Hands-down this is the number one question I get asked. 10 years ago I gave a standard reply of, "You'll need a master's degree, 2 years of work experience, a foreign language, and at least 3-6 months of living in another country-- at minimum".
My advice lately has become more nuanced as both the economy and the industry have shifted. I have a harder time giving a blanket recommendation of another degree and delayed earnings for entry into a low-paying field to someone who is already saddled with undergraduate debt. But first, some background on why.
Many (most?) study abroad career hopefuls approach the process in the following way:
The sad truth is that at the end of all of that you might still wind up in the same spot. Even if you've made the most of your graduate student status (more on that in an upcoming post) there is still the risk that you won't find a job right away. Many do, but there is just no guarantee. And now your loans are probably double so the stakes are higher. I totally empathize.
What do I recommend instead? Change your approach to match your situation.
If you are still an undergraduate:
If you've graduated:
Start searching for entry-level recruiting positions at study abroad program providers (not universities). Good bets for jobs without a master's requirement are those with titles such as Regional Representative, University Relations Coordinator, Recruiter, etc. The field nickname is "Road Warrior". (Learn more about by checking out Eric's Profile) These roles often only require a Bachelor's degree and overseas study experience. The positions sometimes have higher turnover because they hire recent graduates who are more likely to move on to a master's program or into another role. You'll need stand-out verbal/written communication skills, flexibility, stamina to travel domestically, and killer organization/multi-tasking skills.
I consider the "Road Warrior" role one of the absolute best starting study abroad jobs. You get to use all of that enthusiasm to promote study abroad opportunities to college students, you travel a ton (hello frequent flyer miles / hotel points), and because you are working directly with the universities in your region-- you quickly learn a lot about those universities. This means finding out where you'd one day want to work -- or which offices you might want to avoid! Then when your dream position opens up at a university you will already be a known entity.
Search for a masters degree program at a university with a graduate assistantship opportunity in study abroad, international education, career services, academic advising, or even residential life. Don't assume these opportunities are advertised. You will likely have to ask! And you will need to time it right. Start looking/asking in January or February for an August start date.
A graduate assistantship (GA) is a game changer when it comes to your masters. When you land a GA position the benefits are twofold: free (or reduced) graduate tuition AND salaried part-time work experience within higher education. Another benefit of a GA position is proximity to insider opportunities. You might get some minor professional development funding, expanded networking opportunities, the chance to do study abroad research abroad or propose a special project, and so forth. A GA position allows you to leave university with a reduced-cost (or free) masters degree and actual paid work EXPERIENCE that can help you land a permanent job. You aren't guaranteed a job at the end but you will be in a better position (richer resume, less debt) than if you'd taken out huge loans and gone the traditional masters degree route. The GA can often serve as that 1-2 years of work experience you need to break into the field.
If you are a career changer:
Take a skills inventory. What prior work experience do you have? Teaching, training, accounting, marketing, video production, IT/networking, website development, clerical work, social media management, SEO, database administration, risk management/law, insurance, sales.... Guess what?! ALL of these have a place in the field of study abroad. TODAY I have read study abroad job descriptions that would be ideal for someone with work experience in any of these allied fields. If you venture out from the traditional places (colleges and universities) and traditional roles (study abroad advising) you might find positions are a lot more flexible in terms of education requirements. Don't get hung up on the masters before you have leveraged your killer skill set.
"Yeah, but how am I ever going to move up or change jobs without a master's degree?"
So here's a not so secret HUGE perk about working in international education... while these positions won't make you rich, it is common for full-time roles come with some form of tuition support for graduate education as a part of the benefits package. If you work at a university there's normally partial/full tuition remission for graduate work at that particular institution. If you work for a program provider it's common for them to offset some of your tuition expense to help make their benefits packages comparable to industry. This means you can work full time and get paid and, if you are willing to do graduate work a class or two at a time, you might just get financial support to pursue your masters degree. That perk value can easily be 30-60k. Nowadays there are graduate programs with online or low-residency options designed for working higher education professionals.
For those of you who are working in the field WITHOUT a master's degree... How did you do it? Let us hear your stories in the comments section below.
One of the stranger parts of working in my corner of higher education is explaining my job to "regular people". When I tell them my title, they have all of these questions and I tend to deflate them with my answers.
Person: Ooooh, I bet you travel around the world a lot!
Me: Not really. I work on a campus. Mostly I email.
Person: It must be fun getting to plan trips for people.
Me: Nah, I don't really do that.
Person: Well, I bet you speak all of the languages!
Me: My Spanish is comparable to that of a 4-year-old with a strong grasp of the present tense.
