Step One: Identify Your International Experience
When people hear the term “international experience,” they most often think of study abroad. While studying abroad is one of the more common ways that individuals gain international experience, it is certainly not the only option. Consider all of the ways in which you may have gained international experience. These might include:
- Long-Term Study Abroad (Semester, Year, or Summer Programs)
- Short-Term Study Abroad (Shortened Summer Programs, Faculty-led Short-term Programs)
- Coursework or Training Programs that Included Travel Abroad
- Research Conducted Abroad
- Internships or Volunteer Opportunities
- Formal Work Assignments Abroad
- Extensive Travel (Personal or Work-related)
- Military Experience
Step Two: Reflect On Your International Experience
Once you have identified your international experiences, it is time to figure out how to “translate” those experiences into tangible, marketable skills. In some cases, this exercise will be easy. For instance, if you traveled to a foreign country in order to develop language proficiency, those language skills are tangible skills that are easy to identify and talk about. In other cases, however, some of the new skills that you acquired may be harder to see and will require flexible and creative thinking about your time abroad.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to begin thinking about your experiences, try these approaches:
- Think about the purpose of your international experience. Did you lay out any goals for yourself prior to engaging in the opportunity, and did you reach those goals? What new perspectives were you hoping to gain from your experience? What were the outcomes – both expected and unexpected?
- Think about challenging situations you encountered. What made them challenging? How did you work through the challenge? Did that experience change how you approached similar situations during the rest of your time abroad?
- Think about the most exciting moments of your time abroad. What made them so exciting? Did you learn something new about your host country? Did you learn something new about yourself?
Still having trouble getting started? If it has been a while since you went abroad, it can sometimes be difficult to recall your memories. Try going through any photos, blog posts, or get in touch with someone who was either abroad with you or with whom you spoke about your experiences. What events or moments stand out? Were there topics or ideas that came up again and again? Sometimes all you need is a picture or phrase to jog your memory.
Step Three: Document Your International Experience
Once you have a sense of the skills and competencies that you acquired from your international experience, it is time to document what you have learned in a way that makes sense to employers and that sells some of your most employable skills.
There is no one right or wrong way to document your international experience on your résumé, but depending on how you are framing your experience, some sections may be more appropriate than others. International experience should be listed in one of three areas: Education, Experience, and/or Skills.
If you studied abroad on an academic program, completed coursework abroad, or conducted research abroad for an academic course or program, your international experience is a natural fit for your education section. A study abroad semester or year can be represented as its own “entry” under this section, or it can be included as a bullet point under the institution and degree associated with your experience.
If you have completed an international internship, volunteered abroad, worked in a professional role in another country, or completed military service overseas, it makes good sense to document these activities in your experience sections.
Depending on how you have laid out your résumé and are hoping to document your experiences, you might choose to list your positions under “Professional Experience”(for internships or professionally-related positions), “Volunteer Experience” (for volunteer positions), or under a “Military Experience” section (for active duty military or veterans who have completed international deployments).
If you possess a variety of international experiences or specifically want to promote your international experience overall, a designated “International Experience” section can combine your educational, professional, and volunteer positions under one category.
Finally, your international experience can also be documented in your skills section in a variety of ways. If your international experience is a secondary selling point, you might choose to include your international experience under its own skill area, rather than highlighting it elsewhere on your résumé. Alternatively, you might choose to highlight some of your global competencies or other internationally-acquired skills through an “International and Cultural” skills category.
- For some examples on how to integrate study abroad experience into a résumé, visit StudyAbroad.com’s “Showcasing Study Abroad on Your Resume“
If you have little to no professional work experience, spending some time to highlight some of the employable skills that you have acquired from your time abroad can be a great way to demonstrate your qualifications for a position. As with any cover letter you submit, however, be sure to make sure that you are aligning your own skills and competencies with the requirements of the position description.
- For some examples on how to integrate study abroad experience into a cover letter, visit StudyAbroad.com’s “Featuring Study Abroad in Your Cover Letter“
Much like on your résumé, there are a few ways to document your international experience on your LinkedIn profile, although the pre-determined sections on your profile make it a little bit easier to parse out where your international experience should be listed.
- Study Abroad – If you participated on a formal study abroad program sponsored through a university (either your own or a partner institution), you might consider listing your experience under your “Education” section, either as a description listed under the relevant degree, or as its own education entry entirely. Coursework or research completed abroad can also be included in this section.
- Internships/Professional Positions – If you have completed a formal work assignment or internship abroad, these types of experiences fit well under your “Experience” section.
- Volunteer Experience – LinkedIn has a designated area to list volunteer experience that you may possess. While you may want to highlight volunteer positions under your regular “Experience” section if you have little to no other professionally-oriented positions to showcase, most volunteer positions should be listed under the specific “Volunteer Experience” section.
Step Four: Talk About Your International Experience
In some scenarios, it is also useful to highlight your international experience when you are networking with others or interviewing for positions, especially if your international experience had a big impact on your career goals or developed certain skills or qualifications you are hoping to promote.
Elevator Pitch and Networking Conversations
Again, unless your international experience is directly applicable or relevant to the work that you are doing or types of positions that you are seeking, it is probably not necessary to bring up your experience in an elevator pitch. However, once you become engaged in deeper or lengthier networking conversations with others, it might make sense to bring up your study abroad or international experience, particularly if you gained invaluable skills from your experience or if your time abroad somehow changed your perspective or clarified you career goals and trajectory.
In thinking about the “narrative” of your international experiences, consider some of the results of your time abroad (look back to the outcomes you identified in Step Two). You may also choose to include how your experience transformed your personal or professional development. Perhaps your time abroad helped you:
- Develop a better understanding of your own career interests and goals
- Develop a greater knowledge of yourself (strengths, weaknesses, interests, etc.)
- Develop an increased sense of self-confidence, self-efficacy, and independence
In some instances, your international experiences may be the best possible way to demonstrate your qualifications as a candidate for a job. If an organization is looking for someone with international exposure, you can expect questions about your time abroad and what you learned while there. If your international experience had a significant impact on your interest in your own career goals and was a main reason why you applied, this detail can be worked into an answer for an introductory question, such as “Tell me about yourself,” or “What interests you about the position?”
Some interviewers might ask you a “behavioral interview question,” and a specific instance from your time abroad might be the best possible way to address the question. To prepare for these instances, identify one or two anecdotes from your time abroad that demonstrate your skills or behavior, but make sure that your examples do not require a lot of context to understand. If you have to spend too much time describing the specific cultural or societal conditions of the event, then that will become the focus of your answer, rather than your actions. Then, answer the question as you would with any other behavioral question, employing the STAR Method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
As with any interview, these situations are a chance to contextualize the skills and competencies that you have listed on your résumé. Your international experience itself might be your selling point, or it may just be one piece of evidence that you can use to demonstrate your qualifications for a position.
- For more advice on how to talk about your international experiences professionally, visit The Muse’s “How to Talk About Your Experience Abroad in the Job Hunt“
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on July 14, 2017: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-market-your-international-experience-bri-riggio