The concept ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice about how to use their degree and current job skills to launch into a different industry or career. We know that no one career story is the same, but telling the stories of others can challenge, inspire and shape your own. We are asking every interview the same five questions:
- Why they picked their course
- Their course experience
- Their first job
- What they learnt
- Their next step
- And their advice
I studied a Bachelor of International and Global Studies majoring in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.
Why Amy picked the course:
It had the best reputation for global studies, it is international renown and I guess the ‘prestige’ of USYD appealed too.
I majored in Government and International Relations because I wanted to become more informed about the world and keep up to date with current events. I think that politics is something which should be understood – at least on a basic level, by everyone.
Amy’s course experience:
It’s a three year course that has four core subjects that need to be completed, then the rest are electives- a language was encouraged but not mandatory. No matter what subject you do there’ll always be some group work. I did group work at least once for each Government subject- there’s usually a group presentation on a case study.
Lecturers and tutors varied quite significantly across the courses I took. Some were really engaging and made an effort to make lectures interesting and interactive, while some were difficult to understand and often just read off the lecture slides.
But more importantly, Amy’s anecdotal feedback on the course:
Initially at the start of my course, I would have said it’s important to obtain some work experience or graduate work because it is a very competitive graduate market. I never obtained any of my own placements, nor did the University assist me if I had wanted to. Now I’ve finished, I don’t think it is too much of an issue, and to be honest – work experience coupled with this degree isn’t all that impressive as it’s so broad.
Really, this degree is just a glorified advanced arts degree that would be a lot more special coupled with another degree, maybe commerce or business or science. I don’t know many people in my course who plan on finishing their studies at this three year degree either. Yes, it’s incredibly interesting, but just not that useful.
I think that I would have been wise to learn a second language. Knowing at least one foreign language – or at the very least a demonstrated aptitude to learn quickly – is pretty much a prerequisite for any significant international relations job these days, certainly in the Australian foreign service, the UN system, or for field-based positions with aid agencies and major international NGOs like the International Crisis Group.
Also, read widely…. a good place to start is simply with a journal like The Economist, which is a very good way of keeping you up to date not only with geopolitical issues and events worldwide, but obviously economic ones, and scientific/technological and cultural ones as well.
Amy’s first job:
I guess you are probably wondering what I was planning on ‘doing’ with this degree?
Well, I was attracted by the idea of a diplomatic career. Or if not in the foreign service as such, certainly a job which takes you out and about internationally and gets you engaged with international policy issues, be they to do with peace and security, aid and development, trade or any one of the innumerable transnational policy issues – from climate change to people trafficking to managing health pandemics.
Getting a full time internship in an international organisation, or an on-the-ground local organisation in another country, has become almost a pre requisite for job-hunting in international relations.
Which is ironic – because most of us go into international relations to bring equality to the world, yet to be able to work for free to get your foot in the door is actually a very privileged thing.
It can be a frustrating experience trying to find these positions, even totally unpaid ones, because there are so many young people chasing them from so many countries. I finally got a full time (unpaid) role working in an business hub in South America that helped local farmers access capital to build their business. There were 42 unpaid, three-month to six-month, internship positions available. It was so frustrating as I knew I would be competing with these students again after the internship.
What Amy learnt:
These experiences are what you make of them. You need to seriously network. You need to put your hand up and outperform your job. Make yourself valid. The right skills and experience are necessary conditions for getting a foreign policy-related career started, but they may not be sufficient. It really does often come down to sheer luck – whether you happen to be in the right place at the right time, and whether you have managed to catch just the right eyes just when you needed to. This is really frustrating I know… so I guess my advice is not to put all of your eggs in one basket.
Amy’s next step… or her ‘pivot’:
I was craving security at this point. I applied for a media relations role at Art Gallery NSW. This was such a great fit.
The skills involved in producing media relations and educating the public about events and artists; and practicing diplomacy are really one in the same. In media relations at the gallery I need curiosity, an international perspective, and the ability to work effectively in complex team structures, a value for education and communication – and that’s what I always aspired to do in public relations.
While the stakes are much, much higher working in international diplomacy (I know) – I do still feel like I am making a difference and contributing to something bigger than me. It’s my job to relate to an audience, regardless of their country of origin, and educate them.
This probably sounds like I have given up on my dream… but what I have realised is that this is going to be a long game, not a short one.
I am focused on developing my communication and written skills through my job in media relations. My advice is to find a job with security, but that can bolster your soft and transferable skills. Be clever about which corporate you pick. A state health or education department would a good choice, for example.
I am also learning Arabic at university. I treat it as a part-time job, I spend 3 – 4 hours on it.
I also am a huge believer in setting up informational interviews, and (kindly) asking those who are senior to you for their career advice. I still keep in contact with my teachers and first employers. In this day and age, career paths are non-linear, and you never know when you might want to consult with someone about their expertise. Networking gets a bad rap, but cultivating meaningful relationships is an art form worth practicing. It takes tact, humility, chemistry, and intention to really get right.
Do you want to share your career story? Get in contact with Sam