Once you return home, how do you parlay your new knowledge and insight into a great interview and fantastic job? Not all on-campus recruiters recognize that study abroad will make you a better employee, so be prepared to convey the relevance of your experience to your career. Think ahead about your study abroad narrative, transferable skills, and interview presentation. Below are some possible talking points to cover during recruitment.
You have completed your adventure abroad and now it's time to begin a new adventure as a professional. Here are some things to consider about the relationship between your study abroad and your value as an employee.
You’ve experienced another culture first-hand and investigated it analytically. You assessed your cultural biases about issues like time management, relationship building and authority. In any new situation, abroad or at home, you will be able to assess your new environment, anticipate challenges and develop strategies to succeed.
You discovered new strengths and abilities in adapting to unfamiliar situations. You are now prepared to undertake work projects with little to no instruction.
You may have needed to behave more diplomatically or assertively than before, and in the process, developed a new level of adaptability.
You learned about yourself. You probably returned with new perspectives about where you fit within a variety of cultures. You are able to contribute to national/international dialogues on current issues.
Academic coursework, company visits and the cultural analysis project gave you greater awareness of how global business is conducted and how business practices differ between the U.S. and other countries.
You experienced a new academic system. Perhaps you had to adapt to an unfamiliar lecture style or new approaches to testing and grading. This demonstrates your flexibility and ability to perform under pressure.
- Consider transferable skills, like cultural sensitivity, managing a limited budget, experience in a certain market/consumer base, and an ability to cope with ambiguity.
To get the message across effectively, describe the skills you gained and provide justification for your claims.
Unpack yourself. Follow the instructions in this document and reflect on your study abroad. What were the most salient experiences for you? Often, it’s the difficulties you faced that make the best stories.
Tell the story in three parts:
- The problem you faced
- How you solved it
- The transferable skill you demonstrated or gained
“My friend and I were stranded on the outskirts of town late at night, after public transportation stopped running. We didn’t know that part of town and we didn’t speak the language, and my friend got really upset and started to panic. I helped him calm down, found a respectable-looking bar and went in to ask if they would call us a taxi, a word they understood. When the taxi came, I showed the driver the address of our residence that I kept with me, and we made it back in one piece. Having had this experience, I’m confident in my ability to deal with change in other high-pressure environments."
Resumes and Interviews
Employers are looking for people with good interpersonal and communication skills, flexibility, and the ability to cope with ambiguity and new situations—qualities often enhanced by study abroad. Set yourself apart with stories that illustrate how you developed the skills recruiters are looking for.
Your resume tells a story about you; have a reason for everything you include with an anecdote prepared to address their questions. Include your study abroad experience in the education section.
If you have a good story to tell about your study abroad, briefly describe the skills and experiences you acquired and how they are transferable to the position for which you are applying.
Articulate how your study abroad skills, experience and personality fit the needs of the organization and will enhance your job performance. Prepare answers for the following:
“Why did you decide to study in _______? How was your experience the same or different from your expectations, and how did you adapt?”
“Which study abroad accomplishments are you most proud of?”
“Why do you think you would be a good candidate for this job?”
Make sure you mention your study abroad experience at the right time during your interview, and make it relevant to the position for which you are applying. If the employer asks about your travels, highlight them as a skill-enhancing experience that provided valuable contacts. Answer that question only, being brief, focused, and clear in your response. If your employer doesn't bring up your study abroad experience, integrate it tactfully and specifically into your answers. Don’t get carried away, go off on a tangent or reminisce excessively.
Remember to explain that you have acquired exactly the specialized skills employers seek, and have proof of those skills from your successful study abroad. Above all, emphasize the flexibility, tolerance, and patience you may have learned.