Five Essential Soft Skills To Boost Your Resume While Working and Interning Abroad
8 minute read
Once you’ve finished your studies and attempt to enter the job market, you’ll need to know how to discuss your abilities with potential employers. While knowledge and experience with the latest technologies is certain to impress, there are other less tangible attributes that many employers are looking for. If you’ve spent an extended time abroad, you’ve likely picked up some of these “soft skills” and might not have even realized it.
Since joining InterExchange, I have seen firsthand that our programs develop communication, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, adaptability, and resourcefulness; and how these skills can be applied to future job searches, resumes, and interviews. Coming from an academic background, I know the importance of linking claims to supporting facts, however. I was curious as to whether I could confirm my hypothesis with scientific research on development resulting from time spent abroad. I was happy to discover a ton of resources, which I’ll share below!
But first, some explanation is necessary. There’s a difference between what are called soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills refer to the “job-related knowledge and abilities that employees need to perform their job duties effectively. Soft skills, on the other hand, are the personal qualities that help employees really thrive in the workplace.” Less about formal education or training, soft skills refer to how you work, communicate, and interact with others. They can be described as “the kind of ‘human’ skills that make people successful at working with other people.” And they should be extremely important to you when looking for professional success: employers all over the world prize soft skills that enable their staff to:
- Help colleagues understand different cultural communication patterns (which we’ll discuss below!)
- Reduce misunderstandings
- Support them in developing a strong corporate/work culture
- Better support one another in globally-dispersed
Hiring managers actively seek candidates with soft skills because they make employees more successful in the workplace. And you may have noticed a theme: soft skills are transferable skills that can be used regardless of your current job. This makes candidates with soft skills very adaptable to new situations (which is another specific skill we’ll discuss below!)
Traveling, living, and working abroad can help you develop some of these soft skills, and it may surprise you to learn that this has been academically proven! Read on to learn how InterExchange programs can develop your communication, critical thinking, adaptability, resourcefulness, and interpersonal skills; and how these skills can be applied to future job searches, resumes, and interviews.
When you really think about it, the core of your experience in other cultures is communication. Communication isn’t just about speaking to someone and having them understand your language. Information must be interpreted by the listener in the way that you’re intending them to interpret it. For example, think about a time you were telling a story and you referenced a movie. If your listener hadn’t seen the movie, then they wouldn’t fully understand the point you were trying to make. In order to have full understanding and communication, your listener has to understand and interpret those examples.
Similar to the way culture impacts how someone behaves and communicates, it also affects their core beliefs and the way they see the world. It impacts how people think about and judge other people. Combining the two - communication and culture - good intercultural communication means that you try to understand the intentions of others from another culture in a non-judgemental way. This is considered empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. You can learn a bit more about the importance of intercultural communication, from the perspective of our Career Training USA team, here:
A June 2022 study in the Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education shows that working and interning abroad lead to positive changes on aspects of communication, including cultural competence, cultural awareness, appreciation of different cultures, and intercultural communication skills.
“Expanding Opportunities by Opening Your Mind,” a 2013 Social Psychological and Personality Science study, found that business students studying improved their “integrative complexity” - a measure of the intellectual style used by individuals or groups in processing information, problem-solving, and decision making—in other words, “critical thinking”—by spending just ten months in an international business setting. Moreover, the students in the study with more “multicultural engagement" during their program—the extent to which students adapted to and learned about new cultures—had more job offers afterwards.
“The Shortest Path to Oneself Leads Around the World,” another scientific study, notes that “living abroad produces a boost in self-concept clarity, predicting greater career decision-making clarity.” I have to admit, even as a native English speaker, this is a bit hard to understand. What it means is that living abroad helps you develop a greater sense of who you are, and your goals in life, which then allows you to make job decisions that reflect your values.
