I often do informational interviews with people who want to find out how they can get a job working in study abroad (which is how this site started). Sometimes when I start asking questions about why they want to pursue a job in a study abroad office, their answers reveal that what they want to do in terms of day-to-day work doesn't always match up to the job description. It can be surprising to learn I spend very little of my time:
* Traveling the world (or the US)
* Leading study abroad programs
* Working with international students
* Interacting with people from other cultures
* Developing new study abroad programs
But wait... looking at your career, haven't you done all of those things?
The answer is YES, absolutely! I sought out special opportunities to undertake those responsibilities in various jobs over the years. And my current position is so varied that those assignments do come up. I do assist faculty members in designing their programs. I have some interaction with our incoming exchange students. I email with my counterparts abroad, across time zones and cultures. And I get the occasional overseas site visit. I love that part!
But the vast majority of my job is working to recruit and prepare American students for overseas study. I do this from a desk on campus. Some days I feel like my job is 99% email!
What does this mean for breaking in?
A lack of awareness regarding how university-based education abroad professionals spend their time can result in newcomers putting heaps of effort into a job search for a narrow position that might not be their ideal global career. International education is a huge field with many diverse career specialties. Study abroad advisor is just one job title. The great news is that there are alternative jobs out there that let you flex your intercultural skills and tie-in your passion for international experiences. So you might consider casting a wider net during your search.
What are these alternatives?
Here are 5 alternatives you might consider:
1. Regional Representative / Client Relations
WHAT THEY DO: Work for a study abroad program provider to develop and maintain relationships with decision makers (i.e., faculty, study abroad advisors, students, parents) at partner universities within an assigned geographic region. The job requires frequent domestic travel to meet face-to-face with partners, conduct information sessions, and attend study abroad fairs. Many individuals work from a home office and travel 15 or more weeks per year. The hours are long and the travel can be grueling -- lots of road trips and economy flights, making it hard to have a pet (or a relationship). There may be opportunities for overseas site visits and conferences. The great news is that a master's degree is typically not required to break in. If you start off in this job it is a wonderful way to network in the field and decide where you'd like to work next.
* You are a road warrior at heart and love to plan travel on short notice.
* You are energized by public speaking and answering questions.
* You love to promote and market study abroad wherever you can.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to travel and encourage others.
2. International Student & Scholar Advisor
WHAT THEY DO: Work with incoming international students and scholars to assist them with all aspects of transition to a US university. Duties may include some programming (orientation/social programs) but typically require immigration advising too. This will require specialized knowledge of SEVIS and the ability to serve as a PDSO/DSO to issue I-20s/DS2019s and a whole host of other acronyms and abbreviations related to the maintenance of immigration documents. As you can imagine, this requires special training in law/policy, attention to detail, as well as superior intercultural communication skills. You can learn the basics in a NAFSA workshop at a regional or national conference. A master's degree is often preferred, but not always required. There are usually more international student advising jobs posted than study abroad advising jobs.
* You want frequent international student interaction.
* You have strong intercultural communication skills.
* You excel at understanding, interpreting, and communicating complex regulations.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to work with people from different cultures.
3. International Admissions Recruiter
WHAT THEY DO: Work for a university, domestically and abroad, developing collegial relationships with secondary school personnel, agents, and funding agencies to build relationships with prospective international students. Recruiters work closely with International Enrollment Management/ International Admissions to achieve enrollment goals and communication targets. Oftentimes they will travel to overseas college fairs in the target regions. Current enrollment trends mean recruiters spend a lot of time in Asia and the Middle East, but target regions depend on the institution. As a recruiter you are the face of your institutional brand.
* You are a skilled intercultural communicator-- bonus for foreign language fluency.
* You love to promote and market study in the US.
* You love long periods of overseas travel and are open to going anywhere, anytime, even if it means you won't have time to explore.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in a desire for international student interaction and overseas travel.
4. Program Officer for a Grant/Fellowship Agency
WHAT THEY DO: Manage a caseload of grant applications, from submission, to selection, to placement, and program implementation. Specifics will depend on the agency and the type of placements or grants, but the focus is on ensuring the funding agency and student/scholar needs are both met. Some limited domestic travel may be a part of the job. You could even be called upon to welcome and lead scholars during part of their program. Many of these jobs are located in New York or Washington, D.C. where cost of living is high but international networking opportunities abound.
