5 Things You Need to Know About Working Around the World

by Nina Segal

Jobs – or the lack of them – seem to be making headlines almost daily.   For those interested in a global career, how has the recession affected your current prospects?  Are there areas that are actually growing?  How can you position yourself to take advantage of opportunities when they do arise?  Here are five things you need to know about career opportunities available for globally engaged Americans in 2012.


In the news we hear about staff reductions in both large and small organizations, caused by either lay-offs or attrition.  The international affairs job market has certainly been hit. Foundations have seen their endowments drop, and thus have scaled back giving and trimmed their own staff. This has, in turn, affected the non-profit job market.  The Federal government has been under pressure to eliminate waste and reduce their workforce because of the deficit. As other nations grapple with similar issues, their ability to fund international organizations like the UN is faltering.


Even with increased hiring freezes and reductions, organizations continue to need smart, productive people to fill positions.  In some instances, this is because of a new wave of retirements – as is the case at the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations.  In other cases, it is because new technical skills are needed to address current global challenges, including terrorism, cybersecurity and climate change.   But job seekers in the global arena face the same challenges as their domestic counterparts.


Current 'hot' fields are those that address the most pressing issues facing global and local leaders. These include looming public health concerns, such as HIV/AIDS, disease prevention, and maternal/child health.  With ongoing wars and recurring natural and manmade disasters, jobs in refugee/displaced persons assistance and relief work continue to draw funding and thus require employees to staff projects.  Environmental concerns, over climate change, energy, and water, have contributed to a growing sector, as has the issue of democratic transition, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in particular.

In the private sector, emerging markets and telecommunications are still growing. A recent Forbes article noted that the global telecom market will increase at a four percent rate in 2012. It rose seven percent in this past year alone, due in large part to burgeoning emerging market players, including America Movil (Latin America), Airtel (India) and MTN (Africa).

Millions of dollars are also being spent to try to keep the world safe from terrorist threats; therefore jobs in intelligence analysis, operations and more broadly, the international security industry, continue to grow.  Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, in particular, are beefing up their teams to confront new global challenges. Check out ASIS International for more information about careers in security.


Individuals need to be focused and strategic when pursuing a global career.  There are a few ‘musts’ to becoming a desirable candidate.  A graduate degree is a ‘must’ in international affairs, public policy, or a more technical degree like public health or environmental science.  Like graduate schools of business, international affairs programs strongly prefer applicants with several years of work experience under their belts.  Experience helps solidify focus, and employers are almost universally requesting it.

Another ‘must’ is fluency in a foreign language.  Try to pick a language that is both in demand and also relevant to your occupational area of interest. For example, if you are interested in refugee work, it would be more useful to be fluent in Arabic or French than Japanese.  Think about which language is most in demand – do your homework and ask professionals who are currently working in your field of interest.  And, as in every profession these days, strong technology skills can’t hurt!


Show focus and demonstrated commitment. It is not enough to say you want to do something international, or even to say you want to work with a specific topic like international security.  Your resume needs to show that you have committed time and study, which is generally evident through experience.

One way to show demonstrated commitment is through a series of internships in your field of interest- one is not usually enough, most people have two or three.  Fellowships are another way to travel overseas, study a topic or issue in-depth, but it is best to choose a topic that is applied rather than academic, as applied skills are more appealing to employers.   For example, a candidate working on a current policy topic using new, creative programming is more attractive than one conducting historical research.

Formal volunteer programs allow you to gain valuable work experience overseas. Peace Corps, WorldTeach, Global Vision International, and InterExchange are a few well-known programs worth considering.

Finally, if you want to simply pack a bag, you can consider blogging or freelance writing on a country or an issue; social media is opening many doors for news and advocacy efforts.

If the idea of the journey is as exciting to you as the destination, start your career research either through an FPA career seminar or some personal reading (I highly recommend Careers in International Affairs by the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University). Finally, polish your resume and talk to people who work in your field of interest to achieve your global ambitions!

Nina Segal is an international career consultant who has worked with a range of non-profit and international organizations, and the instructor of the FPA U seminar "Global Careers Boot Camp." She was also the Assistant Dean and Director of Career Services at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs prior to launching her individual career consulting practice.

Click here to register for Nina Segal's FPA U Global Careers Boot Camp in New York City or Washington, DC.

FPA U : Career Development for Globally Minded Professionals