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Career Development

Tools for Career Development

Keep this important information in mind: While employers clearly find study abroad students (you!) great candidates, what they are really look for are candidates who know how to market their experience. Remember, your employer may never have studied abroad nor had any significant international experience. While they know this is what the company needs, their personal knowledge of what, exactly, study abroad is and does may be lacking. In short, you need to be able to clearly and coherently sell the intercultural skills you learned while abroad.

While you may not be graduating for another year or planning to immediately look for a job, start thinking about how to articulate your experience now, while it is fresh in your memory. Likewise, if you are planning to study abroad or preparing to go abroad, take this information with you and track your progress as you go!

A successful job applicant will have a strong resume, cover letter and interview skills. A well done cover letter and resume will get you in the door, and then it is your job during the interview to secure the position! This section will help you to highlight your study abroad experience in all three parts of the job hunt. Don't forget to consult with your campus career resource center and your study abroad advisor - they have lots of experience and advice.

Your University will give you access to their job postings board. This is a great place to begin looking for jobs as those companies know the reputation of your institution and that will get you in the door. Make use of those connections you made while studying abroad! Get in contact with them to see what job opportunities they know of. Make use of social networking! LinkedIn.com is a necessity in this day and age. Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites can be a great way of connecting with individuals and organizations you would be interested in working with. If you have a blog, start professionalizing it! Start writing posts related to articles or current issues in the field you want to get into. Also consider using job search engines like Idealist.org, Indeed.com, Monster.com, SimplyHired.com, and Glassdoor.com.

The Resume: Skills, Competencies & Qualities

One of the more important aspects of creating a strong resume is highlighting your skills. Take a minute to brainstorm what skills, competencies and qualities/traits you have and especially those you gained through study abroad. Below is an extensive list that was derived from various studies that asked employers what they look for in employees, with a special eye on skills attained through study abroad. Remember that certain skills should be listed on your resume and should be relevant to the job to which you are applying. Others will go in your cover letter and you will want to make sure even more come up in your interview.

General Skills Study Abroad related Skills Qualities
  • Ability to work independently
  • Allocating time effectively
  • Assessing impacts of decisions
  • Being dependable
  • Communicating ideas in a manner that gains acceptance/agreement
  • Conceptualizing a future for oneself/organization
  • Conveying ideas verbally
  • Identifying new problems/alternative solutions
  • Identifying creative possibilities/solutions
  • Identifying social/political implications of decisions
  • Setting priorities
  • Working effectively with co-workers
  • Ability to identify and achieve goals
  • Resource management
  • Organization
  • Problem solving and crisis management
  • Patience
  • Specific professional skills or knowledge base
  • Strong problem solving skills and keen analytic ability
  • Learn through listening and observing
  • Establish rapport quickly
  • Function with a high level of ambiguity
  • Take initiative and risks
  • Utilize time management skills
  • Identify problems and utilize available resources to solve the problems
  • Accept responsibility
  • Learn quickly / Know how to learn
  • Handle difficult situations
  • Handle stress
  • Manage/organize
  • Lead others in formal/informal groups
  • Cope with rejection
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Analytic abilities
  • Decision making
  • Interpersonal and relationship skills
  • General improvement in communications skills
  • Increased confidence, initiative, and independence
  • Greater flexibility and sense of humor
  • Awareness of global economic and political issues and realities
  • Ability to maintain an open mind and be tolerant of others
  • Clarification of goals and improved self-awareness
  • General travel skills
  • Understand cultural differences and similarities
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Adapt to new environments
  • Communicate despite barriers
  • Cross-cultural competency
  • Tolerance for ambiguity and ability to adapt in new environments
  • Interpersonal communications skills
  • Cross-cultural competencies (could include language skills and ability to work well in different cultural settings)
  • Adapting to situations of change
  • Enhanced cultural awareness and sensitivity to customs and cultural differences
  • Foreign language proficiency
  • Understanding cultural differences in the workplace
  • Undertaking tasks that are unfamiliar/risky
  • Applying information to new or broader contexts
  • Listening and observation
  • Gaining new knowledge from experiences
  • Resourceful in accomplishing assignments
  • Adaptability
  • Conduct research despite language and cultural differences
  • High-energy level/enthusiasm
  • Appreciation of diversity
  • Perseverance
  • Flexibility
  • Open-mindedness
  • Assertiveness
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-knowledge
  • Self-reliance
  • Independence
  • Flexible
  • Adaptable
  • Capable of innovation
  • Dependable

Below are variations on how to phrase some of the more common skills and experiences gained through study abroad.