* You are passionate about citizen diplomacy.
* The idea of working for a international agency on high-impact work excites you.
* You don't mind if most of your work takes place at a desk.
* Your interest in study abroad is about making a change in the world.
5. Faculty Leader
WHAT THEY DO: Faculty leaders are full-time professors who also take on responsibilities to lead and manage programs abroad. They may do this through their home institution, by developing a faculty-led program, or they may teach for a study abroad program provider. In addition to their teaching duties, they take on thankless tasks behind the scenes-- everything from comforting homesick students to health and safety emergencies in the middle of the night. Leading a program abroad seems like a dream from the participant's perspective, but can be equal parts challenge and reward for the faculty member. The upside is that you get to interact with college students and see them grow in so many ways, all while getting paid to travel the world. But the pathway to this position is long (PhD) and requires that you also love teaching and research since the overseas part is limited.
* You have/or are willing to pursue a doctorate in your field of study
* Your true love is teaching and research
* You have no qualms about a 24/7 job with occasional high-stress scenarios
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to develop and lead programs
These are just 5 options but there are many more. When seeking out opportunities, keep in mind that the job titles can vary widely. A great place to start your search for alternatives to study abroad is the NAFSA Job Registry where you can isolate your search to different categories.
Hopefully this post helps you to explore not only what might be out there, but helps you to take pause and ask yourself WHY you want to launch your study abroad career.
I used to play a game at the airport on my way to NAFSA conferences. I called it "spot the international educator". It was little things that were a giveaway -- a Peace Corps tote bag, Bjorn/Clarks shoes, wrinkle-free flowing travel clothes, a university luggage tag, a cell phone conversation about an in-office emergency as they were about to board a plane... I know I am ridiculous, but I was good at spotting my fellow IE colleagues!
Obviously, you can't tell by looking at someone whether or not they work in international education, but there are still some things we all talk about, or joke about, because they are shared work experiences. In the spirit of this same fun, here are my top seven signs you are a study abroad advisor:
7. Date Amnesia
When the New Year rolls in you’ve got it covered. You've been writing out 2016 for a good 6-12 months as you work on future program enrollment. Despite this fact, you can never remember what year it is. Sometimes date amnesia is accompanied by complete lack of seasonal awareness. (But you still measure time in semesters)
6. Terminology Aversion
The terms "trip"and "tour" make you shudder and want to stand on your desk chair, asserting "We are not a travel agency!" Similarly, if you had a quarter for every essay where the student wants to immerse or submerge themselves abroad, you'd be able to retire now and go on an actual trip.
5. Travel Warning Twitch
Your friend mentions her upcoming beach vacation in Mexico and your internal work dialogue starts, “Does she know there is a Travel Warning? I wonder if she has insurance with evacuation or global assist? Does her policy cover D.O.S. travel warning countries?”
4. Social Media Spillover
You are cruising your Facebook feed to relax and you see there's been an earthquake on the other side of the world. You you instantly pop out your smartphone to do a locator search for students and go into emergency mode—even when you know there are no programs there. You are just certain the phone will ring, regardless. The 24/7 nature of our jobs (and mobility of our students) mean there is no off switch.
3. Wanderlust-killing Pragmatism
When you hear someone swoon about one day moving to [insert country here] to open a farm to table B&B, you inadvertantly kill their joy with, “You do realize you need a work visa, right? And have you researched property ownership rights in that country? How about tax treaties?”
2. The Box of Bags
They range from the nicer conference bags (NAFSA/Forum) to the nifty canvas totes from partner universities...you have them all. And you can't bear to toss them out. But when it comes to BYO grocery bags, you've got it covered. If you already purged the bags, you likely still have the name badges & flair. You know who you are!
1. A Prominently Displayed Postcard Collection
Admit it...Your heart swoons when a student sends you a postcard from abroad. You've got those suckers pinned up like trophies in your office. You get butterflies when students thank you for your help and even more grins when it's from the student who was always late with paperwork. The fact that they developed the agency to hunt down a stamp and mail you an update from abroad (unprompted) makes you feel like a proud parent. THIS is why we do the work we do-- study abroad changes lives.
