If you studied international relations, you know that students often come to the major with a variety of interests, including culture, travel, language, history, and politics—and continue exploring many of them through their courses and extracurriculars.
An international relations degree draws on so many fields and is so versatile and adaptable it’s “boundary-less,” says Karol Johansen, Associate Director of Career Education at the University of California, Irvine’s Division of Career Pathways. “That interdisciplinary perspective is really key, and 21st-century analytical skills prepare students for careers on a broad scale.” Johansen has seen alumni pursue economics, finance, marketing, entertainment, global politics, culture, history, public policy, international business, and more.
With few exceptions, “Students in this major can really do anything they want with so many transferable skills,” says Jonathan Byers, Director of Career Education from the Office of Career and Professional Development at Gonzaga University
On some campuses, programs that focus on this field can go by different names, like global studies, international studies, or international affairs. But even with the variation in title, they almost all share a commitment to cross-cultural awareness, geopolitics, and critical thinking. The interdisciplinary nature of international relations—with coursework spanning across subjects like history, political science, sociology, communications, economics, and more—can be a great way to acquire skills that will help you succeed in a wide range of jobs.
International relations majors gain many transferable skills and experiences as undergraduates, including:
- Communication skills: Articulating clear arguments and precise points, whether it be in written or verbal form, and condensing information into digestible pieces that are meaningful for their intended audience are crucial skills for a range of fields. International relations majors can absolutely bring this to the table, thanks to papers, presentations, and projects they’ve completed.
- Analytical thinking skills: International relations, at its core, invites analysis, comparisons, and questions. One project could require you to draw connections between the economic trends and the laws of a region, or a paper could invite you to assess a region’s political strategy and global reactions. Grads bring the ability to assess and consider multiple layers of information, to process and synthesize that data, and to draw connections with broader themes and issues. Being able to think critically and analyze information is a skill that recruiters are recognizing more and more, Byers says, as these abilities help employees and their colleagues strategize and make decisions.
- Research abilities: Often, the key to figuring out next steps isn’t about knowing everything right off the bat, it’s about knowing how to look for the answers to the questions you have. The research skills required of an international relations major—their ability to immerse themselves in a subject matter with which they may or may not have direct experience—is a strength that will help them become independent and resourceful employees no matter which field they pursue post-graduation. Plus, asking questions and focusing on key themes, details, and trends is often crucial when entering and adapting to a new professional field or even setting. What do your coworkers tend to prioritize? What does your boss bring up first? How is your industry discussed online or in the media?
- Cross-cultural awareness and understanding: International relations graduates are in a great position to contribute to organizations that operate in different countries and regions, serve diverse populations, and want to stay in tune with diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices. Since they’ve researched how populations relate to and affect one another, identified the impacts of political structures and systems, and discussed local and regional issues—and may have studied abroad—international relations majors are well-equipped to offer a sensitive and nuanced perspective and help businesses operate with cultural respect and awareness.
Of course, these skills are only the first lines of an extensive list of strengths and abilities. But what sort of jobs is an international relations major best suited for? Here are a few examples, with salary information from PayScale (note that PayScale’s database is updated nightly, and these numbers reflect the latest as of October 2021).
Average salary: $43,371
Community outreach is often a priority for nonprofits, educational institutions, and public sector entities where communicating with members of the public is essential. As a community outreach coordinator, you might operate as a point of contact and to balance both internal needs and external factors, which can require careful strategizing and planning, extensive communication, use of technology, and discretion. A typical day may involve attending public events, scheduling and calendaring for future happenings, posting social media updates, and responding to public inquiries.
International relations grads are especially well-suited for this work because they’re practiced with understanding different populations, groups, and sets of priorities; in order to perform community outreach effectively, it helps to know not only what should be communicated to a particular audience, but also how it can be communicated most effectively.
Average salary: $49,994
If one of your favorite parts of your international relations coursework was analyzing trends and data as they relate to populations, then market research may be a great fit. You can work in-house for an organization or you can be employed with a firm that conducts market research for clients. In either role, the objective is better insight and understanding of their target audience.
Market researchers collect information in a variety of ways, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observation. The research and analytical skills acquired during your studies will help you draw conclusions about relevant market segments, and your verbal and written communication skills will help you relay those findings to decision-makers and stakeholders. An interest in strategy and in long-term planning—which you may have gained studying the downstream effects of policies and events—can also help you process and prioritize your findings.
Average salary: $39,810
Nonprofit program assistants, sometimes called program coordinators, are often tasked with support or even oversight of a particular—you guessed it—program or function, such as event-planning, fundraising, or outreach. On any particular day, you might find yourself getting in touch with donors, checking in with board members, scoping out locations for benefits or other events, collecting supplies, or putting out a call for volunteers. And since lean budgets (and staffs) are one of the hallmarks of the nonprofit sector, you may find valuable opportunities to contribute beyond your job description and carve a path toward more senior roles.
