Translating Overseas Experience into a Successful Resumé

January 11, 2015 § 10 Comments

7695987818_6c5443289c_zLived overseas?

You’ve been there, done that, and designed and marketed the t-shirt. But how can that get you a job now that you’re back?

The key is articulating your transferrable skills.

“It is simply not enough to seek an international experience—the experience itself has little value for an employer,” writes Cheryl Matherly, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Career Services, Scholarships, and Fellowships at Rice University. “The savvy job seeker must be able to speak about this experience in terms of the transferable skills that he or she developed while abroad and how they can be applied to the workplace.”

While Matherly’s comments are aimed at students who study abroad, they apply to anyone who has spent time living in another country. And when she says that selling one’s international experience “can be an enormous challenge,” that caution fits non-students, too.

It can be difficult to find new employment when returning to your passport country. Not only can you be out of the loop when it comes to networking, but many employers don’t see living overseas as a plus—and some see it as a negative.

It’s up to you to show employers how your cross-cultural experience has added to your skills portfolio, in ways that they may not have considered. In fact, your experiences may have have benefited you in ways that you yourself haven’t considered.

To help, I’ve pulled together several lists, from various sources, of job skills and qualities that can be gained from living outside your passport country. They’re not guaranteed, so you may not have them all. But neither are they all-inclusive, so consider this a jumpstart for creating your own list.

First, Matherly says that students should be able to share experiences showing their ability to

  • Creatively solve problems by applying familiar concepts to unfamiliar situations
  • Contribute to an ethnically diverse team
  • Be self-confident, yet able to listen and learn from people whose value systems are different
  • Take personal risks and act independently
  • Be flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing situations
  • Have a basic command of the local language, and be able use it in practical situations
  • Imagine, forecast, analyze or address business situations from a different cultural frame of reference.

(Cheryl Matherly, “Effective Marketing of International Experiences to Employers,” Impact of Education Abroad on Career Development, Volume 1, Martin Tillman, editor, American Institute for Foreign Study, 2005)

Researchers at Michigan State University found that the following traits were chosen by 35% or more of responding employers as “where recent hires with international experience stood out.”

  • Interacting with people who hold different interests, values, or perspectives
  • Understanding cultural differences in the workplace
  • Adapting to situations of change
  • Gaining new knowledge from experiences
  • Ability to work independently
  • Undertaking tasks that are unfamiliar/risky
  • Applying information in new or broader contexts
  • Identifying new problems/solutions to problems
  • Working effectively with co-workers

(Phil Gardner, Linda Gross, and Inge Stieglitz, “Unpacking Your Study Abroad Experience: Critical Reflection for Workplace Competencies,” Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Michigan State University, March 2008)

The Learning Abroad Center at the University of Minnesota offers this list of “skills that professionals with international experience cite as being particularly useful in their careers.”

  • Enhanced cultural awareness and sensitivity to customs and cultural differences
  • Foreign language proficiency
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to identify and achieve goals
  • 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
  • Resource management
  • Organization
  • Problem solving and crisis management
  • Patience
  • Listening and observation
  • Specific professional skills or knowledge base

(Resumé Tips, Learning Abroad Center, University of Minnesota)

When some question the value of overseas work experience, Graduate Prospects, offers “a whole host of benefits that these doubters seem to have failed to consider.”

  • Culture and community – working abroad shows your desire to get stuck in and work alongside local people, rather than stand back and take in the culture from afar while you drift through the country as a tourist.
  • Sink or swim – demonstrate to potential employers that you can cope in a multicultural, multilingual working environment and produce great work in the process. Even if you go to work in an English-speaking country, employers will see that you can rise to the challenge and succeed despite being out of your comfort zone, away from your friends and family.
  • Language skills – these are hugely valuable to employers and spending time abroad and working alongside non-English speakers will help them improve. Remember, though, that languages are most valuable alongside another specialism, so don’t pin all your hopes of employment on your new-found linguistic finesse.
  • Get up and go – moving abroad and finding work experience shows motivation, independence, maturity and adaptability – all extra ticks on your job application forms.
  • Travel – this is usually a secondary motive for many people, but it is quite a nice bonus.