If I'm feeling surly I break into something about 24/7 crisis response and pulling my grocery cart over to run a StudioAbroad locator search on my phone when a glance at my Facebook feed reveals a terror incident took place. (I'm super fun at parties.)
If you are a new reader of Study Abroad Careers this dream job fantasy might be what has drawn you to the field in the first place and how you landed on this website. You definitely studied abroad and now want to keep living that global life (kudos). Working in study abroad seems like the best way. It totally can be a dream job, just not in the ways you first think. Working inside study abroad is way different and sometimes even better than being on the other side.
If you are a long-time reader you probably already know my goal is to show the authentic honest portrait of what we do in international education vs. sell the Instagram version. That's why I feature real people in the field via Real Careers. That is why I have guest bloggers and interviews about different facets of the work. I want people to know that even though I'm not jet-setting, playing Rick Steves, or a polyglot, I still have a truly fantastic job. It's not because of the cool factor, it's because I get to interact with students during one of the most meaningful times in their lives.
Why am I telling you all this? Because so many people fall in love with the idea of working in education abroad that they jump right to job applications part before taking the time to consider what they want and need from a job. Then they wind up a bit deflated if that specific job doesn't provide what they hoped. It took me 15+ years to figure out that if you want to be truly happy in your work it's not just about working in the field. If you don't want to burn out, you also need to think hard about 2 more pieces:
1) In what kind of environment do you thrive?
2) How do you want to spend your days?
Those things can matter so much more than the job title or pay. The mission of your organization might light you on fire, but how do you actually fill those 40+ hours? And what is your work environment like? Surprisingly, this can vary WIDELY based on where you work and what role you have within that organization. A person who has the job title Regional Field Recruiter for a 3rd party study abroad program provider will have days that look very different from a person who is a Study Abroad Program Assistant in the exact same company.
The recruiter might work from home 10 months a year and spend upwards of 75% of their time traveling regionally with no time for a pet or partner. When they are not standing at a college info table or giving presentations (trying not to lose their voice), they are entering contact details from student interest cards at the Comfort Inn or following up with students via email from a laptop at the airport. They only interact with students on the front end and never get to hear about a given student's experiences but they have all the frequent flyer miles and hotel points to score a summer vacay.
Conversely, the program assistant might never travel unless they are lucky enough to get their turn to go to NAFSA. Instead they work in an office with a team of awesome study abroad pros who helped onboard them (and like to walk on lunch breaks). They might have zero face-to-face contact with college students, but their days are filled with phone calls to participants (and wary parents) from universities all over the US. They exchange emails (in English) with colleagues at universities abroad, having to keep the time zones in mind as they work. The walls of their cubicle might be lined with thank you postcards from former students they've never actually met.
And it is not just the title that makes things different "on the ground". A Study Abroad Advisor working at a small liberal arts college will likely have a different type of day and work environment than someone with the same title in a large research university. Office size, university demographics, institutional philosophy, access to technology, bureaucracy, budget constraints.... all of these will impact the way you are expected to do your job. You won't be able to foresee all of these factors up front but it is helpful to do some reflection before you set out on a job search.
If you are already in the field and considering a move to another role/organization you probably already know the answers to the questions below. If you have never had a full-time job, it might be hard to know, but prior schoolwork or part-time jobs can still help you to take an inventory of where you stand.
So think about it...
Notice how none of those questions have anything to do about study abroad?
Now go back to those study abroad job descriptions you were just checking out, eagerly ready to apply online. Do these jobs still meet YOUR criteria? Is it too hard to get a feel? Could some informational interviews with working professionals help you better understand which roles and organizations are a good fit? If you are already actively engaged in a search....Think about your upcoming phone or in-person interview. What new questions might you want to ask at the end of the interview? Are there things you want to pay attention to as you tour the office?
Just this week I completed a survey for someone's dissertation (having worn student-researcher shoes I always respond to surveys). One survey question asked me to report "why you decided to work in international education". There were a number of choices to put in rank order, including: committed to developing global citizens, personal intercultural experiences, want to make a difference, desire to travel, stable career, salary incentives (hahaha!), and others. To tell you the truth, I struggled with this task more than I should have.
Why is it I wanted to do this work again?!?
This is my 15th year. At this point study abroad is a well-worn career path. If I think back to when I first made a commitment to pursue a study abroad job I wanted to make a difference and had this deep desire to help others become global citizens, particularly students from backgrounds where international travel seemed out of reach.
