International experience is a valuable and worthwhile investment for young people, both in their personal and professional development. If you've been on a InterExchange Working Abroad program, or are thinking about going on one, the skills you add to your resume once you get home will be a great way to make you stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.
But a lot of those added skills can be more "big concept" ideas. These benefits of working and volunteering abroad can be difficult to verbalize or break down into "real world" scenarios for the people interviewing you. Attributes like flexibility, open mindedness and independence sound great in an interview or cover letter, but may need some finessing to really convey how you can use these newly-acquired skills in a position you're applying for.
InterExchange Working Abroad programs do give you that important real world professional experience as well. Education and childhood development majors who au pair abroad or teach English will have months of hands-on experience to add to their resumes. Volunteers who participate in projects pertaining to their majors will have direct experience working on a non-profit project. And Work & Travel participants in Australia and New Zealand have the freedom to work in a variety of jobs, often involving skills that relate directly to their chosen careers.
Those "big idea" benefits of time spent abroad, which Working Abroad believes are some of the most important skills to gain, need a little bit more to be as marketable to a human resources staff member at the company you want to work for.
How to Use Your Working Abroad International Experience to Stand Out in the Job Market:
1. Highlight the tangible skills first on your resume and in cover letters: If you took a foreign language class, improved your second language skills, worked/volunteered directly with a company or non-profit or had to plan and schedule lessons or other tasks, include abbreviated descriptions when applying for jobs. These experiences show HR people that you added skills they can actually hear and see. Make sure to have language school certificates, fluency tests and copies of work or lesson plans on hand when going in for an interview.
2. Move on to the "big idea" skills you can add to your resume: Skills like adaptability, strong communication, ability to work in a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic environment and being able to deal with stressful situations are very important to include in the short description of your international experience on your resume. Bullet points or a double column (unlined) table would be a good way to organize things. Think about how you've changed the most from your experience abroad and use keywords that the job you're applying for used in the description of what they are looking for in a candidate. Look at examples of resumes and cover letters to find the right fit for your experience.
3. Turn "big ideas" into examples in your cover letter: You've already addressed the "big idea" skills you've added to your professional repertoire on your resume. Your cover letter is your chance to really show how this particular skills set make you the right person for the job. Making sure to address the qualifications outlined in the job description for the position you are applying for, describe specific examples you had to use adaptability, for example, in a work situation while abroad or after you returned. If the job description states the company wants a candidate who has strong communication skills, relay a time on your Working Abroad program that could have been stressful, but because you were accustomed to dealing with groups and working with multi-lingual people, you were able to handle the task at hand.
You may not have thought that time spent teaching English abroad for three months in Europe could be used on your resume, but employers love seeing international experience from candidates and you can leverage that interest for your benefit!
The University of Virginia wrote in an online article, Marketing Your Study-Abroad Experience to Employers, that the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in a yearly survey of national employers, found that HR departments are looking for the very skills time spent working and volunteering abroad foster in our InterExchange Working Abroad participants.
"In the recent NACE Job Outlook April 2011 survey (PDF), employers ranked the following as the top four key skills for new college hires:
- Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
- Ability to obtain and process information
You possess these qualities to varying degrees and will continue to develop them throughout the course of your life. Studying abroad provides additional opportunities for you to hone not only these skills, but other key competencies such as leadership, adaptability, flexibility, time management, open-mindedness, and the ability to deal with ambiguity."
If you're ready to jump in and have the adventure of a lifetime, while adding life-long skills to your resume, visit our website for more information about InterExchange Working Abroad programs. Do you have questions about how to work abroad or how to volunteer abroad? Email us with questions!