Translating Overseas Experience into a Successful Resumé

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, 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,”, 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]


Studying Abroad: The Who, the Why, and the Why Not

Click for the full infographic from Open Doors

When the  Institute of International Education (IIE) releases its yearly statistics on international education, those concerning international students in the US get the most buzz. But another set of numbers, those on American students studying abroad, should get our attention, as well.

In 2011/12, over 280,000 students from the US took classes overseas. While this is an all-time high, overall only 9% of US students study abroad during their time as undergraduates.

Who are these students, and why do they study abroad while most others do not? First, I’ll talk about the who, and then I’ll move on to the why.

Who Decides to Study Abroad?

A look at the groups that make up the biggest proportions of study-abroad students gives a snapshot of who they are. Here are some of the largest percentages, along with the group in second place:

  • Females – 65%
  • Whites – 76% (Asians, Native Hawaiians, or Other Pacific Islanders – 8%; Hispanics or Latinos – 8%)
  • Undergraduates – 86% (Graduate students—excluding doctoral students – 13%)
  • Juniors – 36% (Seniors – 24%)
  • Students in the social sciences – 22% (Business and management – 21%)

And here, for good measure, are some numbers on where and how long:

  • The United Kingdom as host country – 12% (Italy – 11%)
  • For the summer, or eight weeks or less – 59% (One quarter to one semester – 38%)

Why Do They Go, while Others Don’t?

Several factors affect students’ plans to study abroad and their follow through. As would be expected, several studies show that socio-economic status plays a large role. Mark Salisbury, et al., in his oft-referenced research, found that a student’s intention to study abroad is positively related to family income and parental education. Other qualities that have positive effects on a student’s study-abroad plans are a high interest in reading and writing, and an openness to diversity concerning ideas and people. He also found that Asian Pacific Islanders are less likely than other races to make plans to study abroad

In a doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota, Jinous Kasravi presents findings indicating that barriers to studying abroad include the cost of study-abroad programs and restrictions on the use of financial aid, family resistance and the restrictions of cultural norms, concerns about being able to transfer courses, and lack of parental experience traveling internationally. The main focus of Kasravi’s study was factors influencing students of color in study-abroad decisions. His findings indicate that, in spite of the obstacles, a key determining factor for non-white students is “personal internal drive and determination to have this type of overseas experience.”

A study by April Stroud further adds to the findings, showing that negative factors for studying abroad include having plans for a graduate degree, living with family while going to school, and having majors such as engineering, architecture, or medicine.” Positive factors include wanting to better understand other cultures and countries and attending a college or university over 100 miles from one’s home.

This last point, the distance school is away from home, is the topic of a recent New York Times article. It discusses whether students who attend college far away from their home are more likely to choose a more “challenging” country (say, Cambodia  vs England) as a study-abroad destination. Bruce Poch, former dean of admissions at California’s Pomona College, says that going to a challenging country requires a certain level of independence in a student, the same kind of independence that would cause a student to pick a college far from home. “And there’s still an adventuresomeness to students who choose that path,” he says, “There are just a lot of kids who don’t want to go to school with the same people they went to high school with, and they do that against a lot of pressure.”

Richard Bright is director of off-campus study at Grinnell, where most students come from out of state and 65% of juniors study abroad. “[W]e do know that most of our students are taking a flight here,” says Bright in the article. “So plenty of students are coming from distant parts of the country, and then they really go all over the world.”

Joseph Brockington is the director for the center for international programs at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He brings the whole discussion—about choosing a country or even to go abroad at all—back to the importance of parental influence. Parents, Brockington tells The New York Times, are concerned “about whether their kids will be taken care of. So we try hard to dispel the rumors, but if Mom’s against it, it’s not going to happen.”

(Open Doors 2013: Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2013; Mark H. Salisbury, “Going Global: Understanding the Choice Process of the Intent to Study Abroad,” June 2008; Jinous Kasravi, “Factors Influencing the Decision to Study Abroad for Students of Color: Moving beyond the Barriers,” August 2009; April H. Stroud, abstract of “Who Plans (Not) to Study Abroad? An Examination of U.S. Student Intent,” Journal of Studies in International Education, November 2010; Michael A. Wilner, “Are Students Who Go Far Away to College More Likely to Study Abroad?The New York Times, June 10, 2013)

[Infographic courtesy of Open Doors 2013: Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International education, 2013]