If you can find yourself aligned with the mission behind a particular nonprofit, then working as a program assistant or coordinator can be a valuable experience in terms of applying your educational experience to the real world and in further developing your knowledge and proficiencies working on particular issues or with specific populations. Plus, the communication and analytical skills required of an international relations major will serve you well in this role, as will the time-management skills you honed juggling classes, extracurriculars, internships, and more as an undergrad.
Average salary: $39,746
Customer service representatives are among the first points of contact between a company and its customers, responding to customer needs via messaging, email, social media, or phone, and sometimes even in person. Depending on the type of organization you work with, you might field questions, concerns, complaints, problems, or general inquiries about products or services.
The role can serve as an entry point to a wide range of organizations—from multinational businesses to the federal government—so for recent graduates, it’s an excellent way to get a foot in the door and learn about an organization’s values and processes. Plus, it provides plenty of opportunities to flex the communication skills you honed in your international relations coursework. Technological proficiency helps too, since reps use various tools to interact with customers, pull up relevant information on internal systems, troubleshoot and suggest fixes, and keep records.
Average salary: $39,260
The primary responsibility of a public relations (PR) assistant is to support efforts to promote and boost the reputation and public awareness of individuals, products, or organizations. PR assistants can also work in-house directly supporting a single brand or business or they can work at a firm or agency that handles multiple clients. Duties can include drafting press releases, putting together press kits, providing administrative or office support to more senior PR professionals, scheduling press appearances, and more. Strong communication skills, technological expertise, research chops, and an ability to manage multiple, competing responsibilities are crucial.
Identifying what makes a person or organization unique and communicating their strengths in effective ways are the core of PR work. International relations majors have solid transferable skills thanks to their experience studying and analyzing different groups, cultures, policies, events, and more; identifying how they’re distinct from one another; and effectively sharing their findings.
Average salary: $60,096
International relations majors who want to work toward tangible change in their community may find policy work to be a great blend of their research, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.
Policy analysts seek to understand how local, regional, and national policy affects constituents and groups. Their work allows them to assess proposed legislation and study political systems and other institutions to draw conclusions about the impact of certain decisions or changes. By the time a bill reaches any legislative body from the local all the way up to the federal level, you can assume that it’s been studied, reviewed, and analyzed by a team of analysts, and that they’ve compiled, written, and shared their results with various stakeholders. Policy analyst positions can be found within the government, in the nonprofit sector, and in private firms.
Average salary: $48,409
Tasked with expanding a corporation’s customer base through outreach, networking, and relationship management, business development roles require savvy communication, comfort with critical thinking and strategy, and attention to detail. The ability to understand and empathize with a potential contact’s needs is key. The skill set gained in business development also lends itself to careers in strategy, sales, and marketing, so it can be a great start for those with long-term international business goals. Plus, while organizations of all sizes seek folks in this area, startups and growing businesses often have more need, and can give you exposure to other roles, departments, and procedures that can set you up for success in a variety of career paths.
Average salary: $41,077
The role of a legislative assistant, at its core, is to offer professional support to lawmakers, which often comes in the form of office management, schedule coordination, correspondence with constituents and members of the public, events management, speechwriting, bill tracking, and more. It requires strong organizational and communication skills, as well as political savviness and a passion for their community and public affairs. It’s also an excellent foray into politics, so for those with political aspirations, or who dream of careers in government and related fields, this role can be a great first step.
Average salary: $52,318
As a recruiter, you need to attract desirable candidates to fulfill roles and needs within an organization and assess the skills and abilities of applicants to determine how they may or may not qualify for a particular position. Any given day might have you writing job descriptions, screening applicants, conducting interviews, and keeping diligent records.
Recruiting also requires balancing the internal needs of an organization with external industry standards and candidate expectations. Given that international relations majors spend considerable time studying how different countries, cultures, groups, and individuals within systems relate to and affect each other, they’re well-positioned to handle this balancing act and be attuned to diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything they do.
Average salary: $43,831
A travel coordinator turns the ideas and goals of an individual’s or a group’s travel plans into reality by researching, planning, and booking transportation, lodging, food, activities, and more. The job requires keen attention to detail, sometimes scheduling down to the minute, and the ability to seamlessly juggle competing priorities, like when available flights don’t suit a client’s schedule, or hotels are overbooked for desired travel dates. Some organizations or businesses employ travel coordinators internally. Otherwise, travel coordinators can work with travel agencies or even independently, planning trips and handling logistics for those on business or personal travel.
Travel coordinators must stay up-to-date on requirements of travel to a given area—like passports, health attestations, and other required documents—as well as understand the cultural norms of the region and communicate all of this information to travelers effectively. International relations majors who’ve studied or traveled abroad, as many programs require, also have direct experience as visitors in foreign countries, which gives them valuable perspective when planning for others to be in similar shoes.