Want to Work in Education Abroad? Here are 10 Useful Things You Can Do.

Six years ago, I accepted my first position as a study abroad coordinator. Now, as a director of education abroad, I’ve been increasingly approached by people looking to begin a career in international education. 

I wrote this post for you, the young professional. Maybe you’ve just graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and loved volunteering in your university’s study abroad office. Perhaps you’ve just returned from teaching English abroad for a couple of years. Maybe you’re about to start a Master’s degree and are seeking advice for your job search. I’ve compiled 10 useful tips to assist you on your journey.

You’re probably already asking the right questions like “Where do I find jobs in education abroad?” “Why can’t I get a job in the field?” “Is there something wrong with my application?” For further professional development, you should check out Brooke Robert’s Inside Study Abroad, Missy Gluckmann’s Melibee Global, and – particularly if you’re an international student – Nicolle Merill’s GlobalMe School. #nonsponsored

One massive caveat: we are in the midst of the most chaotic year (ever?) in international education, a year when we’ve recalled our students and suspended cancelled programs. None of us know the future of the field, but all of us expect it to worsen through closed borders, increased screening, reduced budgets, hiring freezes, and furloughs. It’s not an ideal time to look for a job, anywhere. But one day, we’ll resume hiring; in fact, some of us never stopped. In the meantime, it is my hope that this post will guide you on your first study abroad job search, whether you’re reading this in 2020 or 2026.

First, you may need to know: what is the difference between “education” and “study” abroad? Here are some definitions.

  • Education abroad is the umbrella definition for all credit-bearing/non-credit/internship/service-learning/field trip/etc. programs that a university student completes outside of their university’s country. Until spring 2020, this did not include virtual programs (but it will). “Education abroad” and “study abroad” are terms that are often used interchangeably, but don’t let that confuse you, as “study abroad” is a subset of “education abroad.” See this definition (Forum on Education Abroad, 2020).
  • Study abroad is credit-bearing coursework that contributes to an academic degree. See this definition (Forum on Education Abroad, 2020).

Now, here are those tips!

Photo: Retha Ferguson (Pexels).

1. Know your job titles. 

When you’re looking for positions, it’s important to know context. This Forum on Education Abroad webpage is a good overview. Here are four common sets of keywords, in order of least to most experience required:

  • Administrative Assistant, Program Assistants: These positions are entry-level, a good first position for those who may have a bachelor’s degree but little to no full-time experience. In this role, you primarily work at a front desk. The jobs may be hourly and non-exempt, which means they pay lower (e.g., $20/hour).
  • Advisors: These jobs often require up to three years of experience and may be considered entry- or mid-level. In this role, you primarily meet students. Glassdoor estimates these positions average $43,000 per year. 
  • Coordinator: These jobs are considered mid-level jobs for candidates with a bachelor’s degree and up to four years of experience. I held this role at two different universities, one private and one public. You do a bit of everything: advising, marketing, promoting, overseeing budgets, and more. Salaries for this position range greatly; Glassdoor puts the national average at $43,000 per year while Study.com lists a median salary of $47,844.
  • Directors, Managers: These positions are for mid- and upper-level candidates with graduate degrees and five or more years of experience. Ideally, candidates for this role will have had supervisory experience in the past and many candidates will have been a coordinator. In this role, you often supervise employees and directly communicate with university administrators, while student advising may be altogether unnecessary. Salaries vary greatly, from the mid-$40,000s range to an estimated $77,000. The job outlook has been better than average.

2. Search better. 

When you’re beginning to look for jobs, you’ll probably visit Monster.com, Indeed.com, and others. While jobs in international education are posted there, I recommend a couple of my favorites: 

  • HigherEdJobs. This website may have the most reliable job postings in a readable interface. It also sends you daily or weekly job posting digests. If you’re looking for a higher education job in the U.S., this is the ultimate search engine. If you’re looking for a job outside the U.S., you’d best consider PIE or others.
  • SECUSS-L listserv. I subscribed to SECUSS-L later in my career and was surprised by the amount of information. This is an email listserv run by volunteers at University of Buffalo, and is one of the greatest sources of information in the field. Jobs are often posted here early. It isn’t a beautiful interface, but if you’re looking for a job, or just want to read more from others in the field, this is the one-stop shop for education abroad. 