I'm now at an institution that allows me to fulfill those goals. This is probably why it still feels satisfying all these years later. Yet I will be the first to admit that, setting aside the lofty do-goodism stuff, there's also nice comfort in a stable cyclical university job. Every day is different, but I generally know what is coming. I know when to predict the crazy weeks. And it's summer now so the change of pace helps me to recharge. Over time I've grown to see job satisfaction isn't just about the type of industry you work in, but also finding happiness in what your days look like.
Completing that survey also pushed me to reflect upon the Study Abroad Careers community. So many of you are just starting out in your international education journey. I continue to be inspired by how hard study abroad job seekers work to break into the field these days. It seems like a good time to touch base and ask, what's your why? Is it the same do-goodism? The possibility of travel? The chance to follow in the footsteps of a mentor? Something else?
Comment below to let me know:
Why do you want to find a study abroad job? What drives you?
Networking is a critical part of the study abroad job search process. We've all heard the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know". Well, it's often true. You obviously need the skills to do the job, but first you need an interview or personal connection where you can communicate your potential. A referral from an insider, who will personally vouch for your work quality and motivation, can help you get a second look or open doors to future opportunities. This is true for newbies and those of you looking to move up/on from an exisiting position.
I get that you already know this stuff. I'm not telling you anything new. But I mention it because what I do find is that how to request help and what to do after recieving help isn't as well understood. Your actions at these two points can make the difference between a professional contact actively supporting your job search or just providing the perfunctory recommendation letter. To be honest, if you really miss the mark you could jeopardize future requests for help.. Yikes!
So here are 3 tips, based on my experiences on the referral side of things --
First, say "Please"
This may seem rather basic, but ask before you list someone as a reference. Even if you are 100% certain the individual will serve and say wonderful things about you, ASK. Even if they said, "thanks for being a kickass intern this summer, feel free to use me as a reference", ASK. Ask nicely and give the person an "out" (you don't want someone who is less than enthusiastic or rushed filling this role). Ask for each and every job posting.
Why? If I get an unexpected phone call from an employer who is interested to hear about your work performance and I don't know: 1) which institution or organization 2) what position it is for 3) your current resume details or 4) why you want this job, how am I supposed to knock it out of the park for you? I need to know some basics before I can answer their questions and serve as a positive reference. It's also basic professional courtesy.
I get that you might be applying on a short timetable and it is 3 AM, but at the very least, send an email to fill them in. If you have already spoken to the person and they have agreed to be a reference, you should repeat "the ask" for each position, providing updated information about the new job postings as you apply.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES:
I once got a call about a wonderful former employee but had to bumble my way through because I wasn't sure if the position was in study abroad or for a residence life position. There is a huge difference in what I'd say, and how I'd say it, based on which position was at stake.
I've also received a call for someone who did not provide a current resume and although I had glowing things to say, the most basic question, "Tell me how long you have know candidate X" was met with an awkward pause as I tried to do mental math and figure out when she last worked in my office. When you have been in a position for a while and take on multiple graduate assistants, practicum students, student employees, and volunteers it can blend together. I don't always have the best memory about these things and I presume other supervisors experience the same "brain blur". Help us out. We don't want a conflict with your resume details.
Stay in touch
Try your best to not just ask and run. If someone agrees to serve as a reference for a job and you have updated information about where you are in the search, take a minute and give them an update too. Let them know if you have landed an in-person interview. Or if you have changed your mind and are no longer searching for positions in study abroad, but are now applying to jobs working with international admissions, let them know. If your geographic target shifts, let them know. You never know when the contact can send along new leads. It also shows you are professional and organized. You don't need to give them a full play by play, but help them feel engaged and invested in your search process with a quick message when it counts.
Remember to say "Thank You"
If you get the job, let them know and send a thank you! Email is the most basic way to say thanks, but a handwritten note is far better. Your reference is now a professional colleague upon whom you might need to call for advice or services. I can tell you it makes a HUGE impression if you do it right. See this adorable bamboo plant to the left...
I received it from an individual I was informally coaching for several years. When she told me she finally "broke in" we were both in a celebratory mood. But I was totally surprised when such a kind, symbolic, and thoughtful gesture showed up at my office the next week. This study abroad pro has a lifelong fan. There may have been a small tear involved that day.
On the other hand, I've had indviduals contact me for references, never provide an update about the job or their search process, then contact me again out of the blue. Their only communication is when they reach out because they want something from me again. It's usually along the lines of, "Hey, Kelly, I need a letter for X by Friday. Thanks!" That doesn't feel very professional and certainly doesn't make me feel like going out of my way for them. You don't need to bribe anyone, Just show some basic appreciation for their role in the process. The person writing you a letter or agreeing to have that 10 minute phone conversation with your future employer is busy .
