How to Get A Job in Study Abroad WITHOUT a Master’s Degree

Last week I wrote about the top graduate programs for a career in study abroad. But let’s pretend for a moment that you aren’t interested in getting a Master’s degree (at least not yet), but you still want to work in study abroad. Have no fear. There is hope. But as with everything in life, you’re going to have to accept some trade offs. Rarely will you have your cake and, well, you know, eat it too. This post is not about how to become a study abroad office director without having to work your way through the trenches or earn a little street cred. It’s about how to get in the door and work your way up.

Now, I just have one caveat. Everything I’m about to say will do very little for you if you have no previous study abroad experience. I mean it. If your only previous travel experience involves a tour of Paris, a brief visit to Rome, and a cruise through the Caribbean, you’re going to have a hard time getting anyone – universities or providers – to take you seriously. Which leads me to my first tip….

Get More International & Language Experience
If you’ve graduate from college and having trouble finding a job in study abroad, consider investing a year in boosting your skills and experience by teaching English abroad and focus on language acquisition while you’re there. Even after I finished grad school AND had two years experience as a study abroad advisor, I was still struggling to find a study abroad job (and that was BEFORE the economic melt down). After weighing my options, I decided that my European-focused study abroad and research experience wasn’t going to cut it. I needed some geographic diversity and knowledge on my resume. So I applied to a program to teach English in China for a year. Best decision of my life! Not only did I end up discovering a culture and country that I adored, but I leveraged my study abroad knowledge to create workshops for my Chinese college students on how to study abroad (short term and degree-seeking). All great content for my resume. When I started applying for jobs from China, hiring managers were MUCH more interested in me due to my diverse experience, new language knowledge, and my demonstrated ability to take initiative. [Though sadly any Mandarin I learned has slowly gone out the window. Use it or lose it, kids!]

Look for Study Abroad Assistant Positions
I know of a lot of large study abroad offices that have study abroad assistant positions that are pretty low on the totem pole, but that incorporate that coveted study abroad office experience. These positions typically focus on in-take advising before the student is handed off to a Study Abroad Advisor. They also do a lot of scheduling, office manager tasks, and answering the phone. However, if you’ve only ever been a student or student worker on a college campus, getting even a low level position in a study abroad office will help you understand the challenges, triumphs, and bureaucracy of higher education that much more.

Become A Study Abroad Road Warrior
Most people I talk to really want to work in a study abroad office at a university and that’s great. I love working on a university campus (most of the time). But if you don’t have a Master’s and you really want to work in study abroad, try starting out as a field rep for a study abroad program provider. Why I love these types of jobs? NETWORKING! Not only will you gain an incredible amount of knowledge about academic concerns, financial aid policies, health and safety issues by answering thousands of questions about these topics, but you’ll also meet an incredible number of study abroad administrators through campus visits, fairs, and conferences. You’ll be able to show your passion and knowledge of the field to a lot of hiring managers…and that ain’t bad. Some of these jobs are commission-based, some aren’t. Some of these jobs come with low salaries but other perks like international travel. As with everything, you have to determine what you’re willing to sacrifice in one area (i.e. salary) to avoid another area (i.e. getting a graduate degree). Which leads me to…

Work for a Study Abroad Company
I’ve worked at universities and for private (non-profit and for-profit) study abroad companies. And let me tell you that both experiences can suck at times and can be amazing at times. But an added bonus of working for a study abroad company is that entry-level positions typically do not require a Master’s degree. Depending on the size and scope of the company, you can work in academic advising, student pre-departure services, program development, financial aid advising, and many other areas. The great thing about these types of positions is the sheer volume of students you will interact with and advise. After a year or two in one of these positions, you’ll have heard it ALL and be able to talk about that valuable experience during future job searches. Another benefit of working for a provider – beyond the number of students and the networking (listed above) – is how much you’ll learn about how study abroad is administrated at universities across the country. And believe me, no two universities do it the same. Sure there are some baseline standards, but at the end of the day, how one university determines if a study abroad experience is credible can be dramatically different than how another university decides. It can be both enlightening and frustrating, but either way, you’re going to have a lot of great knowledge to carry over to your next gig.

