For most of us, our venture off into the “real world” is approaching sooner than we think, and it is time to update the resume, polish up on interviewing skills, and above all, market our amazing skills to prospective employers! Standing out on paper always seems easier said than done, but what can we do now to set ourselves up for success in the future? In this brief post, I am going to share with you ways in which study abroad experiences can help you separate yourself from the pack when it comes to job and internship hunting. I hope this proves to not only be a good read for students that have already studied abroad, but also for those of you who are even slightly interested in taking that international leap to learn!
When I had returned from my semester in London, many people were curious about my travels. I definitely enjoy sharing these stories with all those that are interested, but all these questions soon started to get me thinking. “So… how have I changed?” and “What did I learn from my time overseas?” It’s always easy to talk about the different places I have been and the adventures I went on, but how do I share the skills I developed when it matters most? More and more employers are not only seeking out students in the right field, with the right grades, and the right school, but they are looking for students with passions, ambitions, involvement, and experience.
When it comes to the skills you learned abroad, remember all of the times you had to think on your own and face some unique challenges alone. For me, it was being tossed into a big city with an overwhelming metro system, learning new etiquette and customs in a fast pace culture, or even sleeping on a bare mattress, no pillow or sheets my first night because after that long trip over, sleep was the thing that was needed most. Ok, so they do not always sound like much, and you’re probably just thinking “Zach, give it a rest already! We get it… you studied abroad and now you’re some world explorer like Bear Grylls…” But whether you realize it or not, each “story” brings its own new skill that you are able to share with employers on your resume, cover letter, and interview. Below are a couple of the best ways I believe someone’s travels abroad can be highlighted to employers:
Standard and simple! Slap the study abroad experience on your resume. It’s best to keep this one short and concise under the Education section of a resume. Sometimes it feels like it would be nice to give this type of experience a whole page to itself, but unfortunately that’s not quite how resumes work, and I bet the employer at the other end will have more important things to be doing. Under the education section of a resume, it is as easy as listing the program or school you attended while abroad, location, and maybe GPA info if you care to put it. Our Career Handbook in our office has some good examples on how to add study abroad to your resume, so head on down and take a look when you can!
When it comes to a cover letter, just like any other shared experience, we are able to elaborate more than on a resume. This is where you are able to share those life changing experiences and skills you gained while abroad. For me, it is still important to tie in my academic work and group projects from the school I went to in a cover letter. In doing this, I am able to explain the projects and assignments I worked on, and also talk about things such as different team or report types. If done correctly, your cover letter will highlight your new independence skills and also show your ability to be adaptable, flexible, and truly how to perform well in other environments and settings.
Last but definitely not least, interviews are going to be your best opportunity to share with an employer the skills you gained while studying abroad. From my experiences this past semester, I have brought up my semester in London when asked questions about greatest achievements and even biggest obstacles and failures. And crazy enough, that is really what the whole experience is about! It’s about overcoming challenges, finding paths for yourself, and creating goals and dreams. Just have a couple stories ready to tell before you head in for an interview, and I even bet most of the nerves will melt away when you are asked a question about your travels. This is because they are fun to talk about! Try not to go on too long, and make sure you are answering their question and coming to a point. Overall, my experience in interviews has showed me that the natural excitement I get when I talk about studying abroad seems to go a long way in the eyes of the employer!
Ok, ok… I promise I am off my study abroad “soap box” now, but if I can say one last thing, it would be that if you have the opportunity to study abroad during your years at UMD, do not hesitate to take it. There is something exciting and almost indescribable about taking an adventure of your own, stepping out of your bubble, and discovering what else is out in our big world.
If you have any other questions about studying abroad, make sure to stop by the International Education Office where they can answer your study abroad questions! Or if you would like to just come chat about any travel opportunities and how to incorporate them into your job search, come steal me for five minutes at Career and Internship Services. Talk soon, all!