It can feel like the "list 3 references" is just another field to fill out on an application, but reference input usually comes at the crucial time when the employer is deciding if you get the job or not. In some ways this is more important than the resume. So remember to make the right impression everywhere it counts.
Forget March, this September came in like a lion. The back to school energy on my campus meant busy days filled with heaps of excited students asking questions about study abroad. There were two new peer advisors to train (using some of Abbie's awesome training advice). Then I had a bit of regional travel for a few study abroad meetings.
Just because I was busy tending to "the day job" doesn't mean I've stopped cultivating study abroad job search nuggets for all of you here on the blog. It might be mid-September, but better late than never is my new motto.
Last week, while making that 10-hour roundtrip drive to my meeting destination, I had the chance to take in a new audiobook that fired me up: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the Liz Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame). I highly recommend the book, even if you don't consider yourself "a maker". Check it out. Seriously. Do it!
In the book, Gilbert shares a great career advice tidbit from Mark Manson's blog where he talks about finding your life purpose. She explains that all jobs -- even what you perceive as the "dream jobs" have a part that sucks. It is 100% true. Every job requires some level of sacrifice So finding the right fit is less about "your passion" and more about what negative things you are willing to tolerate to chase your dream. Or as Mason says,
"What flavor of shit sandwich would you like to eat?"
Wowza! How many ways do I love that?!
Isn't it the truth, though? The downside is ever so important to consider as you pursue a job-- whether it is your first job or your fourteenth. What kinds of sacrifices you are willing to make? Would you take low pay, an undesirable location, a cross-country move, horrible long hours, a title demotion, zero flexibility, abysmal benefits, no travel, too much travel, responsibility levels that induce stress? You get the idea...
Considering the not-so-glam side of a job is a great way to stay grounded in your search.
Our natural tendency is to read a job description and immediately start dreaming about our new life in that perfect position. (This is particularly true if you are already in a job you feel has let you down.) Think about it -- if you are in a job now, surely at some point that job seemed like a perfect opportunity. And it likely was fab. You learned. You grew. You paid those student loans. But here you sit, looking through job postings, hoping to find something your current position cannot provide-- things you need to nurture your "you-ness".
In this process of searching and dreaming it is easy to lose sight of reality. Every job has something that is less than ideal. You probably just don't have the inside information to see it yet. This is an important truth to accept. It doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for growth and possibility in a new role. Not at all. It just means that maybe choosing your next move involves looking at the benefits and drawbacks before you leap. It means you ask more questions of yourself. Know your dreams but also come to terms with what kind of "shit sandwich" you can stomach.
So how about it? What are you willing to put up with to fulfill your ultimate career goals?
Resumes are hard work.
No one I know actually likes creating and updating a resume. If you are trying to get a job in study abroad, whether that is straight from university or as a career-changer, you might not even know where to start with one. Most people just customize a template or churn out whatever your campus career center taught you, without regard for the specific industry.
The resume you used for your college internship is likely unsuitable for a study abroad position. And the resume you created for a university study abroad advisor position should definitely be tweaked before sending it off to a study abroad program provider.
If you are mid-career, it is just as important to give your resume the attention it deserves. It is probably more painful too! You still need to do it. This is true even if you don't want to leave your job. Once you are working it is fairly easy to let awesome experiences and skills accumulate without writing your accomplishments down. As much as you think you will not forget that killer project you rocked, you will. I promise. You will.
How do you know? Because mine is outdated. Sooooo outdated. I have a publication coming out this month I haven't added. I've been on at least 3 committees that are not listed. I've applied for 4 grants and I'd have to dig to find the names so I can add them. I also need to create a CV version of the resume, just in case. Yes, this is all totally embarrassing for someone who writes about career development. So use this as a cautionary example.
Why keep a resume updated if you are not job searching? Because you never know when you may need to provide a resume with little to no notice. I've had to include a resume with grant applications, my Fulbright application, for a colleague to see an example of an IE resume, and a few times when a "dream job" popped up and I wanted to toss it out there.
Don't go at it alone.
Getting help with your resume can speed your pathway to a job and make it less painful. Seeing different industry examples is vital. International education has buzzwords which signal you are "in the know" (and also words to avoid). If you already have an education abroad career mentor, reach out for a resume critique. Don't be afraid or take it personal. Just do it!
