It's a no-brainer that an internship abroad is a fantastic addition to your resume. International experience is always a plus, but interning abroad really sets you apart from the majority of students who studied abroad.
While others are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to translate the soft skills they gained from their international experience to the workplace, you've already got concrete professional experience to draw from.
The other great thing about an international internship is that it's a given you had to learn some new skills or were put in unfamiliar situations.
However, to really market your internship abroad experience, you need to go a little deeper and make strong connections between your experience and the job you're after. You've got to really sell it, and show those employers that your experience makes you the absolute best candidate out there. But how exactly?
1. Reflect on Your Internship Experience
Take some time to think deeply about your experience interning abroad. Start broadly, then get more specific. Ideally, you kept some kind of journal during your international internship, but if not, now is the time to start writing! Write down everything, even if it doesn't seem like it matters.
Take some time to ask yourself the big questions. Here's some suggestions to get you started:
- Why did you choose to intern abroad in the first place?
- What goals did you have going in?
- Did you accomplish them?
- What were the highlights and low points of your experience?
- What were your favorite aspects of your internship?
- What did you like or dislike about your workplace?
- What skills did you gain?
- What finished products or achievements did you have?
- What did you learn about yourself?
2. Make a List of Your Key Skills and Achievements
Bonus points for measurable achievements, like increased website visits by 60%. Developed a 100-page manual on merchandising standards. Grew donations by 35%. You get the idea.
The same goes for skills, but be able to back them up with a more concrete example. For example, if you interned in a foreign language, "achieved professional-level proficiency in Spanish" could be backed up with the concrete example "through daily interactions with over 20 Spanish-speaking clients". Developed advanced event management skills by planning and implementing an event with more than 100 attendees.
3. Evaluate the Results Alongside the Job Description
Next, set your list next to the description of a job you're thinking of applying for. Which skills and duties overlap? Is there anything in the job description that you don't have on your list? If so, highlight these, then read through your reflection again.
Is there anything in there that might translate into those skills or duties? If there are some areas that you truly are just lacking the skills or experience, don't fret. No one is ever going to be a perfect fit for a job (or what the hiring manager who put together the job description thinks is a perfect fit!). It's still worth it to apply.
The other great thing about an international internship is that it's a given you had to learn some new skills or were put in unfamiliar situations. If you find yourself having to address any skills your lacking (likely in an interview), keep those examples in your mind as a way to show that you are a quick learner and can adapt easily.
4. Edit Your Resume to Highlight the Aspects that Overlap
Now it's time to make your experience really shine your resume. You already have a huge leg up over those putting study abroad on their resume -- it's always better to be able to put a professional work experience front and center, and you get to highlight your international experience at the same time.
At this point you know exactly what qualities and skills you have that the job requires, and you have specific measurable achievements and concrete examples to back them up. In fact, your biggest difficulty here might be having too much.
Look back at the job description and try to discern the most important aspects to address. Try to keep it to 5-6 bullet points or less. Some things are better off noted in other parts of your resume anyway, such as language or technical skills, which can be put under an "Additional Skills & Experience" section, unless they're particularly important to the job or integral to your internship role.
5. Prepare Specific Stories and Anecdotes
Once your awesome resume scores you an interview, you're going to have to be able to back up everything on it with more detail -- specifically, a narrative.
You'll also probably want to use your experience for answers to most of those typical interview questions (What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you tell me about a time you had to solve a problem?). Your international internship is a gold mine for answers to those oft-asked situational questions, but you have to be prepared.
Browse a few lists of common interview questions and prepare an answer that tells a story using your experiences. Go through the job description again point by point and come up with an anecdote from your internship for each one of them. If you're having trouble, use the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Meaning.
- You set the background -- "When I was interning at an environmental NGO in Argentina in a small office with just six other staff..."
- Explain the task or problem -- "... we needed to promote a clean-up day initiative but we had a very small budget and all the other staff were busy with other projects."
- Describe what you did to address it -- "So I set up a social media campaign and managed to get in touch with a journalist at one of the most popular news stations..."
- Then sum it up with how you succeeded -- "... and the social media campaign received 1,000 shares, the event was a featured news story, and we ended up having 10,000 people sign up and participate in the clean up day."
Voila! You follow this method, and I promise you will leave a fantastic impression on your interviewer!
6. Utilize Your Supervisors and Colleagues as References
Hopefully you formed a strong bond with your colleagues and supervisor during your internship overseas. Before you even leave you should float the idea past them that you may want to use them as a reference in your job search (even if that might not be for another year or more).
Connect with them on LinkedIn and ask them to write you a reference; this will also be helpful to them down the road if they are going to be called as a reference and need to remember you and have something good to say.
The bigger and more diversified your network, the better.
Keep in touch after you return home. Set yourself a reminder to send a quick check-in email every few months. Be sincere! You were invested in their organization when you were interning with them, so you should care about how things are going after you're gone. Who knows, this could maybe even lead to opportunities you'd never imagined.
And what a great selling point it would be to say that you still helped out with your company after you left, whether it's something as simple as connecting them with a local organization in your home town, designing a flyer for one of their events, or translating a document for them. Not to mention, this will earn you an even more glowing recommendation.
7. Develop an Expanded Network
At the end of the day, who you know is still pretty important. What's exciting is that you never know who you might meet that could lead you to the opportunity of a lifetime! While you're still abroad, form connections and get to know as many people as you can.
The bigger and more diversified your network, the better. For all you know, your host family's neighbor might have an uncle in the States who runs a tech company that is right up your alley.
When you return home from abroad, take advantage of the new interests and experiences you've gained while abroad. Join a language group or culture club. Attend meet-ups and seek out other internationally-minded individuals. If you interned abroad through a program or specific organization, look into whether they have an alumni association.
Even if they don't, there might be other alumni in the area -- it certainly doesn't hurt to reach out and ask (and perhaps form your own, which would be another great addition to your resume!). And remember all the people who helped you out while you were a stranger in a strange land? Return the favor. Volunteer with a local international organization or refugee and immigration center.
All of this will expand your network and introduce you to people with similar passions, experiences, and interests. It's only natural that those connections could lead to a job opportunity or even discovering a great company you'd never even heard of. At the very least, you'll feel more fulfilled, which will only improve how you see and present yourself in your job search -- and being involved in your community is just another selling point.
Landing the Job
Once you've taken these steps, you're more than equipped to get the job of your dreams. Of course, practice makes perfect, so if you don't land the first job or two you go for, don't worry. Every interview is a learning opportunity and a chance to practice for the right job when it comes around.
Soon you'll have your answers, examples, stories and anecdotes down pat and you will be an expert at marketing your international internship experience.Photo Credit: Ellie Taylor, Anna Morris, and Mallory Meiser.