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 Marketing Your Study-Abroad Experience to Employers

Many students describe their study-abroad experiences as “wonderful” and “life-changing”; we hope your time abroad is just as positive. In addition to sharing your study-abroad stories with friends, family, and advisers, you will also need to reflect on your experience and be ready to speak intelligently about it to potential employers.
 
Research from the Collegiate Employment Research Institute has found that some employers view study-abroad programs as “academic tourism (PDF),” and some students have difficulties communicating the value of their overseas experience. The fact that you spent time overseas is not the key point for employers: You must be able to articulate how your study-abroad experience relates to and benefits them. Through written materials or in conversations, employers need you to clearly and thoughtfully convey how your study-abroad experience has prepared you to be a strong candidate for their organization.
 
In this section, you will learn to identify some of the skills you may have developed abroad, as well as how to thoughtfully present the benefits of your study-abroad experience to employers.
Skill Development Abroad
During your semester abroad, you most likely developed or honed a variety of skills and competencies that might be cross-cultural, industry-specific, or transferable.
 
Reflect upon your experience and the career-related strengths you may have gained. For example, did you:
 
  • Work on group projects with students from different cultures?
  • Initiate meetings with professionals at local organizations to gain insights into corporate and industry culture?
  • Actively participate in a student organization?
Through experiences within and outside of the classroom, studying abroad may have improved your abilities to:
 
  • Creatively solve problems by applying familiar concepts to unfamiliar situations
  • Look at a project or situation from different perspectives
  • Maintain self-confidence while listening and learning from people whose value systems may be different
  • Be flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing situations and new environments
  • Imagine, forecast, analyze or address business situations from a different cultural frame of reference
  • Develop an understanding of global issues in your industry of interest
 
In addition to the strengths you may have acquired abroad, you possess a variety of skill sets that you have developed through various life experiences. Which do employers value the most? The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has conducted a survey for many years, asking employers for the top personal qualities and skills they seek in new college hires.
 
In the recent NACE Job Outlook April 2011 survey (PDF), employers ranked the following as the top four key skills for new college hires:
 
  • Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
  • Ability to obtain and process information
You possess these qualities to varying degrees and will continue to develop them throughout the course of your life. Studying abroad provides additional opportunities for you to hone not only these skills, but other key competencies such as leadership, adaptability, flexibility, time management, open-mindedness, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
 
Make time after the study-abroad experience to take inventory of the skills you possess. How were your existing strengths enhanced by your time overseas, and what new additions might you have made to your skill set?
Study Abroad and Your Resume
You can incorporate your study-abroad experience into your resume in a variety of ways:
  • List the name of the program/institution in the "education" section of your resume, just as you list McIntire and UVA.
  • Consider listing coursework if it is related to your internship/job search. You might describe relevant projects or any work, intern, or volunteer experience you had during your time abroad.
  • Depending on the level of detail you want to include, you can list these study-abroad-related experiences in the "education" section, the “related experience” section, or perhaps in an “international experience” section, if you plan on conducting a search with an international focus.
If you are unsure about where to best highlight your program and additional international experiences, bring a copy of your resume to an appointment with a CCS career counselor.
Additional Resources
You may also be interested in editing and presenting your resume/CV in a format that more closely matches the style and practices of another country.
 
The Going Global Web site has tips on CV writing for various countries. The Online Resources section of our Career Resources site provides free access to Going Global. Students have full access to this resource on Grounds and can access this resource off Grounds using the McIntire VPN. Contact Commerce Career Services if you have any questions.
Study Abroad and Your Cover Letter
A cover letter is meant to act as a complement to your resume, explaining in a narrative style why you are a good fit for the organization and the available position. If time spent abroad is highly relevant to the position, you can include your overseas experience in both the first and middle paragraphs.

First Paragraph
The purpose of the first paragraph is to introduce yourself to the reader, explain how you learned about the position, tell why you are interested in this position, and convey why you are a good fit for the organization and the position. The first paragraph often ends with a statement that introduces various aspects of your background, which you will elaborate upon in the middle paragraphs. For example, you might say something like “Through my business coursework with McIntire, study-abroad experience in (list location), summer internship with/as (list organization or title), and leadership experiences on Grounds, I have developed the analytical, interpersonal, and project management skills that will allow me to be an asset to (name of organization/team)."

Middle Paragraphs
The middle one or two paragraphs of a cover letter are the focus of the document. In preparing to write this section, you need to first identify the skills the employer is looking for (the job description provides this list). Next, you need to reflect upon your experiences and think of the various ways in which you can demonstrate that you possess these skills. At this point, you are ready to describe how your background matches the employer’s needs. As you consider how your experiences demonstrate your various skills, consider reflecting upon your semester abroad. Are you able to draw upon specific examples from your time overseas to include in the cover letter? How might your time abroad have helped you develop communication, teamwork, or problem-solving skills? If living or working overseas is important to a potential employer, your letter should include more details about your international experiences.
 
If you need assistance in incorporating your study-abroad experience into your cover letter or would like someone to review a current draft of the letter, schedule an appointment with a CCS career counselor.
Study Abroad, Networking, and Interviewing
In addition to creating strong written materials, you need to be prepared to thoughtfully articulate the career benefits of your study-abroad experience through verbal communication. To successfully converse about your time overseas with networking contacts and employers, you must:
  • Have a clear understanding of the skills and qualities you possess.
  • Identify the skills and qualities in which the employer is most interested.
  • Review your myriad experiences at home and abroad and identify concrete examples of how you have demonstrated the qualities the employer is looking for. Such qualities might have been gained in the classroom, in group projects, in student organizations, or while working part time or interning.
  • Using these concrete examples, develop compelling yet concise stories that illustrate how you have developed your skills, and how these skills in turn benefit the employer.
  • Practice, practice, practice telling these stories. Consider scheduling a mock interview with a career counselor.
When giving examples from your time abroad, TransitionsAbroad.com recommends speaking in terms that are more familiar to prospective employers, such as using "adjustment" instead of "culture shock" and "interpersonal skills" instead of "cultural sensitivity.” Be prepared to answer the questions “Why did you choose to study abroad?” and “How and why did you choose your program/location?”  
Additional Resources