If you don't have someone available to help, or if you are just starting, consider getting your hands on a resume toolkit designed for international educators. Missy Gluckmann over at Melibee Global has an in-depth resource guide that targets resume design/re-design. She gives you a 100-minute webinar, 35 pages of before & after real resumes (my favorite), a resume resource guide, and tips. And it is actually affordable for unemployed folks. Here's the link:
>>>Resume Tips for International Education
There are also a few general tips available on this site in the Jobs section and you can find some resume content pinned to the Study Abroad Careers Pinterest Board.
But whatever you do, don't put it off or time will slip away. Your resume deserves better!
:: off to update my resume ::
The job search can be daunting. We play the waiting game, cross our fingers, and send thank you emails only to find out that we are not being considered for a position. If you’re like me, you start to think “Maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe I’m not an ideal candidate at all.” These thoughts creep in, but they are not true. We are qualified, hard working, and dependable. It helps to be reminded of this in the face of rejection letter after rejection letter.
That’s where this new project comes in. Kelly and I want to be the cheerleader in your corner. You, the brave job searcher, who has been putting so much into this search. We are thrilled to be doing this project because we know what it’s like to push through the fog, the sleepless nights, and the anxiety inducing interviews. It’s not easy.
If any of this is tugging at you right now, you are who we’d love to send something super special to. Oh, and it is FREE. All you need to do is click the following link to sign up to receive some job search motivation via snail mail.
Click HERE to Get Free & Happy Mail
Thank you for showing up to this process. Thank you for your bravery. Let’s keep working this thing together.
P.S. Feel like you need more support? Sign up for Sinclair.ity a weekly dose of email positivity from Sinclair.
It's the end of May, which means around the world international educators are packing their bags and heading to Denver for the 2016 NAFSA national conference. You've read about the NAFSA conference on this blog and maybe even wondered if you should attend.
Let's face it, not everyone can be there. But I have some super exciting news for you. Next week Study Abroad Careers will be posting video updates from #NAFSA16, providing an insider view of the conference. You'll get to see the NAFSA career center, learn about conference volunteer opportunities, and perhaps "meet" a few people to hear their perspectives on breaking in to study abroad.
UPDATE: Missed our Facebook Live event? No problem.
Check out the videos below.
Emerging Educator Spotlight Series
These short interviews feature Study Abroad Careers readers, allowing YOU to share your own career experiences with the community, whether it's a job search, graduate school, or an entrepreneurial journey.
Specializes in short-term faculty-led and service-learning programs to Colombia
Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, University of Montana
Emphasis in rural and environmental Issues
Graduate level coursework at SIT Graduate Institute, Service Leadership and Management
Emphasis on Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development
Q. What led you to the field of international education?
A. Probably my first experience with civic engagement as a teen in Heart Butte, Montana, really got me thinking outside of myself and exposed to different cultures. My own, unconventional short study abroad experience, sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez around the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, was my first exposure to experiential education and showed me that learning can occur outside of the classroom. My first international volunteer experience in Trujillo, Peru enabled me to start thinking globally and also more service oriented.
Q. Tell me a bit about your career path.
A. Right after my undergraduate degree, I found myself volunteering internationally in Trujillo, Peru in 2004. After my volunteer time ended, I began teaching ESL at Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano, an institute with the mission of promoting cultural ties between Peru and the United States. I held that position for about 9 months before I left the institution and began giving private English lessons in a smaller nearby beach community.
I came back to the U.S. after 14 months in Peru and was hired to fill in for a teen service trip outfitter. We had one program in Peru and another program in the Dominican Republic. I then found myself hired as an ESL teacher at a non-profit International University in Denver, Colorado.
My most recent position was In-country Director/Volunteer Coordinator for a U.K.-based responsible travel company in Cusco, Peru. We placed travelers with internships and volunteer opportunities in areas such as environmental conservation, social work, marketing, and health and nutrition.
Q. What are you up to these days?
A. I'm in the preliminary stages of developing study abroad programs in Colombia. Through my contacts in Latin America, I’ll travel to the region in late May. First, I will be in Ecuador to attend a seminar on developing International Service-Learning curriculum. Then I’ll depart for Colombia to meet with potential partners, such as educators, NGO's, security experts, journalists, recreational outfitters/tour guides and a handful of other people I've been corresponding with for a long time.
