How to Leverage your Experience Abroad
Highlight Your Experience
Take note of the skills you learned or used abroad to help you prepare concise, concrete examples to share with potential employers:
Flexibility and adaptability: Did you demonstrate cultural flexibility? How did you adapt to norms and learn to effectively communicate with your new colleagues and employer?
Resourcefulness: Did you create a meaningful product or program with limited resources?
Language skills: Are you fluent or conversational in another language now? Is that language helpful for the prospective company? Even if it’s not, your ability to quickly learn a new language demonstrates your learning abilities.
Open-Mindedness and sensitivity: The organizational culture of your working abroad experience can provide you with great examples of your open-mindedness and how you can fit in with any company with which you’re interviewing.
Patience and resilience: Spending days, weeks, months, or longer in another culture can be as tiring as it is exhilarating. Share stories about how you managed stress and overcame challenges that tested your mettle.
Independence and self-confidence: Highlight examples of how you solved problems on your own that required quick, ingenious thinking. Just getting around in another country can be difficult at first; how does this relate to fresh challenges you’ll face in a new position?
Resume and Cover Letter
Tailor your resume appropriately for every position for which you apply. If language skills and marketing are coveted skills for a job opening, demonstrate those abilities with concrete examples, such as “Developed international marketing project in two languages that increasing online visibility by 60 percent.”
Try formatting your resume to showcase your experience:
English Teacher, Thailand Elementary School, Bangkok, Thailand
- Developed curriculum for six English classes in grades 10 through 12.
- Tutored Thai teachers in English, creating lesson plans designed to engage and further their English fluency.
- Developed a system of classroom management that decreased disciplinary action by 15 percent.
- Cultivated personal relationships with students that increased office hours attendance and helped improved year-end English test scores by 12 percent.
Highlight your work abroad experience to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills for the role and that you’re a good culture fit for the company. Describe in detail some key successes from your program and how they relate to the prospective position.
For instance: “I have experience working with a diverse group of people, which you are seeking in a candidate. While working as an English teacher in Thailand, I collaborated with my Thai co-teachers to create weekly lesson plans for six classes. I studied Thai 20 hours per week to better communicate with these colleagues.”
Carefully review the job description and highlight the skills, qualities, and experience the organization is seeking in a candidate. You should then prepare concise, concrete examples from your work abroad experience that illustrate these attributes. Employers want to hear how your background specifically relates to the position - not that you had an “amazing time.”
Here are some common interview questions that provide a great opportunity to bring up your international experience:
Tell me a time you dealt with uncertainty or ambiguity.
Living in a new culture is filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, especially in the beginning. Explain how you managed these moments. Did you get lost and approach locals, as best you could, to reach your destination? Show how you took initiative to work through these situations.
Tell me about a time you confronted a challenging situation.
If you didn’t know the language, did you take language classes? How many hours did you study per week? How did you practice using the language to improve? If you taught English abroad, how did you motivate students with little interest in learning English?
Tell me about a time you had to handle conflict.
Did you and one of your native colleagues have a disagreement? How did you resolve it?
Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new.
Language? Customs? Transportation system? There are so many things to learn when you immerse yourself in a new culture!
Though the term “networking” often engenders anxiety, it’s really just about connecting with others. By forging connections with individuals working in the industry you’re interested in, you can learn a great deal about potential career paths. The key is to network all the time - not just when you’re seeking employment.
Using Social Media to Network:
Update your privacy settings so that only appropriate content is visible to the public. Employers often research a candidate’s social media presence, so avoid posting inappropriate content that may discourage employers from bringing you in for an interview.
Stay up-to-date on your field by liking company pages and following key influencers.
Share articles you find valuable and initiate or join discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Guidelines for Successful Networking:
Keep in regular contact. If you want connections to keep you in mind when opportunities arise or to help you as a reference, it’s important to maintain communication. Share any interesting news related to your contact’s industry, congratulate them on a current achievement, or just send them a brief email wishing them well/happy holidays.
Don’t ask for a job. Nobody wants to feel used, and your focus should be on building relationships with individuals.
Ask for advice, or what’s commonly called an “informational interview.” Research the contact’s background and industry and prepare specific questions. If you’re polite and keep the interview brief, most people are more than happy to share their experiences and offer advice.
Ask contacts if they know anyone else who might be willing to talk to you. You want to build your network, as each new person you connect with is another learning opportunity.
Send a thank-you note. Express gratitude for a contact’s time and advice; they didn’t have to help you!
Learn about life abroad
Read about the adventures others have had and get excited for yours.