Be Realistic

Being realistic is key to distinguishing between working abroad and fashioning an international career. This is particularly true at a time of increased budget restraints for so many organizations. Finding a job that lets you travel extensively and work on substantive issues in the fields of international exchange, education, and development is not easy.

"Don't expect the moon just because you have a certain level of education or certain experiences," advised Paul Binkley, former director of career development services for the George Washington University School of Public Policy and Public Administration and now an independent strategic planning consultant working primarily in West Africa. "International development, exchange, and education jobs demand a vast amount of experience: experience abroad, languages, skills, etc. . . . many students would come to me wondering why they're having trouble landing that job they really want even though they have a master's degree or a certain level of education or have spent a year abroad. In this environment, these qualifications are not remarkable. They are expected."

This fact is not meant to deflate the hopes of recent college graduates and suggest that only those with master's degrees, five years of experience, and multiple international experiences can get a job. (Remember the old paradox of job hunting? Those with the experience get the job, but how can you gain the experience if you can't get the job?) What this means, however, is that it's important to have realistic expectations and understand that your dream job—the one with substantive responsibilities, a respectable salary, and business-class international travel—might not come right away.

"Remember that the vast majority of internationally oriented positions are located domestically," Binkley remarked, "so don't dismiss them. Everybody wants to go abroad, but finding a position that allows you to do this often takes a while. It's important to look for positions that give you experience, even if they don't send you abroad."

The Job Search in the Electronic Age

Thanks to the internet, the tools available for your job search expand almost daily. Online job postings, search engines, and social media bring with them the ability to peruse available positions in real time. Print resources, such as this book, are beneficial in their own right: they provide a broader context for your job search and easy-to-reference guidelines and resources. Online sources, however, are more dynamic. They are constantly (in most cases) updated and allow job seekers and other professionals to gain the most current view of trends within a given field, organizations experiencing turnover, and specific jobs available at that moment.

Online postings, job search engines, and social media are certainly valuable when you are actively searching and applying for positions. Yet these online resources should also be used at other times, well before the moment you actually need that next job. For example, you may be a student some time away from graduating and starting a new career. However, it can be instructive to scan job postings and perform random job searches, just to get a better idea about possibilities that might intrigue you. Follow an organization with an appealing mission on Facebook and Twitter. Check out the profiles of leaders you admire on Linkedln. By doing this when you aren't under pressure to actually find, apply for, and obtain a job, you'll have an opportunity to see the range of positions for which organizations are recruiting (and the qualifications and skills they desire), to learn about new organizations, and to better reflect on and refine your own interests. The job search is an ongoing process of exploration and discernment.

 
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