(Want more tips? Join the Cultural Career Cohort!)
Today’s guest post is written by Ashley Houston and Kyle Rausch, two extraordinary bees indeed! They teamed up to share tips and resources for those of you looking to work in the field of international education.
Now that we have a few years behind us of professional International Education experience and are interns for Melibee, we frequently talk to peers who ask how one gets into the field. We also see the well-intentioned message go through on SECUSS-L asking for any tips on how to get started in the field (sometimes even outright asking for a job!). Frequently, these messages are littered with personal details about how many locations an individual has studied abroad and how ‘life-changing’ an experience it was (with little to no explanation about why that is so *yawn*). After having such a transformational opportunity, or maybe even multiple, it is very natural to develop the wanderlust bug and to want to make a career out of helping other students have this ‘Facebook Timeline-approved’ life event. However, one assured way to have your cover letter and resume find a cozy home in the ‘boring’ stack is to harp on about the fact that you’ve been to who-cares-how-many countries in the past two years. Just as that is a tired byline, so too is the sad truth that the economy is rough and the field of International Education is fast-growing with experienced travelers. At Melibee – we hear you. We offer ways for innovative young professionals to find their way in this exciting field to reinvigorate it. So, if you’re up for the countless hours of research, volunteer work, networking, and yes, rejections, then we are happy to share some tips for getting that ever-important first foot in the door.
Education or not?
First things first – education. Typically, you need those two (and sometimes three) letters after your name. And guess what? Education never depreciates, so (at least in most cases) we generally recommend making the investment in yourself. Working through a graduate program will help you hone in on your specific interests and tailor your approach for potential positions. It will allow you to discover if you are more interested in International Student Advising, Education Abroad or something else (if you haven’t made that decision yet)! It may even help you see that working for a program provider might be a better fit than a university. Whatever the case, a graduate degree will provide you with the necessary framework to better contextualize the field, to become familiar with the lingo, and to learn how to work in an intercultural (and educational) environment. Not only do you get the theory and background, it’s going to give you the street cred you need to connect with your new colleagues who already have MA, MS, or PhD next to their names.
Not sure where to start? First, determine what YOU want out of a graduate program and make a list (we love lists):
- How long are you willing to be in school?
- Are you able to relocate?
- How do program cost and repayment come into play?
- Are you most interested in the theoretical components of the field (research, writing, teaching, etc) or more of scholar-practitioner approach (higher education administration, program design, etc)?
- Do you need more international experience to make the most of a grad program?
- Will a structured internship do more for you than volunteering on your own?
Thoughtful research and reflection will help you to answer these questions. There are a plethora of educational programs in the field to consider, but far too many (and too diverse) for us to list here.
- Maybe grad school abroad is what is beckoning you?
If a degree in the international education field doesn’t get you dancing Gangnam style with glee, consider that you do have choices! Does your background in technology or interest in business better suit that type of academic program? If so, don’t rule it out! The title of the degree does not always matter; its the skills related to the degree and what you can do with it that really count. For instance, perhaps a Masters in Higher Education Administration would better prepare you if your goal is to work for an international education office at a university? Or, if you have a background in finance, why not look for positions in large international education offices or third-party providers that have specific positions that require a finance degree? It’s all about how you present your strengths on your resume….and not surprisingly Melibee has just the workshop for that!
What other steps will you need to take to get there? Review key qualifications of those working in the field who hold titles you are daydreaming about. Use LinkedIn to identify professionals in the field of international education. What do their profiles say about them? Why not reach out and ask if they’d be willing to chat for up to a half hour about their experiences? Talking with people who are actively working in the field already is one of the best ways to soak in buckets full of information that you would never get simply by searching for careers on web. Here’s a tip: offer to bring a cup of coffee or tea to that person’s office, acknowledging you understand that they’re busy and that you appreciate their time. Creating that coveted face time gets you introduced to someone in an institution or organization which can lead to other opportunities–maybe a volunteer position or even an internship.
As educators, of course we place a heightened interest on education. However, the reality of today’s economy is that graduating from a relevant degree program is not enough. We find that in a country where a BA degree has become so watered down because of the increase in undergrads, a MA is the new BA. Having some work experience under your belt can actually enrich the graduate school experience. It will provide you with time to hone in on your specific areas of interests in the field while also giving you practical perspective to complement the theories in a grad program. Plus, most potential employers want to see evidence of your ability to work in the field that doesn’t come with a “standard” degree, considering that applicant pools often number in the hundreds for a single entry-level position. In two recent job postings, we saw that the applicant pool numbered close to 200 and included PhD applicants! This data isn’t to deter you, but rather to show you the importance of having more than earning a few letters after your name.