3. Write better.

When writing a professional resume and cover letter, take advantage of these artificial intelligence-based tools to help you save time:

  • EMSI’s Resume Optimizer does what it says it does; it improves your resume. In a couple of seconds, EMSI reduced my resume to 39 skills such as “international education,” “academic writing,” and “intercultural competence.” Theoretically, using this data I could keep revising my materials to better fit a job I was applying to.
  • Similarly, Jobscan improves your resume by using data analytics to compare your resume with the description of the job you’re applying for. 
  • Writing a cover letter? You can create a new letter with Zety’s cover letter builder, while Grammarly helps you correct spelling and grammar (even as a practiced writer, I use the free version of Grammarly regularly).

There are many more tools you can use to enhance your materials. For more information, I recommend visiting Nicolle Merrill’s post “6 online tools to make job searching during coronavirus less difficult.”

Photo: mentatdgt (Pexels).

4. Find your fit.

Sometimes I wish I had used Jobscan in my first job searches. Instead, I applied an old-fashioned trial-and-error approach to see which jobs I fit, by viewing each rejection and interview request as feedback. 

In my experience, more interview requests meant that I was applying for the right-fit positions; I was interested in them and they were interested in me. However, silence and rejections often meant that I was either applying the wrong way or that these were wrong-fit positions.

For example, my dream job was to work with international students. As a former F-1 student whose doctoral dissertation centered on the support of international students, I was certain that I was ideally suited to international student services (ISS) positions. However, I was rarely invited to interview. 

I guessed I wasn’t a fit. As I entered my second year of applying for ISS positions without interviews, I shifted my attention to education abroad positions. The job interviews increased, as did the offers, a clear sign I was applying for right-fit positions. The professional life I had imagined for myself was not the one others saw me in.

Looking back, it’s clear: choosing the field of education abroad was the best career decision I made. Professional happiness may take many forms for you too; find your fit, and be flexible in doing so.  

5. Embrace your brand. 

While applying for jobs, it is critical to embrace your brand, which this article defines as “how we market ourselves to others.” 

However, there is more than one way to market ourselves. A common idea about job-seeking in this field is that there is an “ideal” candidate. This person may market the following experiences and values: 

  • Studying abroad
  • Working or volunteering in a study abroad office
  • Studying another language
  • Teaching abroad
  • Feeling passionate about travel

These are good starting points! But ticking a box doesn’t always get you the job. Not to mention, loving travel isn’t enough (frankly, we don’t travel for work as often as you’d think). 

However, once you’ve met (most of!) the requirements of the job, you need to distinguish how you stand out. This is your brand. 

What makes you unique? How are your experiences different from other job-seekers? Maybe you were a student athlete. Perhaps you grew up speaking Punjabi. Were you an event planner? Maybe you never studied abroad because you were taking care of your family by working two jobs. Whatever you do, find a way to differentiate yourself from other candidates. There isn’t just one brand.

For further reading on brand-building, I recommend these LinkedIn tip sheets:

6. Manage online presence.

What happens when people search for you? Go ahead, Google yourself. How accurate and recent is that information?

Instead of letting others create a misinformed first impression, it is critical to maintain a salient online presence. 

When I Google my name, the top five results include my LinkedIn profile, a recent news release by my alma mater, this website, and my (professional) Instagram profile. Within seconds, someone can find what may take years of cultivation. 

Here are a couple of tips for newcomers:

  • Manage your online presence: In addition to creating a LinkedIn profile, you may create a website and/or professional social media. For example, I use and stand by WordPress, the leader in website design companies (this website is run on it).   
  • Maintain a LinkedIn profile: This is one of the best ways to maintain a professional online presence. When I first began using LinkedIn years ago, I did not understand the site’s purpose and treated it like a place to post my resume. However, over the years I have grown to love it, despite its flaws. Many international educators like me have a strong LinkedIn presence, and you can build a network this way, learning who is working where and what they’re interested in. It is a conversation-starting, network-building, job-seeking website. If you’ve never used LinkedIn or want to learn how to use it more effectively, I suggest you review this 1.5-hour online course which is free for the first month: Learning LinkedIn for Students. You should also read this article: 10 LinkedIn Tips for Students & New Grads

In summary, managing an online identity is in your hands so take advantage of the many free, excellent resources for you.

7. Refocus your resume.

If you’ve prepared your resume, it’s time to review your resume: Does it focus on the description of your job, or on the accomplishments you’ve achieved? 

In my experience of reviewing many young professionals’ resumes, most people wrote about their job responsibilities, not their accomplishments.

Let’s say you’ve worked at a study abroad office and are writing your resume. Here are two ways you can describe the same task:

Spoke at a pre-departure orientation.Presented to over 100 students on travel safety at a pre-departure orientation. 
Volunteered in an international student buddy program.Created an international student buddy program, matching 10 study abroad alumni as buddies for 47 international freshmen. 

See the difference? On the left, you described your responsibilities. On the right, you wrote about quantifiable (numbers, percentage, firsts/bests) accomplishments.

