By Rachel Dimston
Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs
May 2017 (expected)
As you study in Gelman and drown your sorrows at Tonic, you will often overhear other students, both undergraduate and graduate, discussing their many internships and jobs. Although the tan you acquired in Barcelona and the impeccable accent you gained while studying in Guangzhou province are both nice perks of study abroad, you may be left feeling bereft after returning to campus from abroad while your classmates were gaining valuable work experience and additions to their resumes. However, your study abroad experience can be used to communicate to employers about your skills, interests, and capabilities in a much more specific way than a basic job or entry-level office position. Below are ten areas in which your study abroad experience can help during your job search and job application process in order to achieve your career goals.
- Resume Addition
Under the education section of your resume you can list your program, program dates, and relevant coursework in order to communicate immediately that you have international experience. By adding your study abroad experience to your resume, you can also encourage employers to ask you about it during your interview, prompting questions you should absolutely be able to answer. Here’s an example:
Now that you’ve informed your interviewer that you’ve studied abroad, you may receive the opportunity to answer questions about your experience. For behavioral questions especially, your experiences in a foreign country are perfect fodder for answers. Below are a few questions which would be answered well by mentioning your travels:
Tell me about a time when you showed initiative and took the lead
Tell me about a time in which you navigated through a situation you were not expecting but you were, in the end, successful
Tell me about a time when you stepped outside of your comfort zone and what were the results
For interview preparation and instruction, you can schedule an appointment with Center for Career Services to conduct a mock interview and get constructive criticism.
- Cover Letter Addition
While writing a cover letter, it’s important to demonstrate how your specific skills and qualifications match up with those mentioned in the job announcement. When a position mentions qualities such as initiative, leadership, and adaptability, it can be a good idea to tie in your study abroad experience. An example of this may be describing how you conducted research in Nepal as part of a CIT program in order to analyze the detrimental effects of tourism. You can then tie this experience back to a position, such as a research assistant position or an outreach role, and demonstrate your qualities of initiative and curiosity.
For more help on how to write a successful cover letter, visit Career Services for cover letter critiques, which can be done in-person and online.
- Language Acquisition
By studying a language via immersion, you are demonstrating a commitment to gaining and improving a valuable skill. If you don’t continue studying the language when you return (which you should continue if at all possible), make an effort to write down what you learned and how that influenced your experience of living in that country. Telling an interviewer, “While studying abroad in Nairobi, I studied and practiced Kiswahili in order to connect more with my host family,” is an effective way to demonstrate that you took the initiative to deepen your time abroad in a meaningful way (you don’t have to tell an employer if a program required that you take a language).
- Job Search Keywords
Every job announcement is essentially a guide to writing an effective cover letter and resume for that position. Scan the announcement and search for adjectives such as the examples below in order to determine if mentioning your study abroad experience can improve your chances.
Initiative Leadership Adaptability Flexibility Intellectual Curiosity Principled Creative Self-reliant Independent Communication Problem-Solving Critical Thinking
- Writing Samples
If you’ve just returned from studying abroad, some of your most recent essays and papers will likely have been written abroad, and hopefully are the highest quality of work that you’ve produced during your time in college (as a result of being the most recent). Research assignments completed while abroad can be effective writing samples since they have a more educated or informed perspective on the topic. After returning to GW, go through your files and put together a folder of the best essays you wrote while abroad. This can help during your job and interview search when an employer requests a writing sample.
- Federal Jobs
When federal departments, agencies, and programs require employees to travel abroad for work, it can be beneficial to share that you’ve traveled abroad, either academically or for “personal exploration,” when you’re applying for one of those positions. By sharing details of your time abroad and the program you attended, you can demonstrate that you can handle yourself abroad and that you know how to travel effectively and efficiently.
If you’re interested in working abroad on behalf of the United States, you should look into the Peace Corps, the State Department’s Foreign Service Officer position, as well as job announcements from the USAID.
- Overseas Positions
If you’re interested in applying for an internship program abroad, such as the IES Internships program in Cape Town, travel experience can be beneficial in informing an employer that you can complete the work and projects assigned to you despite the new environment, because you’ve gone abroad before.
When applying for a job abroad, demonstrating to employers such as international organizations or global corporations that you’ve lived abroad before and can thrive in a dynamic, challenging environment can make you appear more attractive as a candidate.
