Resources for Leveraging Your Study Abroad
Today's economy is a global. Consequently, the ability to communicate and interact with people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities is more important than ever before. In today's competitive job market your resume should highlight the experiences and valuable skills you gained while studying abroad. When revising your resume, consider the following:
- Don't simply list your program name, country, and dates. Your resume should focus on the "results" of your study abroad experience; not simply where you went.
- Identify the proficiencies you gained and what you learned while abroad. Did you become proficient in a language? Did you conduct any organized or independent research? You must connect the actual skills you gained through the experiences you had—it won't always be obvious to an employer.
- List your education abroad experience where employers can easily see it, such as in your "Education." If you did participate in an internship or volunteer experience while abroad, you may also list it under the "Experience" section.
- Adjust your resume to your audience. You won't submit the same resume to every graduate school or potential employer. You may also need to develop an alternate resume for positions overseas.
Study abroad experiences should be mentioned in your cover letters; however, make sure they are not exclusively about study abroad. Like your resume they should be customized for your audience. Each graduate school or employer should receive an original cover letter that is applicable to the program or organization. If possible, briefly explain why your experiences abroad have prepared you for a desired job. Specifically, highlight your transferable skills like flexibility, problem solving, and time management. Examples:
- My experience studying abroad in Puntarenas, Costa Rica allowed me to gain solid proficiency in Spanish as well as a strong knowledge of Hispanic culture and life. I know my Spanish language skills and understanding of Latino culture will be useful in expanding your Latino client base.
- While studying abroad in Osaka, Japan I had to quickly learn to navigate the city's large metro system. This was not an easy task—I could only speak and read very basic Japanese. However, I learned the system very quickly because I relied on the metro to get me to school as well as my internship each day.
A well written resume and cover letter is your gateway to a job interview. Just like you need to craft a well written resume, you should practice basic interview questions. Most interviewers will draw at least some questions from a general pool of questions. Take some time and practice your answers with family and friends. Practice weaving your study abroad experience into your answers.
Types of Interview Questions:
- Introduction & Background: These are designed to get you engaged in a conversation with an employer, as well as give a sense of your personality and overall character. They may ask: what are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your career goals? Tell me about yourself.
- Behavioral: The employer wants to see how you react to certain situations. They may ask: tell me about a challenging or difficult experience and how you handled it? Describe a situation when you had to make a quick decision.
- Company Culture: How will you be able to fit into the company's environment? Employers want to see how you will work with others. They may ask: what personal characteristics do you think are necessary to be a success in this position? What qualities should a successful manager, leader, or supervisor possess? What can you do for us that someone else cannot?
- Job Specific: You want to show the specific skills and abilities that will make you a good employee for the job you're applying for. They may ask: how would you describe your problem-solving ability? Have you ever been put on the spot by a professor or employer when you felt unsure of yourself?
- Ethics: Employers want to see your personal code of ethics. In a growing global market, you need to show you understand, respect, and can work well with people with diverse backgrounds. They may ask: in what ways are your ethics in business different from your ethics in your personal life? What are the advantages of diversity in the workplace?
Always mention your study abroad experience! Use the reflection questions above to come up with stories that showcase the skills you gained abroad. Try using PAR (Problem, Action, Result) to present relevant stories during your interview.
- Example 1: Talk about a goal you had and how you were able to achieve it.
- Problem: While in college, I minored in Spanish. Although I learned a lot in my Spanish courses, my goal was to become fluent in Spanish. I could write and read Spanish well, but my speaking abilities were only intermediate.
- Action: I decided to study abroad for a year in San Sebastián, Spain. I was sure that being immersed in a Spanish speaking environment was what I needed to become a fluent speaker. I would be living with a Basque family and taking courses where only Spanish was spoken.
- Result: After my year of studying abroad, I returned home able to communicate fluently in Spanish with not only my classmates, but also the with members of my community. As a result, I've gained more confidence in my speaking abilities.
- Example 2: What has been your greatest accomplishment?
- Problem: One of my greatest accomplishments was my study abroad immersion experience in Viterbo, Italy. I was originally going to live abroad with other American students at first, but I wanted to learn more about the culture and integrate myself with the locals.
- Action: I requested to live with local student who attended my university so that I could live and be surrounded by Italians. I also took advantage of intercambio (language exchanges) offered through my study abroad program and met with my intercambio weekly to practice my Italian and help him with his English.
- Result: In this way, I not only gained better language skills, but also had a more authentic cultural experience, which improved my cross-cultural communication skills.