Studying International Relations? These 40 jobs are the future
Updated: Feb 1
If you are studying International Relations (IR) you take classes in various disciplines like economics, politics, government, social issues, public policy, business, global conflicts, security and environmental sustainability. Maybe you won't study all these subjects, but some combination of them. Either way IR degrees are broad in nature, for good reason.
Well-rounded international affairs specialists are trained to analyze relations between countries, organizations and people. It's a common mantra that you will have your pick of employers afterwards: you're competitive for positions with the government, private sector, non-governmental relations, and academic institutions. But it's important to understand that you have to acquire certain experience, skills and expertise to set yourself apart from other graduates and, most importantly, to get ready for real world jobs.
The job market for international relations graduates is a bit of a jungle. The landscape constantly changes as international issues arise and new concepts and ideas enter the geopolitical and economic arenas. It's important to keep a finger on the pulse while also following your instincts to point you in the right direction.
So what's new? An increasing number of international relations jobs focus on the intersection of global issues and technology; external communication is geared towards digital platforms and social media; social enterprises and public-private partnerships tackling global challenges are on the rise; large-scale data analysis is taking on a bigger role in making international policy decisions; and security is increasingly focused on the cyber space. Logically, the next generation of jobs in international affairs reflects this.
1. State Department.
The bureaucracy isn't going anywhere, and certain aspects of government work are getting more international in nature. Besides the traditional diplomatic corps tackling bilateral and global issues there is an expanding group of civil servants working on international commerce, security, banking, energy, and immigration issues. Federal agencies like commerce and agriculture have their own foreign services and hire experts to work in their offices in embassies overseas.
2. Security or defense analyst.
The military is also here to stay, with an increased focus on non-hardware areas like intelligence gathering and data sharing, analysis, and cyber protection. As a security analyst you can work in the military, national security departments, or almost any federal agency with overseas operations. There are probably many more civilian jobs at the Department of Defense than you think.
If you want to live in Washington DC and you're interested in representing multinational interests and foreign governments or organizations at Capitol Hill, you can join the lobbyist army hired by associations, companies, and non-profit organisations to convince government members to make a decision in their favor. You can work as a "federal liaison" on a whole range of topics including defense, gender issues, foreign aid, or trade.
4. Arms control and non-proliferation.
Many civilians work on non-proliferation in the foreign policy and national security arenas across the state and defense departments. They coordinate and oversee the development and implemention of policies on the international level, analyze and research developments, and monitor and make recommendations regarding the various international treaties on nuclear weapons, arms control, and chemical and biological weapons.
5. Renewable energy consultant.
Clean and renewable energy are growing fields in international affairs both in urgency and size as massive emerging markets are clamoring for assistance in this area. Thinktanks, aid agencies and companies are all looking to understand the market better and want to be seen as a thought-leader in this area, hiring people to identify new business opportunities, evaluate green investment overseas, and lead the preparation and writing innovative proposals.
6. Foundation manager.
The majority of charity initiatives in the US were always financed by weathy philanthropists (from Rockefeller to tech billionaires) and in the past decades they've gone increasingly international. As a result there are a lot of jobs concerned with managing, marketing and monitoring their international development projects.
If you can't or don't want to join the civil or foreign service and become a career bureaucrat, you can still do a lot of the same work (and have more flexibility) on a personal services contract with the State Department or Department of Defense. You can also get short term contracts with major think tanks in need of program managers and researchers with expertise in IR issues.
8. Development consultant.
Just like regular consultancy firms, many development contractors have training programs to attract young talent who may rise through their ranks. This includes Chemonics International, DAI, Louis Berger Group, JSI, AECOM, Creative Associates, Palladium, and Winrock International.
9. Health program manager.
Health is and will always be one of the key areas in which countries want and must work together. If you weren't convinced after everything you heard about eradicating malaria and fighting HIV/AIDS, then surely COVID-19 convinced you that there is a lot of work to be done to fight infectuous diseases and viruses globally, and get everybody treated and vaccinated.
10. Monitoring and Evaluation.
M&E or impact assessment plays a crucial role within the international development space. It involves developing positive relations with clients, field workers, and donors. Monitoring projects often involves travel, meetings and interviews with stakeholders, qualitative and quantitative research, writing reports and recommendations, and supporting business development opportunities through presentations and data dissemination. M&E experts design data management systems, planning tools, survey instruments, work plans and protocols, and training workshops.
11. Agriculture and food security.
Nutrition is a human right and a key development goal is promoting inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems, which is becoming ever more urgent with the onset of dangerous climate change and population growth among some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. Implementing the policies necessary to achieve this requires a comprehensive approach well beyond agricultural and technical innovation. Governments, civil society, and community-based organizations need to work together to create the political will and funding to invest in education and stability to make progress.
