How to Transition from Human Resources Specialist to a Job in International Education

by | May 17, 2023 | Career Advice

As a human resources specialist, you’ve gained a wealth of experience and developed a unique set of skills that could serve you well in the field of international education. Whether you’re looking to make a career change or simply interested in exploring new opportunities, this guide will provide you with insights and strategies to help you successfully transition into a job in international education.

Understanding the Connection between Human Resources and International Education

Although they may seem like very different fields, human resources and international education are actually quite similar. Both require strong communication skills, the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and a keen eye for detail. Additionally, both fields involve a focus on developing and supporting individuals, whether it be through training and development programs in HR or study abroad experiences in international education.

Key similarities in skill sets

The skill set required for success in HR is not all that different from that required for success in international education. Both professions require individuals who are capable of handling complex and sensitive information, have excellent communication skills, as well as being highly organized and able to manage many projects at once.

Furthermore, both fields require individuals to have a deep understanding of cultural differences and how to navigate them effectively. In HR, this means understanding how to create an inclusive workplace that values diversity, while in international education this means understanding how to support students as they adapt to new cultural norms and expectations.

Differences in job responsibilities

One of the key differences between HR and international education is the level of commitment to individuals involved. In HR, the focus is on helping employees within a single organization, while in international education the focus is on helping students achieve their personal and academic goals. This means that in international education you’re more likely to work with students one-on-one or in small groups, helping them navigate the challenges of studying abroad.

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Another key difference is the scope of the work involved. In HR, the focus is on managing the day-to-day operations of a single organization, while in international education the focus is on managing programs and partnerships across multiple organizations and countries. This requires a high level of coordination and the ability to work effectively with a wide range of stakeholders.

The importance of HR in international education

While the focus of international education may be on students, it’s important not to overlook the critical role that HR plays in supporting these programs. HR professionals are responsible for recruiting and hiring staff, developing training and development programs, and ensuring compliance with local laws and regulations. Without a strong HR team, international education programs would struggle to function effectively.

Furthermore, HR plays a key role in creating a positive and supportive work environment for staff working in international education. This is particularly important given the unique challenges and stresses involved in working in a foreign country. HR professionals must be able to provide support and resources to staff as they navigate these challenges, while also ensuring that they feel valued and supported in their work.


Overall, while HR and international education may seem like very different fields, they are actually quite similar in many ways. Both require individuals with strong communication skills, a deep understanding of cultural differences, and the ability to work effectively with a wide range of stakeholders. By recognizing these similarities and working together, HR and international education professionals can help to create more effective and impactful programs that benefit students, staff, and organizations alike.

Assessing Your Transferable Skills and Experience

Transitioning into international education can be an exciting and challenging opportunity. If you’re considering making the move, the first step is to assess your transferable skills and experience. This will require an honest appraisal of your skills, strengths and weaknesses. Consider asking for an objective opinion from a former colleague or supervisor who knows your work well.

When it comes to international education, there are many roles that require a diverse set of skills. From administration to marketing to program development, there are many opportunities to use your existing HR skills in new and interesting ways.

Identifying your strengths in HR

As an HR professional, you’ve likely developed a strong set of skills related to writing, communication, and strategic planning. These skills are highly transferable and can be applied in many different contexts within international education. For example, if you have experience in recruitment and selection, you could use those skills to help international students navigate the admissions process.

Similarly, if you have experience in employee relations, you could use those skills to help international students adjust to life in a new country. By identifying your strengths and thinking creatively about how they could be applied in a new context, you can start to see the many opportunities available to you in international education.

Adapting your skills for international education

While some of your HR experience will be directly transferable to international education, you’ll also need to adapt some of your skills and experience to the new context. One of the most important things you can do is focus on developing your cultural competence. This means understanding and appreciating the cultural differences that exist between your home country and the country where you’ll be working.

You can also develop your knowledge of the international education field by attending conferences, networking with professionals and participating in relevant online groups. This will help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices, and will also give you the opportunity to connect with other professionals in the field.

Overall, transitioning into international education requires a combination of self-reflection, creativity, and a willingness to learn. By assessing your transferable skills and experience, identifying your strengths, and adapting your skills to the new context, you can set yourself up for success in this exciting and rewarding field.

Exploring Job Opportunities in International Education

Once you’ve assessed your skills and experience, it’s important to explore job opportunities in international education. This may involve researching different organizations and institutions, as well as networking with professionals in the field.

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International education is a rapidly growing field, with a wide range of job opportunities available to those with the right skills and experience. Whether you’re interested in working with study abroad programs, non-profits, or government agencies, there are plenty of options to explore.

Types of organizations and institutions

There are a wide variety of organizations and institutions involved in international education, each with its own unique mission and focus. Universities are one of the most common types of organizations involved in international education, offering study abroad programs, international student services, and other opportunities for international engagement. Study abroad providers are another option, providing students with immersive experiences in countries around the world.

Non-profits are also a significant player in the international education field, working to promote educational opportunities and cross-cultural understanding. These organizations may focus on specific regions or populations, such as refugees or underprivileged communities.

