloquently talk about your experiences and how you would benefit the interviewer’s organization. Be articulate, confident (without being arrogant) and let your enthusiasm shine through.
There are many people at your home institution and private agencies which can help you prepare for interviews. Bring with you all of the information you have about the job and the institution.
During your interview you can ask about the anticipated timeline for their search. Based on their feedback, follow up with the appropriate office (usually Human Resources) about the status for your search. Show that you are interested, but do not be too demanding. Also send a professional thank you to the interview committee for their time.