This page is designed for Smith students who are looking to utilize their
study abroad experience to enhance their job search. If you’re looking for
assistance finding an internship or job abroad, click here.
How to articulate your experience abroad to an employer
You know you experienced personal growth when you studied or lived abroad; maybe
you took care of yourself while barely being able to read the labels in the grocery
store, dealt with new levels of ambiguity and confusion with grace, made friends
with people of different values and histories, and understood conflict in a different
But how do you talk to an employer about these skills? Very few employers set
out to hire people with abroad experience as their number one qualification – but
the way you illuminate the skills you have from your time abroad could set you apart
from your competitors; you may well have developed the skills they are hoping for.
Some soft skills honed in a semester abroad could include:
Before you go abroad
Plan on returning with at least one way you can say you went above and beyond.
Some ways to begin to think about this:
When you go abroad, try to find an internship or other activity (informational
interview, job shadowing, or volunteer program) that will:
Having experience outside of your university will give more examples to share
with your interviewers about your adaptability and your willingness to go above
and beyond. This is what most companies want in their new employees. Also remember
to provide specific examples- this will give the interviewer a better sense of who
you would be as an employee, and will set you apart.
Once you return
Develop three to four stories that you can share with employers. Everyone who
has studied abroad has their own list of "wild and shocking" stories to share with
friends. These edgy cross-cultural experiences are fun to share, but not with potential
employers. You need to modify them or devise a new set of cross-cultural career
related stories about your study abroad experience. Craft these stories ahead of
time, and build them to reinforce professional skill sets. Here are a few examples:
You only need three or four of these pre-scripted career stories when job searching.
One story alone is often enough to demonstrate a whole grouping of your professional
skills, maturity, insightfulness, sound judgment, cross-cultural knowledge, etc.
Before the interview
Before your interview, consider whether your potential employer values your experience
abroad or does not yet understand the value. This will help shape what you share
and how much you speak about study abroad.
If you think your employer already wants to see some abroad experience on your
resume, then jump right in with your stories and be ready to tell how you excelled.
How did you go above and beyond while abroad? How did you lead cross-cultural teams,
informally or in class? Remember that your interviewer may want to share some of
his/her experiences abroad – ask them (briefly)!
If you think your employer could not care less about your time abroad, you are
going to need to take a few steps back. Remember two things:
Be prepared to answer questions about your time abroad: "Why did you decide to
study abroad?", “How did the experience live up to your expectations?". Remember
to use specific examples when you can- this will always be viewed better than general
answers such as- "because it sounded like fun", "so I could get away from mom and
dad for a while", etc. You might find it helpful to think back to what you wrote
in your essays to be accepted into the program, and why you chose to travel to your
host country. If you can convey your passion for where you went, and why, your answer
will stand out from others who stick to generalities. Also, you may want to think
of things that surprised you about your host country while you were over there,
however, remember to stick to the positive. You may find it helpful to keep some
sort of journal where you can list the things that stood out to you while you were
overseas. This will provide something for you to refer back to prior to your interview.
Interviewers may also ask you what accomplishments you were most proud of from
your experience abroad. Again, activities outside of class will help you stand out.
You can discuss the pride that came from learning how to not only adapt to college
life in a foreign country, but also how to adapt to a work culture abroad. Discuss
how this has made you a more well-rounded individual and worker. Also discuss how
this experience would tie into your abilities at the specific job you are interviewing
for. This piece of advice leads into other questions you may be asked- “What did
you learn overseas that will help you do this job successfully?”, or “What have
you accomplished during your time abroad that you are most proud of?” Again, providing
specifics is the key to these questions. Discuss the goals you laid out for yourself
prior to going abroad, and how you were successfully in achieving those goals.
Here are some questions to get you started, no matter how long you were abroad:
Specific tips for those who participated in short-term study abroad courses
Unless you are applying for a position abroad, employers are probably going to
be more interested in the actual skills you picked up in your short time abroad
and what you learned in the class. You will probably need to be succinct.
Compiled from Jean-Marc Hachey, The BIG Guide to Living and Working Abroad
Short-term study abroad and Effective Marketing of International Experiences
to Employers by Cheryl Matherly, Rice University.