A recent email I received from a Working World reader went like this:
I am interested in a career in international education and exchange. I had hoped that my own personal experiences abroad – one year on an exchange program in Europe, three years of university, and one year of English teaching abroad – would be enough to land me a position in the field. I have applied to a number of positions in the field in the DC area, but am starting to feel that almost all of these entry-level positions give preference to graduate degree candidates. Do you have any recommendations for gaining pre-Masters, salaried work in the field?
Some excellent questions packed in here, ones that I hear regularly. My response to this reader went something like this:
It sounds like you’re building a good resume for work in the international education/exchange field—don’t let yourself by deterred or disheartened if you’re applying for but not landing these jobs. The difficult fact is that the people hiring for these positions likely received a large number of applications, including a lot of qualified ones (when we recently hired for an entry level position at my organization, we received 400+ applications). Just because you didn’t get those jobs does not mean you aren’t qualified for them, or other ones like them.
While some positions may prefer or even require a master’s degree, my honest opinion is that a Master’s is not the (or even a) key criteria most organizations are looking for, especially for entry/junior level positions. I think “Master’s preferred” has become something of a reflexive criteria included in many job descriptions, whether or not a higher degree is actually necessary to be successful in the position. For my part, I’d much rather hire someone who has the right combination of experience, skills, disposition, and who I feel will be a good fit for the team, regardless of their higher education situation.
A few further thoughts:
- How well are you highlighting the skills and experience you do bring to the table? Sounds like you’ve had a number of varied experiences in the field—so ask yourself: why should they matter to potential employers and the specific positions you’re applying for?
Cover letters are very important, and I’d encourage you to look back at your own and see if they truly convey what you hoped they would. A good cover letter should seek to impart not so much what you’ve done, but why you’re a good fit for the positions you’re applying for and why your particular skills and experiences are relevant. I often see cover letters that are nothing more than a recitation of a resume. No need for this duplication. Rather, use the cover letter to interpret your resume for the potential employer, to let them know why they should care about your particular skills and experiences–why those skills and experiences are relevant and will put you in a position to succeed in that particular job.
- Do informational interviews. I’m not sure where you’re based, but if you’re able to meet directly with people at organizations in cities (like DC) where you’re interested in working, do that. I’ve seen firsthand how successful this tatic can be. People want to hire known quantities, candidates who they’ve seen in person and can judge to be good, reliable, quality people.
People are also typically more than willing to talk with you for 15-20 minutes and tell you more about their jobs and their organizations. This is a great way to get to know organizations better, as well as to network and to put yourself in front of those who might be hiring later on. So don’t worry if an organization isn’t hiring at the moment (in fact, informational interviews often work better if it’s not attached to a job opening—makes the conversation more relaxed and natural, and the person you’re talking with doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get something out of them, rather just hoping to connect and learn). Target organizations you’re interested in working at and try to locate a mid-level person (not a CEO or senior leader) who is doing interesting work and you’d be interested in talking to. Email them and ask them for a short informational interview (at their office, or at a coffee shop convenient for them, or even via phone or Skype if you can’t be in DC). Then after your conversation, stay in touch with them by email. If a job does open at their org, they should be the first person you talk to before applying. And they may even pass along job openings to you that they learn about, since they know you’re looking.