If you have applied for a study abroad job at a university, you probably already know there are hundreds of applicants for each position. You might wonder why you are not advancing, when clearly you are a stellar candidate. (We believe you.) The truth is, sometimes it is not you. Sometimes it is simply the process that allows candidates to filter up or down.
I've come to the stage in my career where I am asked to serve on international education search committees. This has been an illuminating experience, to say the least. On the outside you imagine it being a simplified process-- resumes come in, there is a short-list, and the best candidate is chosen from the pool. Once in the inner circle, you realize it is a complex and multi-phase process, guided by HR protocol and the deeper psychology of elimination. And what seemed like the top candidate can miss the mark anywhere along the way.
During my most recent search committee experiences, I tried to make note of what went on from start to finish so I could share it with all of you. I hope these observations help you to consider how each phase presents its own challenges and opportunities for you as a candidate.
PHASE 1: Resume Review
1) Meet all minimum requirements.
2) Meet as many preferred requirements as possible.
In a way, the resume review is all about the checklist-- you want to hit all of the marks. HR usually has a checklist that follows the posted job description. Don't leave anything to assumption. If it says "fluency in a foreign language", list it -- even if you were a Spanish major.
Search Committee Mindset:
Looking for reasons to eliminate
A spelling error or cliche can get you in the "nope" pile. The same goes for overly long (or short) resumes/cover letters and bad formatting.
Pique their curiousity.
What makes you stand out? They may put you in the "yes" pile just because they want to hear more. Do you have an interesting hobby that demonstrates an allied skill set? Include it on your resume. You might not think your weekly Star Wars podcast is of interest, but it shows you have skills in marketing, writing, communication, and technology. And they will remember you as the "Star Wars Guy/Gal".
Be authentic in your cover letter when describing why you want this job in this organization. Have you been trying to break in for a while? Say so. Describe your efforts (ex. informational interviews, pursuing continuing education, conferences attended, etc.) to demonstrate you are serious about the profession long-term. Show them why you are a good investment.
PHASE 2: Phone/Skype Interview
Tell a compelling story of who you are and what you can do.
Everyone will get the same exact questions during this phase. For this reason, answers will tend to have some similarity among candidates. Your job is to not only answer the questions, but use your response to highlight your unique strengths. You want the committee to have confidence that you are worth the $$$$ price tag for a campus invite.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing and ranking candidates
In this phase, resume credentials tend to take a back-burner to soft skills. How well you communicate, and how well you think on your feet, can make the difference in if you secure the on-campus interview. They will be comparing your strengths to all of the other candidates'. Interview order can be important psychologically. Earlier candidates might be less memorable, while later candidates will be sized up to those who come before.
Find ways to share real-life examples of work you've done, inspiring them to think of what ideas/attitude you will bring to the team. Read up on the PAR method before you start your interview.
PHASE 3: On-Campus Interview
Keep your game face at all times.
It is common for an on-campus interview to last all day, through at least one meal, and include both group and individual interviews with multiple stakeholders. It is tiring. Don't let your guard down, even during "casual" times like a campus tour. Don't speak ill of anyone-- especially former employers or anyone involved in the delivery of your study abroad experience.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing candidates' weaknesses
In the phone/Skype interview phase, the committee tends to rank candidates based on their strengths, but during the on-campus phase things are higher stakes. Not to scare you, but they are now more sensitive to your flaws. Not that they are looking for you to mess up or trying to break you down, but if something negative stands out in the way you respond or communicate, it will likely be discussed in post-interview deliberation.
After all interviews are complete, each committee member will be asked to rank on-campus candidates in order. Then a discussion ensues where each member tries to persuade the others their top candidate is "the one". In some circumstances, this can come down to pointing out candidates' (real or perceived) weaknesses.
Hopefully, this piece gives you some food for thought as you craft your resume and cover letter or as you pre are for your next phone/on-campus interview. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below-- whether it comes from your perspective as a job candidate or as a person who has served on a university search committee.