By Martin Tillman, President, Global Career Compass

Are you fresh out of graduate school and looking for work in the international education field? If so, there is good news for you. But, given the current state of the world economy, there is also some not-so-good news. The good news is that international education professionals are exceptionally helpful to young professionals, and the points of access—for networking, information, and advice—are easy to identify. There are also opportunities for employment in the field—sometimes more diverse and in greater numbers—outside the United States. The not-so-good news is that the worldwide economic downturn has resulted in very serious budget shortfalls in many U.S. states, and many universities have been forced to freeze salaries, implement involuntary furloughs of staff, and reduce the operating budgets at both public and private institutions. These problems are not unique to the international education field.

To be effective as a job-seeker, you must utilize all available means to network, gain insights into the job market and the area of specialization you’re interested in, and review hiring trends throughout the field. How do you do that? As is true in any niche workforce sector, it’s always about who you know and who you cultivate as a mentor. NAFSA: Association of International Educators affords you multiple ways in which to advance your knowledge and develop important professional contacts.

NAFSA Conferences: Great Places to Start

The field of international education has matured and grown into a highly complex and sophisticated worldwide industry. In response to the internationalization of the profession and the globalization of higher education, NAFSA has taken on a critical leadership role as one of the world’s leading professional associations.

The most useful avenues available to you for learning about the field, building a stable of professional contacts, and becoming aware of trends in the job market are the NAFSA regional and annual conferences. Attending these conferences should be viewed as both a “cost of doing business” and as an investment in your future professional development. At the regional level, because these events are smaller, there is greater opportunity for you to easily network and interact with peers and experienced professionals. If you are looking to break into the field from both national and international points of access, there is no better place to be than the NAFSA annual conference. Given the scale and scope of the annual conference—with more than 8,000 participants from more than 100 nations—effective networking requires a great deal of careful planning, preparation, and research. Some key tips are to sign up for mentoring, attend the first-timers event, and, if possible, volunteer to work at the conference. These activities will help you to meet and get to know new and experienced professionals. You should also look for any additional opportunities to get your name out to potential employers and colleagues during the conference.

When you are preparing to attend the annual conference, be sure to prioritize academic institutions or organizations you’re interested in working for; research their staff online, request informational interviews with senior staff, and see whether or not they are on the program so you can attend their panel sessions.

While you are at the annual conference, you will want to review the weekly schedule at the Career Center, get your résumé reviewed at one of the free sessions at the center, meet with employers, and learn about careers from each of the five NAFSA knowledge communities. You should also explore any sessions offered for professional development and arrange to meet professionals for job and informational interviews at the Career Center.

Both before and after the conference, you should take advantage of NAFSA’s online Job Registry, which is a rich gateway to the field. The Job Registry is not only useful in finding specific job openings, but it can also serve you as a tool to see where there is growth in the market and in which regions there are increasing opportunities. As with any job board, following the progression of searches in different organizations and institutions can provide you with useful perspective on hiring trends over time.

Success in a job search—in any field—is often tied to how flexible you are willing to be in terms of location. If you can move to where the jobs are, your search will be that much easier. Developing the capacity to make adjustments in diverse organizational settings, and demonstrating the ability to succeed in a diverse range of jobs at the outset of your career, will build a strong foundation for future advancement.

Welcoming, but Competitive

An article in International Educator,Where the Jobs Are in International Education,” quotes Mark Gallovic, director of education abroad at University of North Carolina-Wilmington: “I can think of no other profession in which people are so willing to freely share ideas, tools, and resources with colleagues, yet is so competitive, particularly at the entry-level [emphasis added].” Our field is open to new, young voices looking for ways to contribute, and there are plenty of experienced professionals willing to help you. But sometimes those entry-level jobs are tough to come by. By employing some personal initiative and taking advantage of the opportunities and tools noted here, you can find your own pathway into a very rewarding career.

Martin Tillman is president of Global Career Compass, an international consultancy, and former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is a regular contributor to International Educator magazine, an authority on global workforce development issues, and the impact of education abroad on career development.