Setting Yourself Up Right for an International Career
Working in an international institution, multilateral governmental body or and non-profit organisation is the dream of many. Despite its many appeal, competition for entry-level positions is tough, and the requirements needed to stand out are many and somehow discouraging. Let’s explore some of the key skills needed to enter international institutions and how to better tailor your profile for the right organisation.
1. Start with the basics
Regardless of what your specialty is, you need to have the right academic titles. Most positions require at least a bachelor or a master degree in an internationally recognised institution, and years of experience. Making sure you meet this requirement is a mandatory first step. If you have attended conferences, training, panels, or been awarded scholarships and prizes for your work and academic performance, this gives you more credit. There is no such as thing as too many ‘credit’ when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
2. Identify your interests
Finding out your interest area early on and building a profile around this area is worth underlying. Based on the organisation you wish to consider or the geographical area you intend to work in, being a real specialist in a topic can truly make the difference. Besides your profession or your titles, choosing to specialise in a niche subject you are passionate about can be a determining factor in your career opportunities and choices.
3. Build a credible profile
Building an international profile is crucial. Nowadays, there are many opportunities to both study and work abroad, so many that it is now considered a given. The sooner you start exploring these options, the better your chances. Showcasing overseas experiences will definitely serve as an incredible booster, and having not only concrete practical experiences, but most importantly, good networking skills will prove you are - in theory - cut out for a job in any multinational institution.
4. Embrace diversity in all areas
It would not be an international environment without diversity. Often overlooked, especially by native English speakers, being multilingual is much more than a trend. While English or French are generally the most common working languages in such organisations, fluency in other idioms is very often required. Especially in departments or organisations whose focus is regional, knowledge of the local language(s) or even dialects is a must. If Esperanto may not get you anywhere, Spanish, Russian or Chinese are definitely in high request.
5. Master the office basics
While basic computing, economic and writing skills are considered a prerequisite, the list of soft skills that characterise successful individuals in international institutions is diverse and extensive. A few key examples are here included:
Cross-cultural Communication and Sensibility
Flexibility and Adaptability
Socio-cultural interpersonal skills
Calmness and ability to work under pressure
6. Grow in your specialty
Grow your own expertise and specialty. Organisations will not only have different focus points and missions, but will also target specific positions and professions. The scope of some, such as the United Nations, may be so varied that all sorts of jobs openings could be available worldwide at some point in time. Others may be narrowed down to a geographical area (e.g. EU, ASEAN, SADC etc.) or may only deal with more specific topics (WHO, UNICEF, NATO, etc.), and therefore concentrate on very technical issues. While the recommendations above generally apply to all, additional hard skills and tailored technical expertise need to be carefully considered as well when looking at different career prospects.
7. Understand the organisational system
The best way to truly understand how the system works in different sectors and geographical areas is browsing through each individual organisation’s website. All institutions, both big and small alike, now offer a “career” web page where all vacant positions and internships are periodically listed. Some may even post and advertise in other platforms (e.g. LinkedIn) or may provide information that helps you understand whether or not you could be a good fit for the organisation. An exemplary website is the European Union career page - https://epso.europa.eu/why-eu-careers_en
Here, you can see all the available job openings, read through detailed instructions about the application process, and even find tips and tricks for different career paths. Filling in the different application forms is very often a lengthy and tiresome process, but it is a mandatory step that cannot be avoided. Create a digital copy of your curriculum vitae, translated in the main working language of the organisation that highlights how your experiences so far have made you the perfect candidate for the job.
8. Practice the tests
More recently, organisations have been relying on computer based numerical or psychometric tests at different stages of the application process. While there is no specific way to really prepare for them, it is never a bad idea to have a look at samples online, and make sure you fully understand the organisation’s mission and what the job you wish to apply for entails. You may also want to take into consideration how far you are willing to relocate. This is a factor that may have quite a significant impact on your job search.
9. Consider another route
When it comes to international organisations, hiring personnel remotely, temporary freelancers or (experienced) consultants is also something that is gradually becoming more and more common. If you have already established your position or at least found your specialty, and are considered an ‘expert’ at what you do, the odds of you getting hired - at least for short medium term projects/missions - are a lot better. Regardless of the field, basic to advance IT competences are more than a must as part of the job, especially with dealing with digital content.
10. Just keep trying
Even if you tick all the right boxes on paper, there is still no guarantee you will get the job. At the end of the day, it is up to you to figure out how to best sell your experiences and capabilities and portray yourself as the perfect candidate.
Take a look at some positions currently available around the world to get a better grasp of some of the tips portrayed in this article.