  1. Strengthened Cross-Cultural Skills
    • Adapted to cultural differences and customs through daily interaction with my host family over a period of 4 months
    • Overcame societal differences and fostered cultural understanding through a short-term work experience at a local business
    • Gained a greater appreciation for diversity and cultural differences through voluntary service experience at a local school
  2. Developed Language Competency/Communication Skills
    • Passed proficiency examination in [name of language] or obtained certificate for intensive language study at [name of college or institute]
    • Cultivated language and communication skills through sustained dialogue with my host family and others whom I met in my host community
    • Learned to use nonverbal and verbal communication to overcome language Barriers
  3. Flexibility/Risk-Taking
    • Learned how to adapt to unanticipated situations and improvise new plans due to periodic travel mishaps and unexpected events
    • Modified my way of life to maximize exposure and opportunities for learning in my local community

*Taken from AIFS Student Guide to Study Abroad, Page 13-16

The Resume Itself

Your resume is your marketing tool. This is what employers see first and it is what will tell them how and why you are qualified for the position to which you are applying. You should now have a good list of skills and traits you already had and those you gained while abroad. The key is to format your resume to highlight your strengths and to make sure your resume gets noticed.

Some tips: As a recent grad, your education is likely the bulk of your experience. For now, it is a good idea to put it first. One of the best things you can do to set yourself apart from other applicants is to list your undergraduate institute AND your international institution separately at the top.

For example:

Education
University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
B.A. Socio-Cultural Anthropology Graduated June, 2012
GPA: 3.7
Universidad de Buenos Aires (Study abroad) Buenos Aires, Argentina
Coursework in X,Y,Z Jan, 2011-June, 2011
Research/Special Project here
  • Include relevant work experience, internships, major projects worked on, volunteer experiences, community service, awards, certificates, etc.
  • Absolutely include languages you speak and proficiency level
  • When describing what you did while studying abroad, be articulate yet concise. For example, don't just say list "intercultural communication" as a skill. Write something like, "Through cultural awareness and language proficiency, I communicated ideas effectively, with a sensitivity to the customs and beliefs"
  • It should be no longer than 1 page

See samples below

The Cover Letter

The cover letter is a compliment to your resume. This is your chance to show a little personality and to explain in more detail how you are the right person for the job. Things to consider:

  • The cover letter should be no longer than 1 page and be written in a formal, professional style.
  • Don't repeat what is already on your resume.
  • This is where you can reference more of the skills and qualities you identified above.
  • Make sure to include only relevant information. "Travelled to various areas of X country" is helpful if the job is in that country or if the position involves working with that country. Otherwise, stick to skills like "While abroad, I learned to manage multiple tasks (school, travel, and language classes) effectively in an environment characterized by constant change and ambiguity."
  • Be sure to connect your skill set to the position or company in question. Reflecting on the skill above, you could continue with: "The ability to multitask in an ever changing and challenging environment will allow me to perform well in the high paced environment of X company."
  • Always end by thanking them for their time and consideration.

The Interview

So your resume and cover letter were great, and you've landed an interview. This is your time to shine. Here you will be able to tell a story, to really connect what you learned while studying abroad to the job in question. It is during the interview that your international experience will stand out and make you an incredibly strong candidate.

After thinking about the skills and qualities that you gained during the study abroad experience, it's necessary to understand how to articulate what you learned. This is important not only for your future career aspirations but also for showing your fellow students (family and friends) about the meaning of study abroad. The questions below will help you articulate the learning that occurred while abroad. Try to think about how these concepts could be brought up in an actual interview.

