Recently I attended an event all about foreign policy, run by the think tank Future Foreign Policy. Here is what I learnt:
It’s About More than the FCO
Think about working in foreign policy and you might immediately think of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Perhaps you might even think of well-known international aid agencies. But foreign policy is a broad sector, with a diverse range of career opportunities. You could be working for a private company as a risk analyst advising international businesses on cyber security; as a researcher for a think tank producing policy papers on counter-terrorism; or as a social media officer for an NGO helping to raise awareness of the issue of global poverty.
Think About Where You Want to Work
The event included speakers from think tanks, non-profit organisations, private companies, academia and government, all of whom were involved in foreign policy in various ways. Which makes you start to think about what kind of organisation you would like to work for. For example, while the academic could give his opinion on issues freely, the diplomat had to be more careful about what he said – a reflection of the institutions who employ them.
Build Your Skills and Experience
A good understanding of current affairs, politics and international relations is obviously a must if you want to work in foreign policy. However, all the speakers agreed that successful applicants also had a range of skills and experiences. For example, for think tanks and non-profits, any experience in administration, events and marketing will be valued. Smaller organisation will always appreciate somebody who has the ability and flexibility to take on different roles and different projects.
Don’t Give Up
‘Most people give up too easily’. This was the opinion of one speaker during the discussion on careers in foreign policy. This industry is notoriously difficult to get into and you have to be persistent to succeed. You may have to complete more than one internship, spend your free time volunteering or writing blog posts, and even attend events on cold Saturdays in November! And it may even take you a few years after graduation to finally get the job you have really been wanting. But don’t get too despondent – all the speakers agreed that everyone they knew who really wanted to work in foreign policy had managed to do so eventually.
Get invovled and be seen
i.e. by volunteering, attending events, making yourself known and putting yourself forward. Making yourself available to people means that they will start to find you useful and, eventually, indispensable. It will also allow you to be among the first to find out about upcoming opportunities for work. This is particularly true when looking to work for a non-profit organisation, but also applies to other areas of foreign policy work. Voluntary work can turn to paid temporary work which could turn into something more permanent in the future.
This sector is a competitive one and to make your CV stand out you need to be that little bit different. So think about what makes special skills and experiences you have which others might not – and they don’t have to be directly related to foreign policy. Do you have an unusual hobby? Have you completed a particularly interesting project at uni or won an award for something? And if you haven’t got anything like this on your CV, then think about how you fill that gap. Oh, and it should go without saying but don’t exaggerate or outright lie on your application. The foreign policy sector is a close community, so you will quickly be found out and just as quickly ruin your reputation.
Give It A Go
The two founders of Future Foreign Policy were university students who saw a need for a forum for young people to talk about foreign affairs. What started off simply as a blog has now become a thriving think tank. One of the speakers at the event had spent a couple of years volunteering for various charities, before deciding to set up his own not-for-profit organisation. The point is these people gave it a go at creating their own opportunities, and you can too. If you need some help on how you go about creating your own project our Careers Consultants can help. Worst case scenario and your idea doesn’t take off, you would have demonstrated initiative and giving yourself something interesting to talk about in an interview.
Use Social Media
During the day TV screens in the different rooms showed a live twitter stream for the event. This meant that if you had something insightful to say about the topic of discussion, you could tweet it and everyone at the event would immediately see it. Not only was this a great way of making yourself known (and an instant ice-breaker when it came to the inevitable introductions later on over lunch), but you could quickly pick up followers. In an industry where who you know is an important as what, using social media to make connections is a must.
If you are anything like me you might find walking into a room full of strangers and trying to make conversation quite daunting. However, you probably also find it just as embarrassing being the one on your own, trying to hide yourself behind a tall plant so that no-one notices. The great thing about events like this one is that almost everyone is in the same position as you – they are nearly all undergraduate or postgraduate students who have come along to meet people and talk about foreign policy. And networking can be very rewarding: aside from what it can do for your career in terms of making contacts, you get a chance to talk to interesting people, find out what they are doing and come away inspired. If you are unsure about attending particular events because you don’t like the idea of networking, come and get some tips and advice from the Careers Centre.
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Careers Information Assistant
QM Careers & Enterprise Centre