Time spent studying abroad teaches you so much beyond lessons learned in the classroom. You more than likely spent several weeks, a semester, or even an entire academic year speaking a foreign language, navigating a new city, and learning customs of a culture that might have been much different from yours. Your time abroad was invaluable, as you tell every person who asks you about it.
Unfortunately, not every potential employer will see you time abroad in the same way. The good news is that attitudes toward job candidates who have spent time studying away from their home countries are improving.
A 2011 report from QS Global Employers Survey found that American companies are increasingly looking to hire students who have had professional or academic experience abroad. 54% of American executives and managers surveyed said that they “actively seek or attribute value to an international study experience when recruiting.” Until that number reaches 100%, here are a few ways in which you can better market your study abroad experience to recruiters and potential employers.
Emphasize your foreign language skills.
As the global economy becomes increasingly interconnected, employees who speak more than one language are vital to companies that do business around the world. While almost anyone can learn a language in a classroom, living in a foreign city and speaking that language every day exponentially increase your language skills.
Include an anecdote about using your foreign language skills in an everyday situation in your cover letter or during an interview. Perhaps you negotiated down the price of a scarf at a local market in Rabat, or helped a native Parisian figure out why the metro wasn’t running on schedule that day.
Stories like these show potential employers that you not only have the ability to take initiative in unknown situations, but that you can also do it in multiple languages.
Talk about how you adapted to your new environment.
Whether it is a classroom or a restaurant, adjusting to the norms a foreign country can be difficult. For example, you might be completely unfamiliar with the format of economics exams in France to point where a professor refuses to give you credit for your work. Discuss with a potential employer how you put in the effort to speak with the professor about your work (which again reminds them of your language skills), learn about the proper format, and perform very well on your next exam.
The same could be said for adapting to your home environment. Whether you lived with a local family or rented your own apartment while abroad, you more than likely navigated a new cultural situation. This is direct evidence of your ability to adapt.
If you studied abroad in an emerging market, your new employer knows that will have an employee with direct knowledge of that market’s culture were they to hire you.
Acknowledge the challenges of studying abroad.
Some employers view a semester or year spent studying abroad as a vacation from academics. While almost anyone who has studied abroad knows that this is untrue, it is still a prevalent perception. When we talk about our study abroad experience, we are much more likely to show friends and family pictures from the wonderful excursions we took and tell stories about life-changing events we experienced than to talk about the difficult days when we wanted to go home or seemed to forget the language skills we had worked on for years.
Some of the most valuable lessons learned while studying abroad can come from hardships. By discussing these with potential employers, they are able to see that you are willing to put yourself into situations that you know will be challenging, and that you have the ability to work through them to find success.
Mairead Tuttle is from Pennsylvania and is currently a French and Economics major at Mount Holyoke College. Through her economics classes, she found a passion for business, and hopes to someday work on the management side of the fashion and beauty industries.