12. Democracy and elections expert.
Promoting freedom of speech and elections in young or unstable democracies, educating local populatoins, and monitoring and certifying elections is a priority on any iteration of the human rights agenda. Increasingly this means designing and supporting technology-enabled programs, but it also means traveling to other countries, working with local organizations, and monitoring what's going on on the ground. Online, it's about building safe, open information spaces, countering misinformation, and strengthening the voice of minorities. On a policy and advocacy level, the work entails holding governments accountable and trying to make them more responsive to their citizens.
13. Policy Advisor on Gender Equality.
Gender Based Violence, women's and maternal health, girls education, sexual violence, child marriage, and genital mutilation are major global human rights concerns as a main or cross-cutting issue within development work and sustainable economic growth initiatives. Much more remains to be done to integrate women and gender policy in U.S. foreign policy globally and the development community.
14. Fundraiser and grant manager.
NGOs like Save the Children, Amnesty International, World Vision, Mercy Corps, IRC and many others are good and necessary, but they probably wouldn't be around if they didn't employ savvy fundraisers who know how to spot opportunities, cultivate contacts, and write killer grant proposals. Grant managers secure funding to advance strategic priorities, research donors globally, build relationships, develop and present grant proposals for funding, negotiate terms, ensure meeting grant requirements, and manage grant contracts and reporting requirements.
15. Public/government relations.
Established mega companies like Amazon, Chevron, Heineken, Coca Cola, American Express, McDonalds, Philips, Marriott, FedEx, SAS and Microsoft (all high-rated employers!) have a large public policy and external relations team tackling a host of external challenges and opportunities across the world, working with local, national, and supranational policymakers, industry organizations, and NGOs across various policy issues.
16. Business expansion manager.
Companies and organizations newly expanding overseas need employees who are well versed in foreign languages, regulations, customs, etc. Think big Silicon Valley companies like Uber, Airbnb and TikTok that set up whole new offices on the fly to break into new markets with seemingly unlimited resources and energy.
17. Strategic communications.
Communication specialists for multinationals and development organizations provide strategic guidance and a tell a compelling narrative across various channels. They shape the organization’s look and messaging, cultivate the supporter base, network with governments; manage media relations, organize events and fundraising activities, and drive content for and traffic to the website and social media outlets. This is often a senior level at organizations, ideal for people who love to work with others and have a good understanding of the organization they work for, the environment they operate in, and how to cater to the needs of donors and audiences.
18. Digital and social media manager.
Many international companies and organizations are anxiously looking to hire people who know their way around the internet and social media, are well versed in all the latest apps, trends, and can advise on the costs and technical implementation of publicity campaigns. Especially for entry-level jobs and startups it's become a real selling point if you can bring genuine experience and enthusiasm in this area, and it some places it's becoming a basic requirement.
19. Writer & Editor.
Writing and editing is a hard skill that's valued in many international relations jobs, but it can also be leveraged into a higher level position as senior content or communications manager for any professional organization that puts out written products of any type. If writing is your thing, invest in it by getting additional professional training to be that writer everyone can use and rely on to get high quality for their written products.
Economics & Finance
20. Commerce and trade consultant.
Both in emerging and established markets there's a lot of work in helping small, mid-size and large companies from a certain country or sector set up shop in another country. Government jobs involve export facilitation, foreign direct investment promotion, trade promotion, and developing and disseminating trade information to U.S. businesses or associations. Even small-time consultants can attract a lot of clients trying to enter specialized or tricky markets overseas providing basic market research, risk anlayis, and assistance with making connections when establishing and developing their businesses abroad.
21. Development finance.
Kiva, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Worldbank, IDA--whether you're a fan of micro finance or prefer massive financial injections to lift countries out of poverty, it's a fact that financial markets don't always function well abroad and that many communities and whole countries struggle to access loans necessary for development. Understanding contributing factors like corruption, lagging technology, and low levels of financial literacy makes it possible to pave the way for donor organizations to have impact in the most farflung areas in the world in underdeveloped economies.
22. Statistician/ data analysis
Being able to collect and run data analysis for companies, development projects and think tanks is increasingly good business. With a statistics degree in hand, you can charge big bucks to major companies or use it as a force for good in large-scale research on international issues, and you're even marketable to smaller non-profit organizations and social enterprises that temporarily need your expertise for a baseline or evaluation study.
23. Cyber Finance.
Concepts like virtual currency, blockchain, virtual asset service providers, exchangers, tumblers, and cyber-enabled crimes may sound difficult to you, and that's the point. This growing global market requires people to bridge the gap between the technical analysists and regulators to detect, counter, and deter money laundering and terrorist financing, and other forms of transnational cyber-enabled crime. Advocacy consists of encouraging foreign governments to work more closely with each other and providing training on these complex concepts to industry, governments, and domestic and foreign associations and organizations.
24. Cyber security specialist.
You don't have to be a hacker to manage and coordinate state and private company responses to cyber attacks to their payment systems and databases, which are steeply on the rise. This area is expected to grow hugely, so gaining expertise to contribute to formulating and implementing policy in this space can really pay off in the future when you're the only one who knows what they're talking about.
