Jobs in Government and Diplomacy

For those of you whose New Year’s resolution is to get a job in International Relations, I’m posting the “Careers in IR” section from my textbook (Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 10th ed. 2012-2013 Update).  This is the first of four parts:  Government and Diplomacy; International Business; Nongovernmental Organizations; and Education and Research.

Jobs in government and diplomacy offer team players the chance to affect policy, but require patience with large bureaucracies.

Both governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) play key roles in international relations and employ millions of people with interests and training in IR. Despite differences between careers in IGOs and governments, there are numerous similarities. Both are hierarchical organizations, with competitive and highly regulated working environments. Whether in the U.S. State Department or the UN, entrance into and promotion in these organizations is regulated by exams, performance evaluations, and tenure with the organization. Another similarity lies in the challenges of being pulled in many directions concerning policies. Governments face competing pressures of public opinion, constituencies, and interests groups—each with distinct policy opinions. IGOs also deal with interest groups (such as NGOs), but an IGO’s constituents are states, which in many cases disagree among themselves. Many employees of IGOs or governments thrive on making decisions that influence policies. Both work environments also attract coworkers with deep interests in international affairs, and the resulting networks of contracts can bring professional and intellectual rewards. Finally, jobs in governments or IGOs may involve travel or living abroad, which many enjoy. However, promotion can be slow and frustrating. Usually, only individuals with advanced degrees or technical specializations achieve non–entry level positions. It can take years to climb within the organization and the process may involve working in departments far from your original interests. In addition, both IGOs and governments are bureaucracies with formal rules and procedures, requiring great patience. Employees often express frustration that initiative and “thinking outside the box” are not rewarded.

SKILLS TO HONE The key to working in IGOs or government is to get your foot in the door. Be flexible and willing to take entry positions that are not exactly in your area of interest. For example, the State Department is only one of many parts of the U.S. government that deal with IR. Do not assume that to work in foreign affairs, one must be a diplomat. Foreign language training is also important, especially for work in large IGOs with many field offices. The ability to work well in groups and to network within and across organizations is an important asset. People who can strengthen lines of communication can gain support from many places in an organization. Finally, strong analytical and writing abilities are extremely important. Both IGOs and governments deal with massive amounts of information daily. The ability to analyze information (even including mathematical or computational analysis) and to write clear, concise interpretations will make one invaluable.

Shawn Dorman. Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: American Foreign Service Assoc., 2003.
Linda Fasulo. An Insider’s Guide to the UN. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

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