top of page

Landing your first job in international affairs

In this latest edition of Careers Insights, YAIA Careers Officer Dorothée Steinbach discusses the struggles faced by students and young professionals as they seek to start their career in international affairs. It explores some general tips to stand out, stress less, and find where the best opportunities lie.

As young people, our dream jobs often feel so out of reach. Whether you aspire to work for the United Nations, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or for a multinational corporation, a series of progressively more skill-building intermediate jobs is your best chance for success. Like any journey, the hardest step is often the first.

That first step may often come in the form of an internship, administrative position, or other entry-level opportunity. Overcoming feelings of imposter syndrome or inadequacy is hard enough – dealing with superlatives and often inflated job descriptions can curb even the most enthusiastic applicant.

This article covers the challenges faced by young people looking for their first break, groups who are particularly disadvantaged and some general advice to help you take that first vital step.

Ticking Every Box

It’s important to try and go for positions even when intimidated by the job description. It can be daunting to put yourself out there, but chances are you have more relevant life experience and credentials than you think! Besides, workplaces also value your personality, cultural fit, and potential for growth.

The fear of not ticking every box in the job description particularly affects young people belonging to under-represented or minority groups. This leaves many smart, ambitious, and talented people more hesitant to seize opportunities. For example, the internal report at Hewlett-Packard found that women often only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the listed criteria, whereas men apply when they meet only 60%. This trend is particularly prevalent in traditionally male-dominated fields like international relations.

Living in Regional and Remote Australia

As of 2022, about 7 million people, or 28% of Australia’s population, live outside metropolitan areas. For the longest time, physical distance has been an intractable problem for young people in the regions as geographic location presents unique challenges, such as decreased study options and job opportunities. For many young people though, moving away is either not possible or desirable.

However, the work from home (WFH) trend and domestic migration into the regions has seen promising new avenues open for those seeking to work in international affairs, regardless of where they live.

I encourage you to check out our Jobs, Internships and Opportunities board - when our career team updates it, we ensure to list a variety of locations, including remote working arrangements.

Remember during your search for remote entry-level jobs, the private sector and NGOs currently present more opportunities. However, there is promise that this gap between the public and private sector may soon close.

Landing your first job

  • Word of mouth: This can come in the form of professional networking, or by letting your inner circle and/or your LinkedIn connections know you're looking for a job.

  • Job Search Websites: ·Monitor job search portals like Indeed and Seek using key words such as “administrative assistant”, “receptionist”, “entry level”, “remote”, “data entry”, “customer service”, “graduate” etc.

  • Vacationer Programs: ·These are entry-level, friendly, usually paid and run during the winter and summer break. They’re offered at a variety of places, such as the big four consulting firms and federal government departments. For example, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet hires vacationers over every summer break.

  • YAIA's JIO Board: Monitor our Jobs, Internships, and Opportunities board! Our page is updated frequently with the latest entry-level to early-career level job openings in international affairs.

  • Send out expressions of interests: write an email showing your passion for and knowledge about a workplace and the industry it operates in, and attach your CV. The organisation may not hire you immediately, but you will likely be the first person to hear about any new job openings in the future. You could also look out for Expression of Interest Registers or Employment Registries.

  • Entering the APS: Use the “Classification” filter function on APS Jobs to look for entry-level friendly jobs. APS 1 – 4 would be most appropriate, depending on your prior experience. You can also choose to join an APS temporary employment register. Some departments also offer student-only positions, traineeships, vacationer programs (see above), graduate programs, the Australia Indigenous Graduate Pathway Program, and many more pathways into the APS workforce.

Facing Rejection

Job hunting can be a long and painful process and naturally, the feelings of rejection that accompany an unsuccessful application (or ten) are uncomfortable to sit with. They are however outweighed by the benefits that build up in the long-term. If you’d like to read more on how to face rejection and turn it into retrospection, read this previous Careers Insights article by former Careers Officer Bayan Yazdani.

Final Piece of Advice

My last piece of advice would be to not overthink the title and industry of your first job working in international affairs. It doesn’t have to be in the exact same field as your dream job. Working an administrative or similar role in a seemingly unrelated area will give you a unique work background and lay another building block – an opportunity for you to take that second step in the near future. And once you take that first step, I promise you that the long climb to your dream job will seem that much shorter.


bottom of page