Study abroad experience has many benefits from expanding global and cultural knowledge to enhancing personal awareness and values, but have you given much thought to how you can leverage your international experience in your job search? Employers who are looking for specific job related skills may fail to recognize the multitude of important skills students gain while studying abroad, so it is your challenge as the job seeker to show them how you can contribute. Start thinking of your experience as value added to your overall professional portfolio and communicate the specific skills and qualities you can translate from study abroad to the workplace.
1. Brainstorming: Before you can communicate your skills to others, YOU have to know what they are and how they relate to your career goals. Answer the following questions: How can your individual experience transfer to professional jobs in your area of study? How do your experiences fit into your career goals? Thinking about these questions can help you develop a strategy for your job search directed specifically to the types of jobs you will be pursuing. Common qualifications that are developed in most international experiences include some level of foreign language proficiency, cultural competency, greater flexibility, ability to adapt to new and changing environments, and increased independence. Take it one step further to focus on major specific skills also. For example, business majors can highlight a greater understanding of global development opportunities and international market trends.
2. Marketing: After developing your personal strategy, work on showing off your skills and experiences in your resume and cover letter. You can list your study abroad experience in the education section of your resume rather than in activities:
University Name; City, Country
Study Abroad; Spring 2010
You can also include specific skills developed in your brainstorming activities in a Key Skills or Summary of Qualifications section. If you worked/interned or participated in a team project during your study abroad opportunity, consider listing the experience in the Work Experience or Related Projects section of your resume. In your cover letter, discuss how your cultural competencies and skills developed during study abroad will benefit the employer.
3. Communicating: Armed with a renewed understanding of your valuable qualifications, be prepared to communicate skills and experiences effectively in an interview setting. Before entering the interview prepare several specific stories that integrate study abroad experiences. When answering behavioral questions such as “Describe a time when you resolved a conflict with a classmate or a coworker” think about how you might have resolved a cultural misunderstanding while abroad and weave this into your response. Never elaborate or invent fictional stories based on international experience!!! Employers will be able to catch discrepancies or exaggerations. However, do be sure to show the benefit of your experiences on your future job.
Thinking of your study abroad experience as a value added commodity in the job search will help you stand out in a pack of qualified applicants. With the rapidly expanding global marketplace, employers are looking for candidates who have been exposed to and understand cross-cultural needs.