So, the critical thinking you’ll develop as a result of spending time abroad can be both externally valuable, resulting in more job offers, and personally enriching. Medical student Gion, for example, had a very personal experience with cultural exchange during his Work & Travel USA program: “When I worked as a server at a restaurant, I had this genuine family where the man happened to be an Emergency Department doctor. We talked about his journey through med school and residency, and I pointed out differences compared to medicine in Romania.” Gion noted that the interaction helped him think critically about differences in the medical field between countries.
Interpersonal skills are distinct from the types of communication skills discussed above: interpersonal skills involve cultural and emotional intelligence, such as being able to speak with people of different cultural, economic, educational, political, and age backgrounds than yourself.
For example, Camp USA participant Tarsila observed that, as a camp counselor, “connecting with amazing people allowed me to learn new ways of speaking to people [of different ages and cultures]; being a counselor was one of the most deep and profound experiences I’ve ever had!”
Interpersonal skills will help you navigate professional life in your own country, as many online articles note that workplaces around the world are becoming increasingly globalized. Check out the video below for some examples:
Adaptability is another important soft skill you can learn abroad. Business journal article “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: A Schema Theory Perspective on Cross-Cultural Experience and Entrepreneurship” notes that:
Exposure to foreign cultures enables individuals to be more creative in recognizing business opportunities and initiating innovative products… cross-cultural experience can enable individuals to realize multiple approaches to the same problem better or conceive of new and unique ways of overcoming barriers to initiating projects.
Most careers can benefit from this kind of adaptability in recognizing business opportunities. As mentioned above, workplaces all over the world are increasingly global. If your academic field is business, marketing, politics, law—or a host of others—it will help you to be acquainted with business practices around the world.
While abroad, you might develop this type of adaptability in unexpected situations. I have personally found that, when traveling solo, one learns to be more self-reliant and builds confidence in uncertain circumstances, which can lead to better stress management in the workplace.
Or, consider an example with more tangible business results:Au Pair USA participant Pablo developed his business and marketing skills when his host child Ben needed help with a social media marketing campaign to sell Ben’s hand-painted sneakers!
The same business journal article noted above found that time abroad “can lead to enhanced abilities in recognizing profitable opportunities as unorthodox combinations of ideas can be linked in novel ways.” In simpler terms, working or interning abroad can make you more resourceful. You may be able to identify new ways of thinking about things that you may not have considered in your own culture.
Resourcefulness can help you in a variety of ways. In general, the sum of your experiences from working and interning abroad can help you develop the skills to build your professional relationships both inside and outside of the workplace. Check out the video below for more info:
Tying Your Experiences Together
The five soft skills mentioned above are just a few you’ll develop while working and interning abroad; there are countless others. Moreover, you’ll also develop hard skills during your time in another country. To prepare to be able to discuss your skills in an interview, start by reflecting on your InterExchange program experience. Which skills have you developed further? What are some entirely new skills you have learned? In which type of company or job could you apply these skills?
When writing your resume and cover letter, show, don’t just tell. Though it’s important to highlight the skills and qualities obtained while abroad, it’s essential to share specific examples of how you have done so. Make sure to check out our resume guide for some of the basics like tailoring your resume for each position and using language directly from the position description. Then use the skills and examples you considered above to highlight how your international training experience will benefit employers.
Similarly, in a cover letter to a prospective employer, you will want to articulate your international experience and describe the unique skill set you developed, especially to highlight anything that may not be immediately apparent from your resume. Making that link between your newly obtained experience and why you would be a good fit for the company is crucial. You have just returned from a very exceptional, career-enhancing experience. It’s important to make your time abroad a focus, since it will likely set you apart from other candidates in the applicant pool. Don’t forget to check out our cover letter guide to help get you started.
When interviewing, make sure to draw upon specific experiences to show what you have learned and accomplished. Many common interview questions can be answered in a way that showcases your recent international experience.
Watch the video below to learn how you can complement your “soft” and “hard” skills and be the best professional a hiring manager could ask for:
With all that in mind, we encourage you to check out the programs we offer! Non-U.S. citizens looking to work, intern, and travel in the USA can check out our programs here. And U.S. citizens can also find programs to develop their skills!.
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