Be Unique/Interesting/Passionate/Funny/SOMETHING!
You have no idea how many resumes and cover letters I’ve read that 1) don’t tell me why the person is a PERFECT fit for the job they are applying for and/or 2) bore me to pieces without showing me any of the applicant’s unique character and passion. [And if you've failed to do both of those things…well, that's a pretty big problem.] Now, study abroad is a relatively conservative field when it comes to job applications. We’ve all filled out the same human resources online application forms that go on for pages and pages, and right before you hit submit there’s an error of some kind and you have to start all over. Ack! Hate it when that happens! But if you want to stand out in this crowded job market, do something to catch our attention. Start with superior application materials. Your resume and cover letter better be AMAZING and specifically demonstrate why you are going to rock it in this position! Then do something unique: create an online portfolio, create a video application, start your own blog about study abroad, write guest blog articles for me (seriously, do it!), but do something, ANYTHING professional that will get you noticed and remembered. Not sure where to begin? Here’s a great article from Mashable about social media resumes. Granted these people are trying to get jobs in social media, but you can take these examples and apply them to the study abroad context. Be creative and show any hiring manager who you are and why you’d be a perfect fit!

Note: I hope it goes without saying, but please, please, please for the love of all things study abroad, tailor each and every application, resume, and cover letter for the specific company/university/position you’re applying to. There’s nothing more insulting to a hiring committee to see that the applicant couldn’t be bothered to spend an hour tailoring the content to them. If you want them to seriously consider you, make sure you’ve shown them that you’re serious.

Demonstrate Your Academic Street Cred
The main reason that Master’s degrees are often required or preferred for study abroad jobs is simple: study abroad is, at its core, an academic experience. And in higher education there’s almost nothing more sacred than how academic credit is evaluated and distributed. (Okay, maybe faculty academic freedom and tenure are more sacred…but you get the idea.) That’s why it’s so important that study abroad administrators have a strong foundation in understanding the academic experience…which can often come from having a master’s degree. BUT, if you don’t have those elusive letters behind your name, have no fear. I bet you’ve still got a little academic mojo to share. When you apply for jobs be sure to highlight your high-brow academic experiences. Did you conduct original research as an undergrad? Complete an honors thesis? Better yet, was that research presented at academic conferences and submitted/accepted to academic journals? Did you work on a credit transfer research project for your study abroad office? Did you conduct field research on the ground when you studied abroad? Did you serve as the student liaison for your institution’s re-accreditation process? Did you co-teach lower division courses at your university or tutor in the writing/math labs? Whatever it is, be sure to highlight your academic prowess. Universities and providers want to know you can differentiate between studying abroad in Florence and being a cast member of Jersey Shore in Florence.

Volunteer with a Study Abroad Company or Office
Okay, I know that this option isn’t ideal. Hell…it’s terrible. BUT if you really want to break into this field, you might have to make some sacrifices…and this might be it. The key to this approach is to do project based work. Maybe the study abroad office wants to move to an online pre-departure orientation format? Tell them you’ll do it! Maybe they need to put together a faculty-led program policy manual? Offer to put together a first draft. Whatever the project is, make sure it has a clear start and end and that you put together some real deliverables and objectives for the volunteer position. And since you’ll probably need to keep working a paid job while you volunteer, try to get projects that you can work on from home. At the same time, be sure to etch out a few hours a week when you can be in the office helping with other projects, drop-in advising, random logistical duties (copies and coffee runs!), and to get to know your colleagues.

Take a Temporary Position
This is a tough one. But if you are a bit of a risk taker, determined, and confident you can make a noticeable impact in a short period of time, this may be a great option for you. There are a lot of study abroad programs that require a temporary on-site administrator/coordinator to help manage the pre-departure and onsite experience. A few I can think of are: World Learning-Experiment in International Living, Babson-BRIC, Semester At Sea, and NortheasternUniversity NUin Freshman Programs. These semester-long positions are temporary, but may give you just enough experience to get you noticed and land you an interview.