Set up an appointment with your career counselor at school to do a mock interview. The key to success in an interview is not to appear stumped by any questions, to be confident and thoughtful, and to sell yourself and your experiences to the interviewer. Practice makes perfect!

Reflect on the following questions, write out answers, then practice giving them in a mock interview.

  1. Share an example of how you had to set priorities to achieve a desired outcome in your study abroad experience.
  2. How did your study abroad experience enhance your knowledge, skills, and understanding of your intended career field? What assets might international experiences yield as opposed to someone who studied domestically?
  3. Share an example of a travel situation that helped you build your understanding of human motivation. How did this enhance your understanding of leadership or teamwork?
  4. Share an example of how your international experience has improved your skills in communicating with others. How might this make you a better professional in your field?
  5. How did you have to adjust/adapt to your new cultural surroundings? Share examples from academic, social, and work settings. How did this influence your ability to interact successfully with others?
  6. Share an international experience in which you had to resolve a conflict or solve a problem. What skills and personal qualities did you tap into? How did the experience help you grow as a person?
  7. Share an example of a study abroad experience in which you took initiative to achieve a greater result.
  8. Share an example of a time when you may have been in danger or afraid. What did you learn from it? Why?
  9. What was the most significant thing you learned about yourself through your study abroad experience? Why?

*Taken from University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center: Returning Student Handbook

Sample Resumes and Cover Letters

CUNY Binghampton offers a great sample resume here.

Sample Cover Letter

February 21, 2013
Mrs. Jane Employer
Ford Motor Company
Flint, MI XXXXX

Dear Mrs. Employer:
I am forwarding you my resume because one of your recently hired employees, Some Person, informed me of possible job openings in mechanical engineering.

I first learned of Ford Motor Company in a machine dynamics class taught by Dr. Bryan Wilson. I have extensive experience with automobiles and would like to work in the field while remaining in Minnesota. During the last two years of FSAE, I performed a considerable amount of work on our fuel injection system.

I have many of the attributes that you are seeking for this position. Please consider the following:

  • B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota
  • Internship with manufacturing experience with PCC Composites
  • Internship with integration experience with CTI
  • Team leadership experience with Formula SAE
  • Cross-cultural experience from studying in Austria for one semester

During my three years of working at PCC Composites I gained a broad understanding of manufacturing. I saw how parts were taken from engineering prints through prototyping and finally to a full production run. I also performed multiple research projects that eventually were instituted in production.

My study abroad experience is also an asset because I learned to view problems from culturally different perspectives. Additionally, I can adapt to changing environments with ease and I can work with people of diverse backgrounds.

I can be reached at phone number. I will contact your office in the next ten days to see if there is any further information that is needed. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Your full name

Resume Examples

Example 1: You can include your study abroad experience as part of your education including those skills relevant to your academic experience.

EDUCATION
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
B.A. in Spanish, cum laude, 2001
Overall G.P.A. 3.57, Major G.P.A. 3.9, Dean's List 2001-02

  • Thesis topic: Black Consciousness in Venezuela
  • Study Abroad Participant at the University of Alcalá, Spain (1/00-06/00)
  • Completed course in Spanish culture and society.
  • Gained fluency in Spanish
  • Examined the effect of birth control on population growth in Spain as an independent research project.

Example 2:

You can include your study abroad experience as part of your "related experience" on the resume, including those skills gained through your time abroad.

EXPERIENCE
Night Manager, Rainbow
Minneapolis, MN (1999-2001)

  • Managed five employees through assigning workstations, supervising performance and assuming responsibility for the restaurant.
  • Responsible for making nightly cash deposit
  • Oversaw nightly closing procedures and preparation for following day's opening.
  • Study Abroad Participant and the University of Alcalá
Alcalá, Spain (1/00-6/00)
  • Learned to establish rapport quickly with individuals in an unfamiliar environment
  • Demonstrated willingness to take risks through enrollment in Spanish-speaking curriculum.
  • Successfully completed independent research project despite linguistic and cultural barriers.
  • Adapted to new environments.

*Taken from the University of Minnesota's Re-Entry Handbook

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