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.