Q. Why Colombia?
A. I'm starting small, with the single country (my place of birth), of Colombia, as I want to be able to dedicate all my efforts and energy to this single project. Colombia is such a unique country with so much to be taken in. I think when people think of South America and travel, perhaps they think of the more common destinations: Ecuador, Peru, Argentina. Or perhaps tend to lump all of South America together. Paint it all with a broad brush stroke; I know I did until I went on to live there later on in my life and really see, despite a lot of these countries sharing a common language of Spanish, just in fact how different they are. Colombia has long been mired in conflict and turmoil. And even today, with popular culture, it can't seem to shake it’s mysterious past. But big, very promising things are emerging in the country. From promising peace dialogues, to very large scale educational initiatives, Colombia is set to take off. Add on to that, just the culture, whether it be the Cafeteros (National Football Team) dancing at the matches, the archaeological sites, to pristine natural landscapes of the Andes Mountains to the Amazon, I feel Colombia is deserving to be discovered. I hope to help facilitate that, through my programs.
Q. What’s the hardest part of this journey? And what gives you energy?
A. The hardest part has been dealing with rejection even before things get underway. I don't believe there is one true template for this sort of thing, I mean there are certainly past models, but I believe there are always new ways to go ahead.
I love talking with other like-minded people who share excitement and passion for international education and meaningful travel. I love networking (in my own introverted way) and hearing about other's stories and paths to how they found their dream job. Growing professionally also gets me excited. I was recently part of a great professional development program called the Global Pro Institute. It really allowed to me to focus on just exactly how I wanted to work in this field of International Education.
I love traveling to remote communities in Latin America and speaking with people whom I may have never interacted with if I had not found myself in this career. I love connecting with students who have also had great study abroad or meaningful travel experiences.
Q. What has been your biggest professional risk?
A. I think my biggest professional risk is what I'm doing right now. That of developing these programs alone. We'll see if it pays off!
Q. What advice would you give to other aspiring international education entrepreneurs?
A. If you have the means to do it, then do it. Hopefully you've developed somewhat of a network/support system that can guide/mentor you along the way but be prepared to run into naysayers but stay the course. We're forever being told of what we can't do so we're not really sure of what we can do.
I'm a fan of asking people to explain things to me like I'm a four year old, because in a lot of ways, I am. I guess ultimately, don't be afraid to ask questions. People who don't ask questions and claim to know everything, make me nervous. As i get older and tend to perhaps take myself too seriously, I also really cherish the ability to take a step back, reassess and then approach things with a degree of innocence and child-like wonder.
My personal advice would be to really show your appreciation to your network and those who guided and acted as mentors for you along the way. I'd rather go just a bit overboard showing my appreciation to those who helped me along the way than to not acknowledge them enough. I've been VERY fortunate to have some great mentors/friends in my corner, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.
Writing cover letters is hard work. If you are going about it the right way, you are tailoring each one to the specific job. At a certain point it all starts to seem a bit fluffy, doesn't it? When you have cover letter writing fatigue you are more prone to start stuffing in words without thinking about their meaning or how they might be perceived.
Words have different connotations to different people, so there is bound to be a range of responses to what you write in the cover letter. However, here are 4 words I frequently see and explanations of why I suggest you ban them from your cover letter now (including what to put in their place):
I am listing this one first because I am guilty of using the word in my own cover letters. I've described my "passion for advising students" before. It wasn't until I read this great article on the problems with passion talk that I began to question how describing my emotions about study abroad work had anything to do with my ability to meet the expectations of my employer. Do you have a passion for study abroad? Wonderful! That is a prerequisite. But enjoying your own study abroad experience and enjoying the work of administering the programs are two different animals. If you choose to use the word passion, be sure you use it to describe the features of the job itself.
In your cover letter you want to signal you are "in the know" and familiar with the language used by industry professionals. The term trip is generally frowned upon when used to refer to a study abroad program. Instead, use the term program. A trip sounds like a vacation and de-emphasises the academic and programmatic nature of study abroad. Whether you agree with this or not, you will score points by using the common terminology (and might lose credibility for calling your program a trip).
In the case of the word travel, it is not so much the word you should ban, it's what normally follows. Including a summary of all of the places you have travelled is a waste of cover letter real estate. Instead of providing a laundry list of your Eurail whistle stops, only describe meaningful learning experiences abroad. If you have been to lots of places, great. But the important part is to tell the employer why that makes you suited to this job. What did you accomplish during your travels (ex. experiences working alongside different cultures, honing your language skills, fundraising for a charity) and how has that life experience prepared you for this specific job and its duties. Learning how to navigate public transportation and backpack is an accomplishment, but not one that directly relates to most study abroad office jobs.
There are two problems I have with the word immersed. The first is simply that it gets overused. In nearly all scholarship applications, study abroad essays, and cover letters I read, someone drops this word to emphasize the overseas experience as truly foreign. This takes away from its power and starts to generate a little eye-roll after reading it so many times. The second problem is that it comes across as a bit dramatic. Just being abroad, in another country, you are surrounded by difference. Is this how you are using the term immersed? What are you really trying to say? If you mean you lived with a host family in a small town where you did not speak any English for 6 months, and only interacted with host-nationals, describe that instead. And, like travel, tell us how it changed you. How did this immersion impact your worldview, skills, and attitude.