As Alison Green of Ask a Manager states, the more specific you can be, the better:

Rewriting it to focus on accomplishments will make it way more effective (i.e., “increased email subscribers by 20%  in six months” instead of “managed email list”), because that explains how you performed, not just what your job duties were.

For more reading on this topic, please see these two posts:

Photo: Pexels.com

8. Make a Plan B.

There comes a time when you may need to make a Plan “B,” meaning “Beyond Study Abroad.” You may not find the specific job at the type of university you’re looking for. Perhaps you’re disheartened to realize, after months of applying, that you haven’t received an offer.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Apply to non-university jobs. For instance, you may consider a community college job or a position with a third-party provider; these are companies that provide independent study abroad options for students (examples: AIFS, API, USAC, or most companies listed on Study Abroad 101). Universities are great places to work, but they aren’t the only one. 
  • Apply for different types of university jobs. For example, if you’re trying to get into study abroad advising, you may wish to apply to the many academic advisor positions often open on large campuses. Over 100 advisor positions have been posted on HigherEdJobs in the last month.
  • Consider travel jobs! While some travel is required for study abroad jobs – you may attend a faculty-led program or travel to an international conference – this career isn’t one where you are traveling nonstop, at least not internationally. And while 2020 has put a dent in the travel industry, travel jobs will return. If this is your dream, start by reviewing this non-exhaustive list of 23 jobs

Finally, read this Chronicle article, “For Would-Be Academics, Now Is the Time to Get Serious About Plan B.” And if you’re still not sure about your Plan B, schedule a few informational interviews.

9. Ask for informational interviews.

What are informational interviews? Here’s a simple definition from this article in The Balance:

This type of interview is conducted to collect information about a job, career field, industry, or company. It is not a job interview. Instead, it’s an opportunity to speak with a person working in a field you’d like to know more about. 

If you’re curious about other jobs, an informational interview is tremendously helpful. It’s also less stressful than you’d imagine, as most people will agree to a 30-minute chat over the phone about their career journey with someone who may wish to get into the field (I’ve talked to several young professionals myself who have reached out).

Follow the tips in this article, “How an Informational Interview Can Boost Your Career,” and reach to out at least two different people in the field of education abroad!

10. Embrace gratitude.

This last tip may seem counter-intuitive, but it gives me the greatest peace, no matter my position. I adopt gratitude. 

Once upon a time, I was a job finalist at a university I had put significant effort into the application and interviews for. I even began looking at apartments. 

So when I did not receive the offer, my heart sank. 

During my next fruitful job search, I was a finalist again, excited about the possibilities. Knowing I may receive another “no” this time, I changed my focus. 

The hour before my final interview, I stood and looked at the frames on my wall. I noted the marked-up calendar.

“If I don’t get this job,” I told myself, “I’m going to have that camping trip in October I was looking forward to. I can spend another birthday with these people, my good friends.” And I smiled because this was happiness. 

That interview went well, but I didn’t get that offer either. However, whenever I began to feel blue about that missed opportunity, I remembered that I had another weekend planned with my friends and that I still had a reserved campsite. Sure, I felt a prick of sadness. But above all, I felt gratitude.

2020 is likely the worst year most of us will experience, job seeking or not. Yet it is worth practicing gratitude. And for job seekers: you will find the success you’re looking for!

In the meantime, have you considered this? You may already have the success others seek.


Cover Image: Prateek Katyal (Pexels).

4 thoughts on “Want to Work in Education Abroad? Here are 10 Useful Things You Can Do.

  1. Tom Millington says:

    This is a great resource! We International Educator Circle) have been trying to support people entering the field and those who have been laid off as a result of the pandemic.

    One thing to consider is that many employers in IE weigh down their advertisements for entry-level positions with too many requirements, many that are unrealistic, i.e., they must have a minimum of 5-10 years of experience in the field.

    Thanks for compiling this great resource for young professionals entering the fields we are thinking of doing something similar for long-time professionals in IE who were laid off. Would you be interested in contributing?

    Sincerely,

    Tom

    • Sonja Lind says:

      Tom, yes I am interested in contributing to a similar article for long-time professionals (good idea). I’ll follow up with an email today.

      Regarding your comments on experience, my advice for young professionals is to find a work-around (e.g., experience in student affairs for a year or two may help). Another piece of advice I did not include – but sometimes mention – is that you might need to consider a geographic move for your first position, particularly if you’re living in a popular location already (like California or New York).

  2. Darin says:

    Great ideas and well articulated information with clear examples. This could easily be reproduced and distributed more broadly.

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