The Center for Global Education is here to provide you with the framework to understand the impact and added value of study abroad for your career development. The following sections are discussed:
The Accessible Potential
If you have a career path in mind, studying abroad will bring forth a fresh outlook and unique perspective on your career. However, if your career goals are not clear, studying abroad has the potential to:
- Clarify the direction you’d like to take
- Give you a new perspective on your academic work
- Strengthen skills that will be of benefit to you when you begin your job search
Maximize the Potential Value
As a student interested in studying abroad, you should ask yourself the following questions to get the most of your study abroad experience. These questions should also be discussed with your study abroad advisor to further aid your gains from studying abroad.
- How will the experience be integrated into my major or field of study?
- Will it provide immersion in language study?
- Outside the classroom, what options are there for experiential learning through volunteering or an internship?
- Are there alumni living and working in the host city whom I can meet to discuss my career interests?
Employers Value Study Abroad Experience
Regardless of the sector or field, there are many benefits to your study abroad experience that employers admire. These benefits are maximized if you understand how best to market your skills and competencies.
Job applicants with international experience will stand out for many reasons, including the following:
- Today’s global marketplace demands increased adaptability, cross-cultural sensitivity, political awareness, and intellectual flexibility
- Globalization’s impact on workers and the workplace has leaped across national borders and transcends cultures
- Employers, especially those doing business internationally, are interested in whether or not job applicants demonstrate they have developed the requisite skills and sensitivity that makes them stand out as the strongest candidates for a particular job
So what makes a successful career professional in an international corporation? The following are five characteristics that are considered to be the most important:
- General Cognitive skills (problem solving, analytic ability)
- Interpersonal and relationship skills
- Tolerance for ambiguity and adaptability
- Cross-cultural competency (ability to work well in different cultures and with people from different backgrounds)
- Personal traits (e.g. character, self-reliance, dependability)
– Study by RAND Corporation, 2003
Deciding on a Program with Career Development in Mind
There are many questions that you, as a potential study abroad student, should take into consideration before starting your journey abroad. To make sure a program fits your needs, the following questions should be considered when picking out a program:
- How will the study abroad experience add valuable new skills to your presentation of interests and career goals on your resume?
- Is improving your language skills an important goal?
- Do you value as much immersion as possible in the local culture? Would living in a family home stay, instead of a residence hall, be important?
- Would you have an opportunity for an internship or other means of experiential learning such as volunteer or service-learning project?
- What opportunities are there for travel outside your home city? What are your options for either individual or group experiences on your own or as part of the program?
- Is it important to you that the program offer an opportunity for reflection to take stock of how you’re achieving your personal, academic, and career goals? How and when does this take place?
Gain Valuable Career Insight While Abroad
There are many professional skills that we encourage you to work on while studying abroad. They consist of the following:
- Practice and improve your communication skills
- Learn the value of professional networking
- Gain a better understanding about the global job market by investigating conditions in the country, community, and region in which you’re studying
Pursuing these practices will help you identify contacts (including U.S. and international faculty, staff, and fellow students) who you believe can contribute to your knowledge and understanding of the local job market or sector you are interested in. Discussing your career interests with othes is very important, especially when it comes to gaining new insights and advice while abroad.
Market Your Study Abroad Experience to Employers
It is up to you to make the case and demonstrate the link between your study abroad experience and the specific skills valued by the company or organization you want to work for. The following are steps that you should take into consideration when getting ready to apply for jobs:
- Incorporate in your resume the new interpersonal skills and intercultural competencies that you strengthened while abroad
- Articulate in your cover letter how your study abroad experience is an asset for the employer that you are interested in
- Participate in campus or community programs that provide opportunities to practice articulating what you learned and the steps you took to gain or strengthen intercultural and professional skills
- Discuss your international experience with international students from the country in which you studied to gain a fresh perspective on the culture and values of that society
For the steps above, we recommend that you meet with a Career Coach, Study Abroad Alumni, and International students.
Adjusting Your Resume
Consider the following types of headings to showcase your overseas experience:
- Cross-Cultural Campus Involvement
- Foreign Languages
- Global Experience
- International Volunteer Services
The following are examples of bullet statements associated to particular skills:
- Strengthened Cross-Cultural Skills: Adapted to cultural differences and customs through daily interaction with my host family over a period of 5 months
- Developed Language Competency/Communication Skills: Cultivated language and communication skills through sustained dialogue with my family and others whom I met in my host community
- Flexibility/Risk-Taking: Learned how to adapt to unanticipated situations and improve new plans due to period travel mishaps and unexpected events
Adjusting Your Cover Letter
A cover letter should reflect the experiences outlined on your resume, however, it should focus on the attributes that set you apart from other candidates. Your international experience while studying abroad is a perfect example. Make sure to demonstrate in your cover letter why you possess the skills and experiences that are a match for the requirements of the job.
Examples of appropriate transferable skills that you might use are:
- Problem-solving skills
- Ability to adapt in different environment
Preparing for Interviews
Going into an interview, employers expect this from candidates that have studied abroad:
- Strong problem solving skills and keen analytic ability
- Tolerance for ambiguity and ability to adapt in new environments
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Cross-cultural competencies (could include language skills and ability to work well in different cultural settings)
- Personal traits such as character, self-reliance, and dependability.
Possible questions that you might be asked regarding your study abroad experience:
- What did you learn about yourself as a result of your study abroad experience?
- Why did you choose to study in [name of country]? Why was it important to you?
- How did you get engaged in the local culture outside the classroom?
- Can you describe a time when you had to change your behavior to accommodate or adjust to different local conditions?
**Much of the information in this page is derived from the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), Student Guide to Study Abroad & Career Development, by Martin Tillman