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International Relations Jobs: Insider Tips on Finding Your Career Path

First, what exactly is International Relations?

International Relations is a subfield of Political Science. Studies of IR mainly examine the relationship between countries (or regions) and often analyzes the balance of power among them as well as the causes and effects of state conflict. Students of IR primarily focus on questions concerning international security, terrorism, trade, wars, human rights, state-building, and peace-building.

Many students also go on to specialize in a region or a large state power for further research and analyses. Asia (China, India), Russia, Europe, America, Latin America, and Africa are the main subfields offered in graduate school. For this, studying a foreign language is an important asset for becoming an expert of a region. Policy professionals also benefit from knowing a foreign language to access research opportunities and positions overseas. Without a doubt, knowing a foreign language is an important skill to have when looking for an International Relations job.

There is a lot of obscurity around how people enter careers in foreign policy. Should you get a Master’s or a PhD? What kind of degree should you get for the job you want? What kinds of International Relations jobs can you get without an IR degree? We are going to try to unpack some of this confusion and answer these questions here.

Where to study International Relations

We begin with a survey of the best International Relations programs of study at the bachelor’s, master’s and PhD level and why students might consider these programs given their interests and career goals.

Undergraduate studies

Most universities in the U.S. do not offer a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations specifically, whereas many in the UK do. In the U.S., concentrations in IR, International and Global Affairs are typically offered in Political Science departments at the undergraduate level. Studying International Relations has become increasingly popular, however, and new IR departments have sprung up with instruction in English across the globe. Students aiming for a career in government and international affairs should research these programs to identify which course offerings fit their interests best.

Selection of Bachelor’s programs in IR

Master’s Degree

An important stepping stone into any career path in IR is to undertake graduate studies in the field. Most of these policy schools prepare students for jobs in foreign policy, diplomacy, or government. Aside from a Master’s, the other common degree top foreign policy officials hold is in law. The top schools in IR are usually based in cities where global politics and business are conducted, such as Washington, DC and London. In recent years, many top universities have begun to offer joint Master’s degrees at two universities with a closer look at foreign affairs in those regions.

Top Master’s programs in IR

Getting a PhD in International Relations

It is a common misperception that you’ll need a PhD to become a top policy analyst. The more education the better is not really the case here. Many career paths in foreign policy begin in government bureaucracy or in the private sector. A PhD is necessary if you want to pursue an academic career in teaching or researching International Relations at a university. Those that have a PhD and want to work outside academia might in fact find it challenging to enter government networks, think tanks and consultancies without prior experience. As such, those more interested in policy-related fields would obtain a Master’s degree instead of a PhD.

Top IR PhD programs

Jobs in International Relations

International Relations Jobs and Career Paths

It is no accident that many international diplomats, ambassadors, and presidents hold a university degree in International Relations. International relations coursework examines how national interests influence decisions related to international affairs. This is also tightly related to the relationships between international companies and governments, important background for those that go into the private sector. Other skills you’ll develop are communication, negotiation, research and problem-solving, important requirements for jobs in diplomacy and foreign service.

Pursuing a graduate degree in International Relations will provide you with great insights into foreign affairs, public policies, international development, economic trends, social issues, law and much more. Having a Master’s degree in IR is valuable for becoming a subject-matter expert and opening up doors in closed networks of policy-making, like at prestigious think tanks or state and intelligence departments. These International Relations jobs are very competitive and often recruit from a set of universities that staff members know well.  However, there are still many job opportunities for those interested in International Relations and foreign policy that typically only require a Bachelor’s degree. And even where jobs appear to hire Master’s candidates, there are always exceptions if you have experience gained from internships or from similar fields of work.

Let’s explore 5 International Relations jobs and its main requirements:

1. Diplomat – Maintaining good relations between countries

As a diplomat, you will represent and protect a nation’s interests abroad in terms of politics, trade and consular services. You’ll spend usually around three years in a foreign country. Some of your responsibilities will be:

  • Act as a link between the country you represent and the country where you are stationed
  • Collect and report on all the information that would affect your nation’s interests
  • Discuss, negotiate and mediate with the local government issues about peace and war, trade, commerce, economics, as well as social and cultural aspects

Average salary in USD: $87,000 USD/year

Typical Education required: Bachelor’s

2. Intelligence Analyst – Gathering state-critical information

As an intelligence analyst, you can work in the military, the navy, national security departments, or almost any state department of one of the national government agencies. Your main duties will include:

  • Collect and analyse operational intelligence data
  • Conduct mission reports, using data, maps and charts
  • Evaluate results and prepare reports, statistics and graphics
  • Maintain intelligence databases, libraries, and files

Average salary in USD: $70,000/year

Typical Education required: Master’s

3. Policy Analyst – Explaining the political climate

Generally, you’ll be employed by the government, but you can also find work opportunities within media companies or research institutes. Your tasks will be to:

  • Inform about and interpret various political developments
  • Analyse laws, public policies, and government decisions
  • Advise government officials, political parties, or the media
  • Forecast political trends and election results
  • Put events into historical context

Average salary in USD: $84,000/year

Typical Education required: Master’s

4. Lobbyist – Promoting ideas and policy to those who can make them a reality

Lobbyists are usually hired by an association, corporation, or non-profit organisation to convince government members to make a decision that would benefit the organisation or company they are representing. Given the varied interests in global trade deals, most lobbyists work in country capitals. A lobbyists main roles are to:

  • Monitor, research and analyse legislation
  • Attend congressional hearings
  • Reach out to government policymakers
  • Use communication tools to promote ideas to the public

Average salary in USD: $71,000/year

Typical Education required: Bachelor’s

5. Communications Specialist – Digesting and disseminating information

A degree in International Relations can land you a job in a NGO or non-profit organization that operates on an international level. As a Communications Specialist, you’ll have the chance to develop your career at a local office that has a global reach. Non-profit agencies like World Vision and Red Cross provide such global services, but there are many other options too. Your main duties will be:

  • Creating effective communication strategies
  • Handling internal communications
  • Writing content for media and social networks

Average salary in USD: $50,000/year

Typical Education required: Bachelor’s

Career mentorship in International Relations

Identifying the ideal school and job you want is really one part to launching your career in international relations. Figuring out how to get there and who to talk to is the real challenge. For some people, a career path can be fairly linear – Get a Master’s, land a job at a think tank, start your own firm, live happily ever after. For many, a career path can be quite circuitous and job opportunities are not as clear. And for those starting out, knowing the right questions to ask is the biggest obstacle.

If you’re still in school, you might be lucky to have a good advisor or career counselor to ask questions. If you’re working, then a great colleague may be a good source for peer mentorship. But oftentimes, this involves one conversation and not ongoing support to help make career decisions.

We launched Ilkmade Sessions for the International Relations and Politics community to fill this resource gap. Our mentors are experts in the field who have navigated through various career paths and provide professional support for people at all stages of their career. Take a look at our services and book a free consultation to learn how we can help you get the job you want.

Join Ilkmade Sessions And Start With A Free 15 Minute Consultation

Connect With Experts & Mentors In Political Analysis and IR

From post-graduate decisions to career transitions, we’ve been where you are. We created Ilkmade Sessions to offer mentoring and support for politics and International Affairs-focused students and professionals.

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