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3 Top Careers in Conflict Resolution

Industry Advice Political Science & Security

Whether facilitating a peaceful agreement between two nations or communities at odds, or working to maintain peace following the resolution of a conflict, both government and non-government organizations need skilled professionals who are trained in navigating these complicated scenarios.

This is because, today, conflict can arise anywhere across the globe, and can be driven by a number of factors including politics, religion, ethnicity, and cultural differences.

No matter the root cause of conflict, however, Jason Foley—a professor within Northeastern’s Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations program, a career coach, and a Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development—identifies that professionals who specialize in conflict resolution can help to support maintaining peace and reducing these tensions.

What is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict resolution is an essential skill for a variety of government and private-sector positions. Professionals who specialize in this practice must be deeply analytical, excel in research, and have strong cross-cultural skills. They also need to understand the importance of culture and ethnicity, policy options for resolutions, and approaches to peacebuilding.

There are many exciting opportunities for those with a background in conflict resolution at all career levels. According to Foley, at the national or regional levels, these individuals might facilitate political settlements between two or more parties using compromises, governance structures, and national systems of justice to achieve or maintain peace. 

However, the community level, he explains, is where the greatest opportunity for peace and conflict occur. “Much of today’s conflict is not concentrated at the national level, because states in conflict aren’t typically so hierarchal or so structured, even with insurgents,” he says. “But there are various groups and ethnic mixes at the community level. Here, you’re working at the bottom and dealing with how to mobilize communities to help resolve conflict.”

Global events over the past several decades have made this specialty especially important, Foley adds.

“After 9/11 is when we began to see the political order that took years to build starting to fray quite rapidly,” he says. “You had more and more conflict in more and more places. You have to look through a conflict lens in everything you do today. You have to make sure you’re not only helping, but, more importantly, that you’re not actually harming and causing additional conflict.”

Interested in a Career in Conflict Resolution?

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Pursuing a Career in Conflict Resolution

For people who are interested in pursuing a specialty in conflict resolution, it’s important to consider the many possible career paths. Professionals may work for a government, a non-government organization (NGO), in the private sector, or for a think tank.

 When deciding between these options, it’s important to start by weighing factors like whether you want to work in a capital in a Western nation, for example, or whether you want to travel the world and live in different countries.

Whether you choose domestic or international work, the projects you tackle as a conflict resolution specialist will be nuanced. For instance, Foley explains that some may aim to resolve a particular conflict that’s between two sides within a single community. In this scenario, “a war…is breaking out, and you need to bring people together,” he says. “You need to identify why this is happening, what’s the problem, who’s causing it, and how to resolve it. How do we bring justice in? How do we address grievances?”

Other career opportunities for conflict resolution specialists may not be as obvious. If an organization is working on an agricultural or health project, for example, professionals are needed to navigate instances where certain parties aren’t feeling well-served while others are.

“You need to get buy-in from the people, community leaders, the elders, and others so the project doesn’t introduce unintended conflict,” Foley says.

3 Top Careers in Conflict Resolution

The roles and responsibilities of professionals who specialize in conflict resolution will also vary depending on the organization and the sector. The following is a look at what entry-level, mid-career, and senior- or executive-level professionals may expect in conflict resolution careers.

1. Program Analyst

Average Salary: $50,000-$70,000 per year

Program analysts typically are required to have master’s degrees, as well as a couple of years of experience, Foley says. Sometimes the experience is in an unrelated field, such as finance or sales, while other times it’s in international affairs or international relations.

“Everyone is competing against others with master’s degrees,” he continues, “What sets people apart is the experience they have in that field.”

At a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), for example, program analysts are responsible primarily for business development. This includes developing proposals and helping the organization they work for win business. Through this experience, program analysts will learn how agendas and surveys are developed, as well as how to oversee accountability, understand budgets, and evaluate programs to determine whether they were successful.