So what do you think? Agree with me? Disagree? Are there others that should be included on this list? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
All job seekers hit a wall of frustration at some point. It's okay. Maybe you had too many letters that "regret to inform you" that you aren't landing that dream job. Or perhaps you're just emotionally drained from the process of waiting. So what can you do to keep your chin up and avoid a job search rut? Here are a few things to try when the going gets tough:
Always have a pot on the fire
My tried and true technique was to always have an application out there so that when a ding letter came, there was still hope. I know that might sound desperate or like I was tricking myself (I was), but it works. Don't let your opportunities run dry. It makes it so much easier to move forward when you hear the word "no". I even recommend creating an Excel sheet to keep track of each application and the date of submission. Don't get hung up on how long it has been since you submitted your stuff. As long as you are still active in the process, keep it on your list and charge on.
Grab a partner
Like lots of things in life, tackling challenges with a friend can add dimension and remove the feelings of isolation. Find a friend who is also searching for a job. It doesn't have to be a job in the same job sector. Share updates, victories, and different approaches to your search process. Cheer each other on. Meet for wine and whining when you get a rejection letter. Laugh at your interviews gone wrong. Proofread each other's cover letters. Do whatever it takes to lift each other up.
Exchange coffee for a new connection
If you are feeling frustrated, use some of your time to research companies on LinkedIn or scour university staff directories for individuals who have a job you desire. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for 30 minutes of their time in exchange for a cup of coffee. This method is a great way to network and you might learn about a different pathway or approach for your search. For example, you could hear about positions before they hit the web as a formal job posting. Make sure to check out my tips for informational interviews first.
Maybe this means you bust out a journal and starting writing about your feelings as a job seeker--or you put on some music and bust a move to let thoughts jingle around in your head. It could also mean you simply step away from your web browser and think about things from a different angle. What could you try differently? Are you looking at the wrong type of organizations? The wrong type of positions? The wrong time of the year? Give yourself the mental space to ensure you are being strategic in your search.
These are my best tips. I'd love to hear yours in the comments below!
If you need leads on study abroad job postings, be sure to follow @SAbroadCareers on Twitter where we curate and tweet entry to mid-level job postings that catch our interest.
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.
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.
Today I got an unexpected phone call. It was a reference check for a former employee who is now a finalist for a position at a top-ranked state university. At first the call went as expected-- questions regarding strengths, weaknesses, collegiality, and if I'd rehire. The last question made me uncomfortable, but it was not a entirely a surprise.
They asked me if I would be willing to provide a "deep reference" for the candidate.
The term "deep reference" refers to someone identified by a primary reference rather than the job candidate. The way it works is that the person listed as a reference is asked to identify an additional reference for the candidate, without the candidate's knowledge. The employer then cold-calls this person to ask questions about the candidate. In research, we call it "snowball sampling", using an informant to refer additional informants. In hiring it goes by a few other names, such as "backdoor reference", "unauthorized reference", etc.
As job applicants, we obviously list references who will say glowing things about us. The intent of a deep reference is to dig deeper, perhaps uncovering something additional (maybe even negative) and to confirm the validity of the information provided on the resume or in the original reference check.
I can understand why an institution would choose to go beyond the names provided. No one wants skeletons in the closet. Hiring someone is a big deal, not easily undone. However, as a reference, I am very uncomfortable being asked to furnish a name and phone number for someone on the candidate's behalf.
That being said, it happens.
So...as a candidate, what can you do about it?
When you develop a list of potential references you will need to have a conversation about your search process. Always have a conversation with your reference, to ensure they agree to serve in this capacity. Do not EVER list a reference without asking, even if you know they'd be fine with it.
You need to formally ask them to serve, brief them on the position, and communicate WHY you want that job. It really does work best if you have a phone conversation. It also helps if you give them an updated resume and a few talking points. For example, it is easy for me to forget what years someone worked for me and exactly what all they did. I remember their work ethic and key projects, but I don't want to overlook anything and appreciate the refresher, especially if it has been a while.
During this conversation you might want to discuss the potential for a "deep reference" check. Discuss alternate individuals who might be able to comment on your work style within that same work setting. Maybe it is someone who worked alongside you on big projects, but wasn't your supervisor. Or it could be a person who was your supervisor, but they left the field since then and your current reference is still in touch. Have this frank conversation with your reference and agree on how to handle the question, should it come up.