Be Diligent But Not a Pest
You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have asked me for advice on getting a job in study abroad who never, EVER follow-up on their job applications. They just send their resumes, cover letters, and references out into the interwebs and cross their fingers that they’ll get a call. Big mistake. If you want to be taken seriously, show them that you’re serious about the position. While I’m not advocating that you call and write the study abroad office or hiring manager every day, I AM suggesting that you follow-up on all applications you send out to 1) confirm it was received, 2) Check on the status of the hiring process, and 3) Check AGAIN on the status. You never know what is happening on the “inside” and why you’re considered for a position or not. But it never hurts to follow-up. It won’t work every time, but it may get you noticed.

Here’s a personal example, when I was teaching in China and applying for jobs back in the States, I had sent out more than 100 applications (I’m not joking). One of my applications was for a position with EUSA-International Academic Internship Programs as a University Relations Manager. I poured over my resume and cover letter, tailoring every word to that position. I had followed the application instructions perfectly. I had highlighted my travel blog about China for a little added flair. I thought for sure I was getting an interview. If I could, this is where I’d insert the sound of crickets chirping. I didn’t hear anything. Nothing. Several weeks went passed and I hadn’t received a confirmation email, rejection email, anything. [And this was the case for a LOT of jobs I applied for.] So I worked up the nerve to email the hiring manager and confirm that she received my application (and attached the original email). She was so happy that I followed up because my original email had gone to her junk mail folder. She interviewed me over the phone a few days later. My tenure in China ended and I flew back to the US a few days after that and interviewed in person for the position in Boston….and a week later, I had a job offer. :) I’ll say it again: It never hurts to follow up.

Take What You Can Get
I know it may not seem fair and I know it’s frustrating, demoralizing, and down right crappy, but in this economy, in this job market, and without the academic credentials that most jobs prefer or require, you can’t afford to be picky. As with almost any career in almost any field, you may have to put in a couple of years in a job that, in your mind, is beneath you. Manage your own expectations on this one. Loving study abroad isn’t enough. A lot of us love study abroad. You have to gain the skills and experience associated with working in study abroad. After all, if your car breaks down and needs to be fixed, would you choose a mechanic with specific training in all things automobile and a few years of experience OR the guy who just really, really likes cars and hopes to be a mechanic some day – who would YOU pick? The point is that the competition is fierce and you’ve got to be ready to “pay your dues” for a bit.

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By no means can I guarantee that these tips will work for everyone. But if you take a few of these tips and carefully strategize and craft your personal and professional brand, I have no doubt you’ll get a few interviews. And from there, it’s all on you to demonstrate why you’re awesome.

If you have other suggestions on how to get a job in study abroad WITHOUT a Master’s degree, please leave them in the comments. And of course, if you disagree with anything I’ve outlined above, I want to hear that, too.

Good luck and happy job searching!

Image found here.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12573619590802396129 Michelle

    Good tips – another I wish I had seen fresh from undergrad when I was thinking about how to do this. I now know people who have – climbing in low on the totem pole and taking temporary jobs and such, as you mentioned. It’s not a myth!

    Another tactic, though maybe a step away from the dream job, is to be flexible and give something else a try to build some work experience and/or to put off/save for graduate school (if you do want to go that route at some point). I worked in corporate doing software testing with an electronic medical record company for a couple years after graduation. I got great work experience, tried something new, and found out the corporate world has interesting opportunities to offer.

    Why was this helpful to me in getting into the study abroad field? Well, I work with international internships exclusively and in my interview they specifically said they wanted someone with corporate experience who would understand how to work with host companies and prepare students to work in companies. My predominantly higher ed background was brought up and I had to really play up my understanding of and experience in the corporate world. Never knew that that time would so specifically help me land a job in international ed. (Also helped me be able to afford the MA :)

  • http://thepresentperfect.wordpress.com/ thepresentperfect

    Great post! A lot of good advice there! I am looking to get into the field and you pretty much described me to a T in your last post (minus the experience working as a peer advisor in my study abroad office at university, plus a lot more international experiences with work and a Masters in TESOL). When you say that universities prefer a Master’s are they looking for something directly related to study abroad/international education or is a Master’s in TESOL related enough that they would consider that as being qualified with a Master’s?

