Using study abroad to your job-hunting advantage

By Martin Tillman
Published October 17, 2011

Study abroad has the potential to be life-changing and to bring about unanticipated new perspectives about your choice of major and career focus.  Even if you made the decision to go abroad without any consideration at all to how it might impact your career, the experience has been shown to be tied to career choices made years after graduation.

Study abroad and resumes

In the current tough economic climate, there’s intense competition for jobs in every field.  The question is how well prepared are you to compete and what can you do to stand out among your peers when the time comes to conduct a job search in your senior year?  Of course, internships and service-learning in the U.S. or abroad offer unique opportunities to build important skills and competencies, but studying abroad has many unique benefits which you can leverage.  If you carefully assess and analyze the outcomes of your time abroad, you’ll want to do more than just add the experience itself to your resume.

If you did not visit your career service office before leaving campus, it’s time to do so.  It will be useful to discuss the impact of your time abroad with an advisor who can assist you to:

  • Reflect upon the career preference you had and whether or not, as a result of your time abroad, you’re considering other options;
  • Review how the experience strengthened your interpersonal and analytic skills; provided you with new cross-cultural insights;  improved your language competency;  and made you a more flexible and adaptable person;  and
  • Inform you about how to incorporate the above skills and competencies in cover letters and articulate these new attributes in job interviews.

The most important thing you will learn is that employers may not place any special value on the fact that you studied abroad; but, they will value how well you explain how your time overseas strengthened skills and competencies which are important to the company or organization.  It’s true that not every employer is looking for staff who speak a foreign language or who have a “global perspective,” but, since you chose to study abroad, there’s a strong likelihood you’re looking to work somewhere where your international experience is valued and will give you a strategic advantage.

Next steps

You need to craft a job search strategy which is purposeful and develop an intentional game plan to move your search forward in successful ways.  There are important steps you can take to identify employers whose goals and purpose align with your values and interests.   These steps should include the following:

  • Assess your career interests, personal values and professional skills
  • Align these with a field, a sector, a group of organizations which closely track your career preferences
  • Create a plan – with advice from your career service office- which moves your search forward in your senior year
  • Create space each week/month to conduct your research, meet with alumni, research organizations and track their job openings
  • Monitor all career events and presentations taking place on campus –and participate!

Research and networking

You can also design a networking strategy which leads you to speak with alumni, family and friends –on campus and in the community - who can provide valuable insights and information about the field you’re interested in. 

  • A career or faculty advisor can help you learn about professional associations and organizations to broaden your understanding of employment prospects in a given field.  It’s important to connect with alumni who can assist you in gaining a better understanding of how to break into a field and provide insight into the kind of skills valued for entry-level assignments
  • You can conduct LinkedIn searches after you upload your profile and join your campus alumni group after graduation. Before that, you can search and join groups relating to career interests you have,  geographic locales of interest, and other criteria.  LinkedIn is an invaluable asset – and used widely by professionals all over the world – in researching both organizations and individuals.  Which alumni are now or have ever worked at an organization of interest to you? 
  • Research websites of organizations where alumni have worked in your field and try to conduct background research which makes you a more informed networker when reaching out to speak with alums online.
  • Did you meet useful contacts while abroad?  Be sure to keep in touch with them and let them know about your career plans. 

Networking is about building strategic connections.  Develop a plan, stick to it, give yourself time to identify people you want to communicate with, craft a message, follow up, and keep at it. 

A job search takes preparation and especially time –while you are completing your degree, something you don’t have a lot of- so organize and prioritize the tasks you need to accomplish month by month.  Don’t wait until graduation is around the corner---as soon as you return to campus from studying abroad, get started. 

Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.

Martin Tillman is president of Global Career Compass. Global Career Compass navigates career pathways for students and international education professionals.