It is also possible your reference is uncomfortable providing a deep reference. Talk about it and find out how they plan to respond to the request.
After having this experience, I'm curious...
Current professionals: Have you ever been asked to provide a deep reference? Have you been a part of a search where your hiring manager utilized this tactic?
Job seekers: Are you familiar with the practice of contacting deep references? Do you suspect (or know) unauthorized references were contacted during your candidacy?
Comment below to share your experiences.
My own "breaking in" story is one I don't share very often. Or at least I don't share the full story. I routinely chart my career trajectory, but I tend to edit out the disappointing parts. I guess that is natural. But the more involved I get with Study Abroad Careers, the more I realize failure is an important part of my personal narrative. Without frustration I might not have uncovered my passion. And for this reason I have decided to share that story in today's post.
a bad case of reverse shock
It was April 2001. I returned from my semester abroad, completely down in the dumps. I spent an hour alone at the Indianapolis airport, sitting on the curb by the taxis, reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. I was in no rush to return home. I wanted to remain anonymous, to get right back on that airplane and return to life in London.
As the days passed, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with my own culture in new and curious ways. My inner dialogue was increasingly judgmental:
By the end of the summer I was still jobless and still holding out hope for something international. My parents politely told me I needed to find something fast or leave. I responded by holing up in my room and reading the newly released book, Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. I thought I was was experiencing depression or some kind of existential crisis. I now realize it was just a bad case of reverse culture shock with inopportune timing.
I eventually got a paying job in retail and came out of my bedroom. Yet I still had this feeling that I needed to do something more meaningful. I asked myself the question you are supposed to in times of professional uncertainty,
The answer was clear and instant. I would go back to working my student receptionist job in international programs. I wanted to “rid the world of the ugly American” (ha!). And I thought orientation could, and should, be so much more.
As luck would have it, a university in my hometown was hiring a secretary for their London program. It seemed perfect. During the academic year I’d live in town and summers would be spent abroad, on-site with students. This was a dream job. I applied, and to my surprise, I landed an on-campus interview right away. They were concerned about my age and how I might be perceived by students, faculty, and parents. I left the interview hopeful.
a different perspective
A few weeks later, on September 11, 2001, I returned home from work early for reasons that are now historical. At a time when seemingly everyone in my country was in shock, asking “How could this happen to us?” I remained detached. I had no disillusionment about the way our country was viewed in the world. I had been out there and saw things through the lens of “other”. But I couldn’t express any of it. I felt like a traitor to think in this way. I still do.
I found the commercialism of the time disgusting. Superstores all moved everything red, white, and blue to the end-caps because they were selling fast. Flip flops, ribbons, flags, paper plates. It was surreal. Amidst the confusion and endless TV reports, the uncertainty and numb feeling, I had an answering machine message blinking back at me. (Yes, we used those back then.) I didn’t get the job.
Something happened in that instant and it flipped a kind of switch. When I listened to the message I just knew this is what I was called to do. I didn’t even feel disappointment just I vowed to try harder next time, to figure out what it was that was missing, and find a way to gain those skills and experiences. I took the timing as some strange cruel signal.
I don’t even remember when, but sometime that autumn I returned to my university and set up an appointment with the study abroad coordinator. I told her I wanted to get a job like hers and asked what I could do to work toward that goal. She explained I needed to keep studying Spanish, to get a master’s degree, and most importantly, to gain experience. She offered me the chance to be her graduate assistant the following two years if I was really serious about my desire to learn.
I also found a way to get back to London in the spring and arranged an informational interview with someone working on-site as a resident director for a US university. I asked her some of the same questions as the study abroad coordinator,
The big break
A year into my assistantship I got a phone call from my supervisor late at night. She was burned out and had just given two-weeks notice to the university. No one knew but me. She suggested I get my resume together just in case, knowing how badly I wanted to work in the field. I was excited but completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t finished with my master's degree and I only had one year of experience. But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime and school would still be there. I applied and got the job. I was in the right time, at the right place, with the right experience. Suddenly I wasn’t just working in a job like hers. I was in her job.
paying it forward
So many people I meet have similar stories regarding how they broke in to the field of international education. It can feel frustrating for it to all seem so serendipitous. I suppose that is one of the reasons I founded Study Abroad Careers -- to provide support and resources to individuals as they question whether this is their path. There is no formula or secret to getting a job in study abroad. But there are themes -- networking, apprenticeship, and open-mindedness to name a few. Hopefully that shines through in the stories you find here.