Digging in Deeper: “Your job as a program analyst would be working in a team and helping to put those proposals together to win funding or a project. You’ll write and edit them, put together a budget, then implement the program if you win it,” Foley says. “If you’re part of the implementation team, you’ll assist in putting the logistics of the project together, and you’ll be part of the team that reviews the implementation—the successes, delays, and problems—constant evaluation until the project is closed out.”

2. Deputy Director

Average Salary: $78,000-$120,000 per year

Mid-level professionals who may hold the title of deputy director, are responsible for managing the program analysts working beneath them, as well as the projects those program managers oversee.

In an NGO, for example, the deputy director is responsible for leading the business development team—a group that is in charge of responding to requests for proposals (RFPs). In this role, the deputy director helps to create each proposal and ensure that the organization can make a competitive case for winning the project. They may also present the plan to the organization’s director or vice president, who then signs off on it.

If the project is won, the deputy director compiles the project management team, which is tasked with keeping the project on-time and within the set budget. Foley also adds that these individuals may work on one to five projects at a time, depending on the scope and size. 

As a deputy director, he continues, “when you go in to make the sell, you’ll be running the show. You’ll be making the pitch with your client manager and senior executive alongside you.”

A deputy director working in government, on the other hand, is the counterpart position of the deputy director working for an NGO. This person is responsible for finalizing the RFP that’s drafted by the analyst in search for an NGO to assist in a government project. This person is usually responsible for part of a region, such as a part of the Middle East or Africa.

Both deputy director positions are also responsible for overseeing the evaluation of the project following its completion.

3. Director/Vice President

Average Salary: $110,000-$142,000 per year

The director or vice president role holds the most responsibility of all conflict resolution specialists. Their duties include managing the deputy directors and ensuring the success of each project, Foley says. 

While a deputy director typically manages only a few projects at a time, a director or VP will manage a series of teams and projects simultaneously, and often for programs in larger regions. They spend most of their time with the clients gaining a deeper understanding of the problem set and ensuring that the project is fulfilling the intended requirements. These professionals are also responsible for giving status updates and hearing concerns from the clients, relaying any necessary feedback down to the team.

A VP working in stakeholder coordination for the U.S. Government, for example, will often hold broad discussions with defense, treasury, and other departments about their objectives in particular countries, Foley says.

In addition, these executives are responsible for ensuring that each client adequately learns from the outcomes of the project, and oversee the delivery of analytic documents for policymakers that detail lessons learned. Where a deputy director might supervise the evaluation of one or a few of these at a time, the director or VP is responsible for many.

Kick Start Your Career in Conflict Resolution 

A master’s degree is required for even the most entry-level conflict resolution positions. As such, professionals hoping to land a career in this exciting field should seriously consider pursuing this advanced degree from a university that will provide them with the skills and experiences they need to excel. 

Northeastern’s Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations program, for example, offers a tailored concentration for students interested in exploring conflict resolution.

Students in this program have the unique opportunity to not only explore a series of core topics that will benefit their work but to hone in on the practical skills and knowledge most relevant to them. This includes an exploration of:  

  •   Key concepts, ideas, and debates in the field
  •   Policy options for resolutions of social conflict
  •   Peace planning and conflict prevention
  •   Issues of security and terrorism in relation to globalization
  •   International human rights, and more.

“From the highest level, Northeastern blends the policy with the implementation. It’s not just book learning, but you learn from professors that practice this every day,” Foley says. “You get that context of seeing how policies are actually made and how it works on the ground from actual practitioners.”

Equally important, Foley adds, is “that graduate students must be self-motivated to research organizations for possible employment, develop networks into these organizations, and hone their pitches for an interview.” Foley recommends students work with their professors, career services, and career coaches to help them achieve their professional aspirations. 

Conflict resolution skills are key to landing careers that aim to drive and maintain global peace. At a top program like Northeastern’s, students can expect to master the required top skills in an environment that encourages hands-on experience and insights from top professionals in the field.

Looking to specialize in conflict resolution? Earning an MS in Global Studies and International Relations at Northeastern University can set you apart. Download our free guide to advancing your international relations career below.

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