Here are some ways to make sure that you are giving yourself that competitive edge:
- STAY INVOLVED–volunteer, become a student worker/ambassador for your study abroad office, present to clubs/organizations, DO SOMETHING! Remember when you were preparing your college applications and they asked you what extracurricular activities you were involved in? Same concept – except you want to tailor your real world experiences to illustrate your mastery and commitment to international education. Not only will this show the employer that you are able to manage multiple responsibilities, but it backs up the tired phrase of “I’m really passionate about the field” by offering proof that you are passionate enough to do something about it!
- Get an internship. Paid or unpaid, through your grad program or outside, traditional or online – it doesn’t matter! Aside from the real-world work experience you will gain, there is the added benefit of ‘trying before buying.’ Thank goodness we interned in other fields before, otherwise we might have doled out tens of thousands of dollars to pursue a graduate program in the wrong discipline! Internships can help you fine-tune where exactly you want to go in the field while also allowing you to network with key individuals who might get you in the door.
- Stay informed about the field by reading key publications, joining LinkedIn professional groups, and going to professional conferences. Though the national-level conferences might be out of your reach, consider starting out at a regional conference or even volunteering at one. Both of these tactics will ensure that you stay on top of the myriad of acronyms and trends of the field, while conferences have the added benefit of allowing you to network.
- Invest in professional development. Melibee can easily help you with this one with our many affordable MelibeeU workshops that frequently focus on topics for young professionals looking to enter the field or hone their skills. Workshops have included Resume Writing Tips for International Education and How to Negotiate Your Salary. Better yet, Melibee’s founder runs a Cultural Career Cohort for job seekers!
- Find a mentor. Who better to learn from than someone who is already in the field? Our mentors have been instrumental in sharing their stories of how they fell into the field and what they’ve learned along the way. They’ve also put us in contact with key individuals, reviewed cover letters and resumes, and helped us talk through the tough life-decisions. A good mentor is a must! If attending the NAFSA conference, check out their mentorship program!
- Get your voice out there! Whether it be by formally publishing an article or study in an academic journal or voicing your thoughts on trends in the field on your own or someone else’s blog, get your name before eyes of those who might have the power to offer you a job. It also allows for great talking points in an interview and helps you affirm your stance on important issues in our field while simultaneously crafting your voice. Want a start? Have a creative topic for a blog post? Pose it to Melibee and maybe we’ll consider having you appear as a guest blogger!
- Finally, once you have triumphed and actually gain that entry-level job–MILK IT! This is key for starting out in ANY field. Do not adopt the dangerous mentality of “That isn’t my job so I can’t/won’t do it.” Jump at any opportunity to volunteer or help out in unglamorous tasks. Work with as many different individuals in the office to learn the ins-and-outs. Have an idea for a creative way to improve a process that doesn’t necessarily fall under your job duties? Suggest it! These seemingly little things will not go unnoticed and you may very well find your way climbing the success ladder sooner than you might have expected. You’ve got that very important first foot in so capitalize on it! Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something, look around and what do you see that could be changed for the better? Of course you don’t want to waltz in a new job and uproot everything, but using careful discretion to propose innovative solutions to longstanding problems will certainly get you noticed!
Other resources that you should definitely make a point to reference:
- Check out NAFSA’s Breaking In: Entering the Field of International Education chat transcript
- Subscribe to the SECUSS-L listserv
- Read articles on the field at Transitions Abroad
- Visit Wandering Educators and theiropportunities section
- Always stay familiar with our field’s professional organizations such as NAFSA, the Forum on Education Abroad, SIETAR, AIEA and IASAS.
- And of course, this site, Melibee Global where you should check in frequently for blog posts, workshops, tools and the store to help you in your educational and professional growth in the field!
It’s okay to be frustrated with the job search, but please don’t give up! (At Melibee, we use the term “buzz on” – even when things seem difficult!) The field needs your energy, passion, creativity, and innovation. Play the game of “no’s”. For every rejection, “no” or roadblock you get you are one step closer to your goal of a “Yes.” Go out and there and collect some “no’s”! But remember, continue re-evaluating, adjusting, tweaking, and pocketing your experiences along the way. Be mindful of where you can improve and who might be there to help you. That way, when the big YES finally comes your way it will be all the more exciting.
(Want more tips? Join the Cultural Career Cohort!)
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