One of the difficulties of building a career in a new area is the lack of a defined career path. As someone interested in building a career in conflict resolution, ideally as a manager, there were few role models to follow. This meant a focus on gathering skills through diverse roles and sometimes surprising career choices. Now, almost 15 years from graduation, I feel like all of the skills I’ve gathered are finally coming together.
I graduated from Arts/Law at Melbourne in 1992 and completed my articles at Freehills – a superb learning experience – before working at the Department of Premier & Cabinet.
I then studied at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy completing courses at Tufts and Harvard. My aim was almost laughable simple: to build a career doing something good for the world in the international sphere. I found myself particularly focusing on issues of conflict resolution, including some inspiring courses with the Harvard Program on Negotiation and Kennedy School of Government.
I was inspired enough that I spent the summer training and volunteering as a community mediator in the Bronx (where the majority of the mediations took place in Spanish). This gave me a realistic picture of the challenges involved in conflict resolution and also caused me to think about my own strengths and weaknesses. In the end this came down to a preference for management rather than ‘the coalface’ with the rationale that a good manager is able to support more people on the ground.
I rounded off my international experience with internships with the International Peace Academy and Human Rights Watch in New York and the Centre for the Study of Violence & Reconciliation in South Africa. These placements were immensely valuable in building my skills in research, evaluation, training and curriculum design. However this phase came to something of an abrupt halt when I met my now partner: an Australian constitutional lawyer (it’s hard to imagine a less transportable career).
Returning to Australia, my challenge was to find internationally-oriented jobs from an Australian base. I worked as Office Manager and then CEO of the International Institute for Negotiation and Conflict Management to learn how an office operates. When its funding ran out, I worked with Sydney City Mission to learn from some of the best fundraisers in the country. When I realised the key role of monitoring and evaluation to successful fundraising, I studied for a postgraduate qualification in program evaluation. I maintained my conflict resolution specialty with the Victorian Community Council Against Violence, Reconciliation Australia and the University’s International Conflict Resolution Centre.
In January 2006, I was appointed National Executive Director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs: a role where I call upon all the skills I’ve gathered through my career – law, international relations, fundraising, evaluation, publications, events and non-profit management.
The Australian Institute of International Affairs is Australia’s only nationwide, independent body promoting public interest in international affairs. It was formed in 1933 and has over 1600 members and branches in every State. The Institute publishes the Australian Journal of International Affairs and the Australia in World Affairs series and organises over 150 events a year on current issues in international relations. We welcome young people with a passion for international relations as members and interns. For more information, visit www.aiia.asn.au
My advice in building an international career is to be bold and imaginative and make your own career path. However don’t be surprised if you find it hard to explain to your loved ones how it all fits together! About the author: Melissa H. Conley Tyler is the Executive Director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Australia’s only nationwide, independent body promoting public interest in international affairs. It was formed in 1933 and has more than 1500 members across the country. The AIIA publishes the Australian Journal of International Affairs and organises more than 200 events a year on current issues in international relations. To find out more about the Australian Institute of International Affairs visit www.aiia.asn.au or contact (02) 6282 2133. The AIIA welcomes members and has branches in seven states and territories. For information about internships see http://www.aiia.asn.au/get-involved/internships This article originally appeared on Australian Career Practitioner