Take Inventory of Your Experience (from “Marketing Study Abroad: How to Sell Your Overseas Experience to Employers” by Jean-Marc Hachey of www.workingoverseas.com)
If you have studied abroad, you are well on your way to developing a solid International I.Q. This is a unique package of skills possessed by people who have lived abroad and these are the skills sought out by international employers. Before writing a resume, you need to review what international skills you have gained from your study abroad experience. The following will help you assess what new skills you acquired.
Study Abroad Courses: If you studied for less than one full semester abroad, the subject of your studies is less important than the broader international experience you have had. Nonetheless, take note of your courses and be prepared to situate the general environment of the school you attended while abroad. Was it a highly accredited academic program, or was it a study and travel session? Was the student body international or predominantly students from you own country?
Professional Experience Abroad: Hopefully you supercharged the international value of your time abroad by doing a few extra things that will look good on your resume. Employers want to know that you successfully accomplished tasks in a new environment. Did you lead a student team? Did you complete projects within a multicultural student environment? Did you meet professionals in your field while abroad? Did you organize a social event? Did you work: part-time, with a professor, or as a language coach? Did you volunteer in your field? Did you overcome a bureaucratic hurdle by making use of professional skills? Audit your time abroad for professional experiences and be prepared to describe them in your resume and when meeting employers.
Country-Specific Skills: Can you speak about the specific cultural traits of your study abroad host country nationals? If not, you can easily read up on this now by consulting the numerous books written on country-specific cultural traits and published for example by Intercultural Press (www.interculturalpress.com). Imagine the impact on potential employers when you are able to contrast the work habits of your German hosts with U.S. citizens. You also gain points with employers if you traveled independently or lived with host nationals. In all these cases, prepare descriptions that support your professional and intercultural skills.
Universal Cross-Cultural Skills: While abroad, you developed a unique set of cross-cultural skills that are portable. You can take these and apply them to any new country. You are familiar with culture shock and can professionally describe it. You understand the cycle of stress and exhilaration of moving to a new place. You are more adaptable, open minded, and observant. You can spot cultural differences and change your behavior to accommodate local norms. You have a better understanding of yourself and you can use this self-knowledge when making decisions in a culture other than your own. You are curious, brave, and have a sense of adventure. At the same time you are streetwise and can function in unfamiliar environments.
Language Skills: You already know that language skills are important for international and domestic employers. Even obscure language or basic language skills indicate a propensity for language learning and learning in general. When communicating with employers, indicate the level of reading, writing, and speaking skills you acquired. Always describe what you can do as opposed to what you can’t.
General Work Skills: When speaking to employers, recognize the value of the general skills you developed while abroad. You are adept at managing change; you are independent and have self-discipline while being sensitive to the needs of others. There are dozens of work characteristics developed abroad: resourcefulness, versatility, persistence, observant and calm demeanor, diligence, multifaceted skills in communications, broad and strategic thinking, ability to deal with ambiguities, courage, ability to take on challenging work, open-mindedness, flexibility, resourcefulness, tact, listening and observing skills, ability to deal with stress, sense of humor, awareness of interpersonal politics, respect for protocol and hierarchy, loyalty, and tenacity. All of these skills are valuable to you when contacting domestic as well as international employers.