What can I do with an international relations degree?

21 July 2020
Students at University College Durham University

International relations is an exciting and ever-changing subject, and an important one too. It is the study of how states interact with each other, and how economics and politics in one country affect another. Studying international relations at university, you will gain skills in communication and debate, as well as vital transferrable knowledge of different cultures and disciplines, including business, humanities, economics and politics.

An international relations degree shows employers you have strong critical thinking and transferrable skills that will be useful in a wide range of careers, from the civil service to charity and international aid. You may choose this subject if you are looking to travel or work internationally, as your skills will be relevant in the global job market.

International relations job prospects

Diplomatic service officer

Work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to promote British interests, businesses and citizens abroad. In this role, you may be responsible for developing policies to promote relationships with other countries, promoting investment in the UK, or monitoring events overseas to advise UK citizens abroad. Diplomatic service officers enjoy good salaries and varied work. Promotion prospects are good, as there are plenty of opportunities to advance within the civil service.

Public affairs consultant (lobbyist)

Gather knowledge on political and public policy from political intelligence, personal contact and news outlets. Pass information on to clients and use it to build pressure around political matters. You might work for an independent consultancy, a public relations firm, or a communications company. This job requires great interpersonal skills and offers good job satisfaction to those seeking to make a difference. With the experience you will gain, you could progress to a job in politics or the media.

Intelligence analyst

Work for the security services and help protect the country by sourcing and interpreting intelligence. Your knowledge of international relations will help you understand the complex relationships between countries, and the hostilities that can arise. You could work for the police, in government communications, or for intelligence services worldwide. You will build up intelligence pictures, identifying potential suspects and working to prevent attacks and conflict. A varied, challenging and important job where you can help keep people safe. There are many opportunities for promotion within this field. You will need cultural sensitivity, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to work under pressure.

International aid/development worker

Make a practical difference by assisting those in the developing world. Help communities in distress, affected by natural and manmade emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, and war. As an aid worker, you will provide immediate relief to people by organising food, healthcare and clean water. You will also help to build long-term development projects to help solve problems that could cause further crises in the future. You will have the opportunity to meet and interact with people from diverse backgrounds and help make the world a better place.

Other careers with an international relations degree

You might also choose one of the following international relations careers:

  • Civil Service fast streamer
  • Policy officer
  • Political risk analyst
  • Public affairs consultant

Industries you could work in

As an international relations graduate, your skills mean you could be in demand in a number of industries. These include:

  • Government and public services
  • Charity
  • Media
  • Law
  • International business

What else can I do with an international relations degree?

Instead of going straight into one of the careers above, you could choose further study at postgraduate level, exploring your personal interests further within the subject. You could also become a researcher, travelling around the world to gather data and producing reports to feed into a huge range of industries.

How can I start a career in international relations?

If you think you might be interested in a career in international relations, an undergraduate degree is a good place to start. You’ll gain broad cross-cultural understanding and develop academic skills and critical thinking key to a career in international relations or a related field. To study a degree at university, you will need high school-level qualifications and English language skills. A foundation programme is a great route for international students.

If you would like to pursue a career in international relations, internships and volunteering work will show potential employers that you’re serious. It also gives you the opportunity to network, develop your skills, and find out which field you would like to specialise in. You could join a graduate program after university, or you might get work experience in the civil service or local government. If you want to work in the competitive field of charities, you will need to do gain as much volunteering experience as possible.

If you’re looking to further develop your skills and help yourself stand out in the job market, a masters degree is a great option. You could choose an International Relations MA, or a related subject such as Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding MSc, Global Politics MSc, or Defence, Development and Democracy MSc.

Want to gain international experience and practise your language skills before starting university? Explore your options here.

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