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How To Series: Careers for International Relations Majors

On February 17, the Office of Professional Services at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy invited alumni to talk about their careers, as a part of a monthly career development series for diplomacy students. For this session, the School invited Max Gebhardt, BS ’08, a Cyber-Enabled Financial Crimes Senior Analyst at Citi Group; Malaak Jamal, MA ’15,  a Policy Officer at Human Rights Foundation; Sharif Tassy, BS ’15, a Business Manager at International Rescue Committee; and Huma Ahmed, BS ’12, a Compliance Manager in at a major Financial Institution. The Permanent Observer interviewed the four alumni to learn about their professional endeavors and to gain insight and tips for current students. Their answers and comments are personal opinions and do not represent their current or prior employers.

  1. What is it like to work in your field?

Huma – Financial institutions are an interesting field to work in, as the sanctions space is always changing, so days can vary depending on what is going on in the sanctions space.

Malaak – Working in the human rights field allows people to help others and make a difference in the world. It is such a rewarding experience to see the impact that your work has on the lives of others throughout the world.

Max – I started my career in the Foreign Service, which was incredibly thrilling because I could see a direct impact of my job on foreign policy. Working for a financial institution is also thrilling, but in a different way. I have all the resources I need to get the job done, budget issues are much less of a problem, and the hours are much easier. I’m out the door by 5 pm most days.

Sharif – Nonprofits are very exciting and rewarding, but sometimes very heavy because you are helping people who need the most.

  1. What skills are important to be successful at your job?

Huma – Having a good grasp on foreign policy and how sanctions are utilized as a tool to coerce nations to take a certain action are important skills in my job. Writing concisely while still paying great attention to detail is also fundamental.

Malaak – Strong research, analytical, and writing skills are a must as well as being detail-oriented and organized with your work and being able to assess and understand political dynamics. Also, fact-checking and structural editing skills help produce high quality written products. Last but not least, communicating in more than one language is essential in today’s world.

Max – Analytical skills and honed senses. The real skill in analysis is to take information and synthesize it effectively while keeping the context in mind. Communicating efficiently and effectively is just as critical. To succeed at a job, learn to write clearly and persuasively. Practice 5-minute “elevator” briefings to explain complex problems concisely for time-strapped decision makers.

Sharif – A major skill that makes one successful in a nonprofit is usually to share the same beliefs as your organization. Passion isn’t a skill but it is something that can make or break someone’s engagement.

  1. What are things to consider as one ponders a career in your field of work?

Huma – Working for a large financial institution comes with a lot of responsibility, but it also presents much room for growth.

Malaak – Take into consideration the company’s mission statement.

Max – For the Foreign Service, the service comes before family in many circumstances. You will make great personal sacrifices for the good of the nation. Orders are orders, you serve your country first and foremost. For the private sector, you should consider the role and impact of the industry. For-profit ventures make money, understand that everything you do will revolve around delivering measurable value.

Sharif – For nonprofits, the upside is that opportunities are endless. For most causes, there is probably a nonprofit for it. With that said, as passion can be important I would recommend finding one that aligns with your interest and pursue it.

  1. Do you have any suggestions for students who would like to pursue a career in your field of work?

Huma – I would suggest students keep an open mind in regards to the fields they would like to pursue.

Malaak – Apply for numerous internships as possible. As interns, students have the ability to get a sense of what it is like to work for a human rights organization as well as be able to attend the events that the organization hosts. When I interned, I was fortunate to travel to Norway and help with an event, which was truly a memorable experience, as you get to meet people committed to promoting freedom and human rights. A project I worked on as an intern helped me get hired for my current position.

Max – For both cases, the Foreign Service and private sector, I suggest reading as much as you can while developing your own sense of understanding. The most critical tool used by any analyst is the little grey cells between your ears. Your reasoning needs to be sharp and critical. Good analysts speak the truth, and as the good Lord said, the truth shall set you free.

Sharif – Network, network, and network. Internships and building skills is key. Take advantage of the NYC area, because there are opportunities for work, but also there are intelligent and successful mentors nearby.

  1. How do people get noticed/hired?

Huma – When interning, branch out and ask for more. Taking on more work without being asked makes you stand out. Do not be shy, ask good questions.

Malaak – Take advantage of internship and volunteering opportunities, the more you do it, the more you will be able to learn your strengths and the type of work you enjoy. You will also expose yourself to more people in your field of interest and build a professional network. Going to events and panel discussions and talking to people also builds your network. Have a good relationship with your professors, because they can provide career advice based on their own experiences and they can refer you to one of their contacts. On a final note, international experience make job candidates stand out

Max – Network, self-promote and get out there. Reach out and ask for an informational interview in your field. This is not a job interview, which removes pressure. Ask sharp questions, and odds are you will find the interviewer has you in mind for a position or two, potentially one that was not even advertised. It can be just as hard to find a good candidate as it is to find a good job, but those who go the extra step to put themselves out there reap the rewards of success.

Sharif – Good resumes, connections and willingness to learn help people get noticed. Nonprofits within the city are all very close-knit and many people know others in different nonprofits so make sure your reputation is flawless. Many nonprofits have a casual atmosphere and often don’t expect anyone to know everything for entry-level positions. If you’re a team player, open-minded, and have some sort of applicable experience that can get you far.

  1. How did the School help you reach your goals?

Huma – Having a strong foundation in foreign policy and the Diplomacy program ensuring students obtained writing experience through the Research paper class was extremely helpful.

Malaak – One thing that caught my attention about the School was its specialization in human rights and international law. This seemed like a perfect fit for me because it was in line with my interests. My assignments all helped me develop research, writing, and analytical skills that I needed. The research methods class was a good preparation for developing strong analytical and writing skills, which are relevant to my current job. Also, I was able to develop experience as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, which made me a stronger job candidate. Dr. Catherine Ruby and Director Kyle Younger advised me on applying for internships and jobs and helped me write cover letters. Lastly, the friendships and bonds that I developed with my fellow “Diplos” were valuable, because in the international relations field it is important to be comfortable interacting with people from different countries.

Max – My professors and the administrators helped develop my skills, introduced me to key networking contacts, and helped me succeed at every opportunity. The School of Diplomacy is still new and hungry for success that only happens by supporting its students. Use all resources at your disposal because you will be hard pressed to have the opportunity at any future point in your career to make such stunning strides. Learn from mistakes, and perhaps you will find as I found, that a weakness can be reinforced into your greatest strength.

Sharif – Seton Hall tremendously helped me achieve my goals by helping revise my resume, walking me through writing a strong cover letter, and streamlining me into my first internship at Amnesty International, which then set my interest in nonprofits. A very big thanks to the School of Diplomacy for helping spark my interest in the field of nonprofits before I had any experience.

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, a Social Media Associate at the Journal of Diplomacy, and an Associate at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management. 

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