(“Work Experience and Internships: Experience Abroad,” Prospects)

And at StudyAbroad.com, Martin Tillman suggests that job seekers “may want to think of concrete examples from your experience abroad that demonstrate your development of some of these characteristics:”

  • Independence/Self-reliance
  • Self-knowledge
  • Self-confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Perseverance
  • Ability to cope with stress, rejection
  • Assertiveness
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Awareness of lifestyle choices and global consequences
  • Adaptability to new environments
  • Appreciation for diversity
  • Ability to establish rapport quickly
  • Open-mindedness
  • Understanding and appreciation of other perspectives
  • Suspend judgment about people and their actions
  • Concern/knowledge of international issues and politics
  • Learn quickly
  • Greater focus on career interests
  • Handle difficult situations
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Function with a high level of ambiguity
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Take initiatives and risks
  • Communicate despite barriers
  • Learn through listening and observing
  • Time management skills

(Martin Tillman, “Effective Marketing of Your Study Abroad Experience to Employers,” StudyAbroad.com, February 4, 2014)

Did you know you had so much going for you?

Welcome back, and happy job hunting.

[photo: “Vintage Leather Suitcase w Travel Stickers,” by Lynn Friedman, used under a Creative Commons license]

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§ 10 Responses to Translating Overseas Experience into a Successful Resumé

  • Bev Skiles says:

    Wonderful ideas. My problem is that the person I know who wants to settle abroad and has so many of those skills but does not have a college diploma. Any suggestions of where to start looking for a company who is needed these marketable skills but not the degree? Any companies you might be aware off?
    Thanks for blog! WE love you. Bev.

    • Hey, Bev. I think the bachelor’s degree has become a must have for most places. But . . . I’ve found that networking and building relationships is the way to get your foot in the door, and then you can often move up based on your experience rather than your education. Takes time. Congratulations on the dedication of the home. Wish we could have been there.

  • berryfrench says:

    Thank you so much for the resume tips! This isn’t directly related to the topic, but I was wondering if you have any advice for how to start job searching from afar. I’m living abroad now but starting to send out applications, and I’m not sure how to make it clear that I won’t be immediately available for face-to-face interviews while still coming across as a serious applicant.

    • Glad you stopped by.

      I think you can tell employers when you plan to be back and available for face-to-face conversations. But until then, you can let them know that you’d be more than happy to set up a Skype video chat, etc. Being proactive and prepared for alternative ways to communicate can show how serious you are.

      Hope your job search goes well.

    • bobbi says:

      Hi, berryfrench; my experience may be of interest:

      My husband and I’ve been doing a job search (for the US) from Asia for the past several months. We never mention anything about being overseas (unless the job description calls for it, such as Doctors Without Borders). Resumes no longer need addresses, so I only include my email and our Skype number (a US number). We had numerous phone interviews and the interviewers never knew we were on Skype much less overseas. (I *did* have to make sure I got up early enough if it was a middle-of-the-night interview in order to not sound like I’d just rolled out of bed, which I had in fact done…!)

      Since most companies conduct the initial interview over the phone, the issue doesn’t come up until you’ve hit the 2nd round of interviews and they want to see you in person. Even though I didn’t get callbacks from all of the phone interviews, I’m still glad I started early because the others were great practice and let me work on my interview style!!

      In the instance of Doctors Without Borders, they called my husband back to set up a 2nd, in-person interview, but since experience in living abroad is a huge consideration for them, he told them where we were and they happily put off the in-person interview for a couple of months until we returned to the US.

      As for me, I was looking for work where I was worried they might be unimpressed by our overseas living, so I never mentioned it – why is it relevant? (If they’d asked I of course wouldn’t have lied but I would have been really casual about it and acted like I was living in the next town and that I’d be moving soon.) I eventually got a call for a 2nd interview and luckily it was close enough to my departure time that I explained I was “out of the country” (they probably assumed I was on holiday) and offered to either Skype immediately or to schedule the interview for a couple of weeks later when I was stateside.

      Our situation may not work for everyone, but getting a headstart and treating the phone interviews as practice gave me a lot of confidence. And it landed me an offer. :o)

      So I say get started now… what’s the worst that can happen? You lose/turn down a job? Well, you wouldn’t have had it anyway if you weren’t job searching, so you haven’t lost anything and you’ve gained a little more confidence in your interview skills. Good luck!!

  • Dave says:

    Hi Craig. I love what you’re doing here! I just told my blog followers about you and look forward to more great stuff from you. Blessings!

  • bobbi says:

    Thanks, Craig. Good and timely (for me) posting. It was the transferrable skills I needed to use in my job search and it took me awhile to get them smoothed out so they really sounded applicable to the job description(s) where I was applying. It worked in the end, so excellent advice!

  • That’s great to hear. I know that living abroad has added to your skill set. I hope that it adds to your job opportunities, as well. Let us know the results of your search.

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