3 Ways to Advance Your Career in International Relations

For mid-career professionals looking to take on higher-level management positions or transition sectors, the job market can be tough. How can one stand out above the rest? During a career workshop as a part of the Executive Leadership course in the Master of International Service program at American University, students asked a panel of experts for their advice on how to make this transition. Here are three key takeaways from that conversation:

  • Know thyself. Self-awareness is an essential quality of a good leader. As a mid-career professional, you should have a good understanding of what your natural tendencies are, where you have gaps, and what value you add to an organization. You should be able to explain to hiring managers not only what you did in a job, but also how you did it and how that provided a benefit for your employer. By articulating your strengths and areas for growth, you demonstrate your fit as a team member and a leader to your potential employer. As you begin to think about your next career steps, spend some time reflecting on how you will do this. If you struggle with self-awareness, find people that can be constructive and support you in this discovery process. That can be former colleagues, supervisors, professors, or a career coach.
  • Establish yourself as a thought leader. Engage in critical discussions in your field in a public forum. You can accomplish this through writing blogs, posting thoughtfully on social media, or getting articles published. You can also present at conferences, volunteer or join the board of a nonprofit, or take a leadership role in a professional association. Think about what unique perspective you can add to the conversation surrounding issues and events in your field. In addition to your professional experience, a Master’s degree can help you to sharpen these critical thinking and analytical skills, give you opportunities to produce publishable work, and add credibility to your ideas.
  • Build relationships. While you are engaging in these conversations, be sure to establish connections with the people you meet along the way. Your capacity to build relationships will demonstrate your emotional intelligence to potential future employers. Furthermore, if you have a positive rapport with someone, even if not a hiring manager, they may be willing to notify their employer of your interest and can assist in moving your application to the consideration pile. Be genuinely curious about the work of others, seek commonalities, ask intelligent questions and humbly ask for advice. At networking events, keep an open mind when talking to people regardless of their perceived usefulness to you in the moment. How you treat others reflects on your ability as a leader, and negative interactions could ruin your reputation and damper your job prospects. In addition to using online networking platforms such as LinkedIn, and joining professional associations, your alma mater is likely to offer plenty of networking opportunities for students and alumni to connect.

These activities do not come easily to everyone. It takes research and time to do this self-reflection, to find the right audience and platform for your ideas, and to establish connections with leaders in your field. However, if you invest in these activities, you can sharpen your pitch, grow your network, and increase your chances of obtaining the job of your dreams.




The expert panelists referred to in this article include Divina Gamble, Senior Client Partner and Co-Leader of Nonprofit Practice at Korn Ferry, Col. Brian Anderson, Senior Director of Transition & Member Services at Military Officers Association of America, and Michelle Spezzacatena (MIS ’15), Special Assistant in the Signature Programs Office at the Library of Congress. This article was written by Brittany Rock, Program Coordinator of the Master of International Service (MIS) Program at American University’s School of International Service (SIS) and published in May 2019.