25. Border and migration management.
People have always been on the move and the prediction is it's going to get even more common for large populations to migrate. And it doesn't look like the borders are about to be opened. No matter what your political views are this is a fascinating realm of work, with lots to be done such as border management, information and messaging, individual case work, camp management, legal assistance, asylum claims, and policy advocacy.
26. Refugee programs.
On the "soft side" of migration there is a steady yearly influx of refugees from all over the world (depending on the political climate) in need of settlement and integration programs, as well as millions of refugees stuck in camps overseas who are dependent on support from international organizations like UNHCR, IOM, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, and Catholic Relief Services.
27. Financial technology integration.
Financial institutions like Western Union and Mastercard have a commercial interest in getting underdeveloped countries and regions ready for the technology behind the digital products they sell. They hire managers who bring digital tools to marginalized individuals and communities, which requires analysis of the local political, economic and social environment, which in turn contributes to the company overall strategy of future growth. It involves engaging stakeholders, forging external partnerships, implementing processes, and reporting.
28. Risk Manager.
Companies spend a lot of time hiring consultants to assess risks that could harm their reputation, safety, security, or financial success when entering global markets. It's a highly analytical job that consists of identifying relevant political and economic risks specific to a country or market. These risks can come from various factors such as crime, conflict, natural disasters or environmental and economic developments. Analysts assess available information and use modelling tools and data analytics to calculate risks.
29. Social Enterprise Technology
The intersection of technology and almost any field in IR is a growth industry, whether you're talking about development aid, economic empowerment, defense capabilities, or information dissemination. There are many forward thinking companies, often social enterprises, that provide that technology. They are long rumored to take over the work of traditional international development aid. Customer Relations management (CRM) created by Salesforce is an example, or the AI technology spread by Samasource and used to provide employment opportunities for women and young people in developing countries.
Research & advocacy
30. Political Analyst.
Political analysts are recruited by the government, political parties, intelligence agencies, research institutes and media organizations for analyzing public policies, identifying political issues for research, forecasting outcomes, placing issues in a historical context, and advising on foreign government policies. The work includes interpreting various political developments, new laws, public policies, and government debates and decisions.
31. Climate Specialist.
Think about tomorrow's problems and climate obviously comes to mind. There's much to be done around researching existing anti-climate change coalitions, transforming entire systems like energy, transport, and agriculture, and generally contributing to the global climate agenda which many companies and organizations want to do by a wide variety of means.
32. Oceans and wildlife project manager.
If you want to do program management, like to think strategically about solving major problems and you care about oceans and forests, specialize in the governance mechanisms to protect them and work in the space between the communities and companies that negatively impact the environment and the high-level government representatives who write policy to curb these practices and invest in alternatives. Much of our ecosystem is under serious threat and people finally start noticing.
33. International labor specialist.
Labor specialists and consultants conduct and contribute to various types of research and publications in the areas of child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, and labor migration. This research includes desk reviews, population surveys (in-person and virtual), key informant interviews, and focus group discussions, resulting in information used by policy makers, companies who produce and manufacture oversees, and human rights groups all over the world.
34. Fighting transnational crime.
Transnational crime encompasses a broad number of topics including maritime crime (piracy), international drug trafficking, waste dumping, and corruption. Projects in this area take a multi-facted approach including data collection and sharing, information dissemination, publishing reports, conducting trainings and workshops, writing proposals, strenghtening law enforcement capabilities and cross-border intelligence sharing, and coordinating and facilitating meetings between stakeholders.
International relations is not a typical high school course, but IR graduates often develop the knowledge needed to teach in the subject areas of history and government at the high school level. In most cases this will require some prior teaching experience and passing any state-required teacher test and licensing.
International relations majors can find positions in many university departments, where they can teach on cross-cutting international issues and conduct research. You'd probably start off teaching just one course and work your way up to associate professor, or work to become a full professor after publishing a certain amount of scholarly articles and becoming a thought-leader.
Many global challenges require raising awareness to drum up support and capabilities to tackle them. Whether it's climate change, human trafficking or fair trade, many international organizations and companies hire trainers to bring the message to local communities, (potential) donors, or their own employees.
38. Civilian peacekeepers.
If you like the idea of traveling to the most challenging and remote places in the world to help provide safety and security to people living in failed or post-conflict countries. Humanitarian forces are often tasked to help in the areas of providing shelter, food distribution, registration, reporting, logistics, and communication.
39. Child protection.
Any global challenge that involves or affects children, including violent conflicts, natural disasters, and irregular migration, needs people specialized in safeguarding, organizing and advocating the basic rights of children and protecting them against inherent dangers such as violence and labor trafficking.
40. Climate Adaptation and Resilience Specialist.
As we go from climate "change" to climate "crisis" there is an increasing recognition that coastal areas and vulnerable communities and ecosystems should build up their crisis response capacity, advocate on a global level, enhance coordination and collaboration between stakeholders, and strengthen relationships in the field of international humanitarian assistance, to respond to the negative impact of climate change on topics including economic growth, food security, agriculture, renewable energy, and health.
International Jobs websites
Council of Foreign Relations