Government agencies are another potential employer in the international education field, with a range of programs and initiatives aimed at promoting international education and cultural exchange.

Consider which types of organizations align with your values and interests. For example, if you’re passionate about promoting social justice and equality, you may be interested in working for a non-profit that focuses on education access for underprivileged communities. On the other hand, if you’re interested in international relations and diplomacy, a government agency may be a better fit.

Common job roles and responsibilities

Common job roles in international education include program coordinators, admissions advisors, marketing and outreach specialists, and student support specialists. Program coordinators are responsible for managing study abroad programs, coordinating logistics and ensuring the safety and well-being of students. Admissions advisors help international students navigate the application process and provide support throughout their academic journey. Marketing and outreach specialists promote educational opportunities and programs to students and other stakeholders. Student support specialists provide assistance and support to international students, helping them adjust to life in a new country and navigate academic and personal challenges.

Researching job descriptions and talking with professionals in these roles can help you identify where your skills and experience would be the best fit. It’s also important to consider the specific skills and qualifications required for each role, such as language proficiency or experience living and working abroad.

Overall, exploring job opportunities in international education can be an exciting and rewarding process, offering the chance to make a real difference in the lives of students and communities around the world.

Networking and Building Connections in the International Education Field

As with any job search, networking and building connections is key to success in international education. This may involve attending events and conferences, joining professional organizations, and participating in online communities. Building a strong network of contacts can help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and job opportunities, as well as provide valuable support and advice throughout your career.

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Attending conferences and events

Attending conferences and events is a great way to meet other professionals in the international education field. These events bring together educators, administrators, and other experts to discuss the latest research, trends, and best practices in the field. You can also attend workshops and seminars to gain new skills and knowledge that can help you advance your career.

Some popular conferences in the international education field include the NAFSA Annual Conference, the Forum on Education Abroad Conference, and the Association of International Education Administrators Conference. These events often feature keynote speakers, networking opportunities, and a chance to connect with potential employers.

Joining professional associations and online communities

Joining a professional association or online community can provide you with access to a wealth of resources and support. These organizations often offer job listings, professional development opportunities, and a chance to connect with other professionals in the field.

Some popular professional associations in the international education field include NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the Association of International Education Administrators, and the Consortium for Global Education. These organizations offer a variety of benefits, such as access to webinars, conferences, and publications.

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Online communities, such as LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups, can also be a great way to connect with other professionals in the field. These groups often share job opportunities, news articles, and other resources related to international education.

Overall, networking and building connections is a crucial part of succeeding in the international education field. By attending conferences, joining professional associations, and participating in online communities, you can stay up-to-date on the latest trends and opportunities, as well as connect with other professionals who can offer valuable support and advice.

Enhancing Your Education and Credentials

International education is a growing field that requires individuals to have a diverse skill set and knowledge base. While experience and a passion for cultural exchange are important, there are other ways to enhance your education and credentials to improve your chances of success in this field.

One way to enhance your education is to pursue additional certifications or degrees. Many roles in international education require or prefer individuals with specific degrees or certifications, such as TEFL or TESOL certificates, or graduate degrees in international education. These certifications and degrees provide specialized knowledge and training that can give you a competitive edge in the job market.

For example, if you are interested in teaching English as a foreign language, a TEFL or TESOL certification can provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively teach English to non-native speakers. Similarly, a graduate degree in international education can provide you with a deeper understanding of the field and prepare you for leadership roles within organizations.

Relevant certifications and degrees

When researching certifications and degrees, it’s important to consider the requirements for the roles you’re interested in. Some positions may require specific certifications or degrees, while others may prefer candidates with a certain level of education or experience.

For example, if you are interested in working in international student services, you may want to consider pursuing a degree in higher education administration or a related field. Alternatively, if you are interested in working in study abroad programs, you may want to consider a degree in international relations or a related field.

Additionally, there are many certifications available that can enhance your skills and knowledge in specific areas. The International Education Certificate Program (IECP) is one such certification that provides individuals with a comprehensive understanding of international education and prepares them for leadership roles in the field.

Professional development opportunities

Continuing education and professional development opportunities can also help you stay competitive in the field of international education. These opportunities can provide you with new skills, knowledge, and perspectives that can help you excel in your current role or prepare you for future opportunities.

There are many professional development opportunities available, ranging from online courses and webinars to in-person trainings and workshops. Many organizations in the field of international education offer professional development opportunities for their staff, and there are also many external organizations that provide training and certification programs.

Additionally, seeking out mentorship opportunities with other professionals in the field can be a valuable way to learn from others and gain new insights into the field. Mentors can provide guidance, support, and advice on how to navigate the complexities of the field and achieve your professional goals.

In conclusion, enhancing your education and credentials is an important step in achieving success in the field of international education. By pursuing additional certifications or degrees and seeking out professional development opportunities, you can stay competitive and continue to grow and develop as a professional.


Transitioning from HR to international education is a challenging but rewarding process. By assessing your skills and experience, researching job opportunities, building your network, and enhancing your education and credentials, you can successfully make the leap into this exciting field, and help students achieve their dreams of studying abroad.