- Relocation for a Job
Businesses that advertise positions on campus are not always offering jobs within the metropolitan DC area. When Williams-Sonoma advertises positions at their San Francisco headquarters, feel free to mention to the recruiter that you would feel comfortable relocating due to previous experiences internationally. Businesses often have concerns about the success of entry-level employees that have to relocate due to exposure to a new city, climate, and other environmental factors. Demonstrating proficiency in these areas can help reassure employers that you are not only a good candidate but will succeed in the position itself.
- Personal Happiness
If you’ve studied abroad, you shouldn’t feel upset or that you’ve wasted your time just because you didn’t spend the semester slogging as a congressional aide or working at a retail position. The incredible experiences and joy you got from your program and the friends you made are all invaluable, and shouldn’t be shadowed by concerns about your career goals and future job prospects.
If you’re still concerned about getting an internship or job, go to the Center for Career Services in the Marvin Center for help with all aspects of the job search and application process.
A critical part of the study abroad experience is aligning your career goals with the program you select, and taking action before and during the experience to stay involved in your field of interest. After you return, it is important to translate the experience into marketable skills that employers seek. Below you will find some suggestions for how to align your career goals with your study abroad experience throughout each step in the process:
Before Selecting a Program:
- Meet with Career Services, your academic advisor, and the study abroad office to see how studying abroad can support your career goals
- Search for jobs that you are interested in after graduation and highlight the desired skills and traits for the position
- Research programs that allow you to stay connected to your career goals
- Does the program have internships or service learning opportunities?
- Does the program allow you to live with a host family to improve your foreign language proficiency?
- Does the program offer unique classes in your discipline of study that you can’t take at your university?
- Interview a student that attended a program that you are interested in and/or a student in your discipline of study that has studied abroad
Once you’ve selected a program, there are a few things to consider before you depart:
- Consider how your career goals align with the program you’ve selected
- Make a plan for how to stay connected to your major and career goals
- Research companies in your field of interest with offices/employees in your destination country
- Familiarize yourself with your destination country
- Visit the Department of State website to review your destination country information
- Study the history and culture, as well as recent news
- Seek out information on local business etiquette
- Reach out to locals from your destination country on your campus or in your community to discuss their perspectives and practice the language
- Consider enrolling in a foreign language course, or utilize phone applications or websites (such as DuoLingo or Rosetta Stone) to familiarize yourself with your destination country’s language
While in country, there are many things that you can do to make the most of out of your experience:
- Keep a journal or blog that details the experiences you are having and skills you are developing. Ask yourself:
- What challenges are you facing?
- How have your views of yourself and your culture changed?
- Consider your reactions in terms of ethnocentrism and ethnorelativism
- What has learning about your discipline of study and field of interest in a foreign country taught you?
- Engage with locals
- Network with professionals in your field of interest
- Set up meetings or shadowing in your field of interest
- Ask questions about how business is conducted where you are studying, how culture impacts work, and how your field of interest operates in a global way
Post Study Abroad:
Once you return, it is important to reflect on your study abroad experience and identify ways to market it to potential employers:
- Reflect on the blog/journal you kept abroad and continue to journal about returning home. Ask yourself:
- What challenges did you overcome?
- What did you learn about your major and field of interest?
- Meet with Career Services and update your resume
- List the name of the program/institution on resume
- Consider listing coursework if it is related to job search
- Consider listing relevant projects, work, or volunteer experience
- Update your cover letter/LinkedIn account
- Detail how your study abroad experience is an asset for employers
- Develop an elevator pitch
- Keep it between 30-60 seconds
- Memorize it and practice
- Highlight skills that you developed while abroad and experiences you had that gave you a new perspective on your discipline of study/field of interest
- Connect with contacts
- Connect/reconnect with the contacts you met while abroad
- Add them as connections on LinkedIn
- Interview professionals in your field of interest. Ask about:
- Their career goals prior to studying abroad
- How studying abroad impacted their career path
- Attend re-entry seminars to help with reflection and to network with other study abroad alumni
The study abroad experience is truly transformative, both personally and professionally, and using the tools listed above will help ensure that you make the most out of your study abroad experience.