Your venture into the "real world" is approaching fast and it's time to update that resume. As a recent college graduate trudging onward to the work force, standing out on paper can seem like no easy task. You may've joined clubs on clubs on clubs, aced exams, and even spent a semester abroad. You've heard that international experience is a good way to entice employers and you should include your study abroad experience on your resume, but how do you do it?
Think of all those times you had to think on your own to figure out a new metro system and bargain in another language. Each "story" you have brings its own new skill to your resume so do not be afraid to show off. Adding study abroad to your resume can only help! Read on and discover how to make your study abroad experience the selling point that will help you shine in a pile of resumes -- especially as studying abroad is becoming more and more common?
1. Know Where to Place It and What to Include
Approach your study abroad experience like it is a previous job. (Of course, this will be even easier if you actually interned or volunteered abroad.) Wherever you place it on your resume -- under Education, or under a separate "International Experience" section -- don't just list your program name, country, and dates and think you're all set. You need to explain why it's on there and why it is worth the hiring manager knowing about it at all.
A good first step is naming some of the classes you took will be worthwhile if they relate directly to the job, but you need to go beyond that. Sit down and take a close look at the job listing(s) you're applying for. Highlight the keywords, key skills and traits that are mentioned. How can you mold your experiences abroad to what the employer is looking for? Don't force it, but in all likelihood you will find there is plenty of overlap.
Before you even get to this point, you might want to take the time to sit down and reflect upon your experience abroad. Think about who you were before you went abroad. Now, think about who you were after. Are these two people strangers? Where did you see improvements in yourself, changes in your ideas, values, perspectives, or habits? Essentially- how did studying abroad change you?
Some things are obvious and easily translatable to a resume, like language skills. Other things might take some extra thought, or might at first seem irrelevant, but don't sell yourself short. A recent survey showed that many employers feel that recent graduates are lacking a certain few basic areas: adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems. Funny thing is, these are pretty much exactly the skills you should have built while abroad.
2. Know How to Sell It
Living in another country requires extreme adaptability. You're adjusting to living in a new place while also being around a foreign culture, language, and customs... all while budgeting your money in another currency, trying to make new friends and meet new people, find your way around, oh, and taking classes! Studying abroad really is a bit like being thrown into a sink or swim scenario, and assuming you didn't hop on the next plane home, you probably became pretty adaptable to survive your whole summer, semester, or year abroad!
While employers value the knowledge and skills gained through international experiences, students and advisers often have trouble articulating and marketing "study abroad" as a selling point to employers. How do you help students elevate the study abroad experience beyond a bullet point on a resume or an anecdote at the interview?
Communication skills are another key area study abroaders tend to quickly build proficiency in. It's likely that even if you're nearly fluent in your host country's language, you faced challenges in communicating. Learning to communicate through body language, using your intuition and senses, or even just talking around vocabulary words you might not know are all valuable skills. Even if you didn't face language difficulties -- perhaps you studied abroad in an English-speaking country -- you still most likely had to communicate with diverse people from different cultures and likely had to show increased sensitivity in how you communicated. Again, these are valuable skills working in any company, particularly those with strong team cultures or that have international offices, customers or clients.
Furthermore, you likely developed a strong ability to solve complex problems abroad. Perhaps you had to find your own place and pay your own rent in your host city. Or you had to navigate confusing transportation systems, deal with a lost passport, or handle any other myriad of issues that come up while abroad. Even just the process of getting abroad -- from applying to a program to securing your visa and transportation -- can be riddled with problems that require quick thinking, thorough preparation, and creative problem solving.
3. Apply the Experience
Having any experience abroad is important as the workplace continues to become more and more global. Even if you're applying to a purely-domestic company, the country is becoming more and more international. Your language skills, or even just an ability to communicate with and understand different cultures and customs, will likely prove valuable still.
Some other common skills and traits developed studying abroad that are transferable to the job search include: independence, language skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, time management, money management, increased initiative, global awareness, intercultural communication skills, adaptability, increased confidence and responsibility, networking skills, perhaps even improved job-related skills such as writing, interviewing, research or photography.
Living in another country requires extreme adaptability. You're adjusting to living in a new place while also being around a foreign culture, language, and customs... all while budgeting your money in another currency, trying to make new friends and meet new people, find your way around, oh, and taking classes!
4. Think Ahead and Go the Extra Mile
If you're reading this before you go abroad, then props to you for thinking ahead! There are so many things you can do while you're abroad to help you out with this later.
Keep track of your experiences and reflect on how you are learning and changing. If you can do this in a professional way on a blog, then that's great; it's something to show for yourself and a ready writing sample! Otherwise, a personal journal should serve just fine.
Make an effort to get the most out of your experience, and do more than just study abroad and travel. Volunteer, take on a job or internship, or embark on some kind of research or project while you're abroad. If you plan ahead, you might even be able to get extra college credit for your work. If not, then who cares? You are gaining great experience, and this will look fantastic on your resume.
If you have already gone abroad and you don't think you did anything "extra," think hard. Did you ever volunteer, or participate in a club or sports league, or have any special projects in your classes that you had to work extra hard on, or in a team with other students of different nationalities? These, too, may be worth noting.
Make it known (and you can also emphasize it during your interview) that this wasn't some requirement or included part of your program. Don't be afraid to boast that you took on this extra work yourself. Employers like concrete examples of initiative and hard work - and this shows you have it in spades! Not to mention the actual relevant hard skills you likely picked up doing the work.
5. Be Prepared to Back Up Your Words
If you follow all this, you will have a killer resume that will surely get you noticed. But that's only the first step. Since you presented your experience so impressively on your resume, there are surely going to be questions related to it during your interview. Make sure you didn't put everything you had to say on your resume, leaving yourself with nothing new to add in your interview!
Be sure to have your study abroad advisor or other academic mentors look over your resume to give you feedback. Use their critiques as a basis for improvement, or consider researching study abroad resume samples to get an edge on the competition.
Be ready with stories and examples that clearly illustrate the skills and traits you described on your resume. It's not enough to say that you developed strong communication skills, you need to be able to back it up. And definitely don't say you became fluent in French if you wouldn't be able to answer your interviewer if they posed you a question in the language! Make sure you are totally honest and realistic about your experience and the skills you developed on your resume. However, as long as you can back it up - brag away and maybe turn the experience into a career!
Studying abroad really is a bit like being thrown into a sink or swim scenario, and assuming you didn't hop on the next plane home, you probably became pretty adaptable to survive your whole summer, semester, or year abroad!