    I have looked into volunteering in an office as you suggested but so far no luck. I am a teacher so I have summers off so I figured that could be the perfect chance for me to get some experience fr little or no pay.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17311932328255114391 Nicole Blough

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’m just starting out, looking to work in study abroad and the job hunt has been a little rough. I think, based on this article, I need to revamp my resume to better highlight my international experiences, and I also need to follow up on the positions I’ve applied for already.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18149713502555820167 stazia

    I really appreciate you posting this!! My study abroad experience helped me confirm my passions as well as choosing a career in study abroad! I was my alma mater’s 1st study abroad intern and after I graduated, sometime later, I created “The International Cultures Group” on Facebook because I loved cultures and study abroad so much! Then I interned again for a study abroad blog, Abroad Scout, as an administrator on their Facebook page posting updated articles, fun facts/status’, etc and now, I’m actually going to be starting a Masters program in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University. I am going to apply more of your sound advice to my curriculum. I’ve attended professional conferences like NAFSA (which I would also recommend for networking, taking sessions to learn more about the field, etc), and staying on top of the field as a whole. I really look forward to a career in study abroad. Thanks for posting this again…you’re very insightful and I really enjoy your blog posts :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00925424527458407634 Shawna Marie

    Would you happen to know if there is a list out there of different study abroad companies to work for? I really love that idea since I’m in the middle of my masters and colleges won’t even look at me for an interview! If you have any suggestions I would really really appreciate that. I’ve been searching websites one at a time but it always seems to be the same ones that pop up on search engines. Its difficult to find something in my area as well, since hubby is the main bread winner and I can’t drag him across the country!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14373419212656224533 Missy Gluckmann

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing this. I get asked about this a lot; as a result I partnered with a colleague to create a “How to work in study abroad” class. It includes a huge resource list that describes the types of jobs in study abroad, recommendations on how to transition (if you’re working in another field), must read websites, a list of grad school options and a list of 43 possible interview questions. The live session has already passed, but we’ll be selling the recording soon – read more about it here: http://melibeeglobal.com/2011/09/how-to-pursue-a-career-in-international-education/ Good wishes to those of you considering this field – it is wonderful!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15945575735110772416 LoveStudyAbroad

    Great point about starting with a study abroad company vs a university.I decided to start my own blog http://www.ilovestudyabroad.com but now want to translate my hobby to a career. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17950132323604428516 Steve Wilson

    Wow this is very helpful article, i really appreciate you taking the time and effort to do this. By the way, please check out my blog for more related topics too. How to get a job tips.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08525596329979503931 Scott

    Good Stuff, Brooke. You’re right about the “beneath you” part. It really applies to a lot of careers and jobs. And sometimes it’s even ok to work for free – as a volunteer or official intern.

    And the spam story is spot on. I’ve had my own international non-profit for years now, and I can’t tell you how many “real” and valuable emails I’ve fished out of the spam folder — whether from potential clients or job seekers or business partners.

    Take care!

  • http://rohitraina.wordpress.com/ rohitraina

    Well, I hav been long pursuing my dreams to study abroad and your article does clear a few doubts. I had also come across this Lufthansa programs for students seeking to study abroad, was wondering if this is a good option??

    http://on.fb.me/Y966xB

    What do you think of it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14963498338506270145 Venkat Cmit

    Very useful information to student community. We are student study abroad adviser located in India, Hyderabad. Many student approach us for internship opportunities at abroad. Is there any one, who would like to share and work for mutual benefit to help the student community.
    cmit.hyd@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08227902641615779161 Roger Richard

    Very informative .
    Aussieblog.net

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16046424996982165677 Moni

    Military resume/really needs to be prepared in the formal firmness, and it must not consist of abbreviations, in addition to everyday text. It should reveal your own individuality in the robust dialect. Your cv must spotlight your talent from the candidate’s ability in addition to qualifications.