Putting Your Abroad Experience to Work

Many studies suggest that American students who study abroad can be up to twice as likely to find employment within a year of graduation; they also tend to earn more and be more satisfied in their careers. There’s no doubt that your abroad experience will give you a great edge, but it’s up to you to turn your time in Shanghai into a marketable quality in the eyes of a potential employer.

Start reflecting on what you’ve learned during your time in Shanghai – not just Chinese language and culture, but what employers call “soft skills”: adaptability, independence, problem-solving, and tolerance for ambiguity. Think about how your résumé and other application materials present these uniquely learned skills and how they make you a more desirable applicant. Why did you choose to go abroad? Why Shanghai? Why an internship? How was your internship in Shanghai different from your friend’s internship in Boston? How did your integration, or difficulty with integration, change the way you see and react to the world around you?  How did you learn to cope with being away from friends, family, and the comforts of home, and how did that change you?

In short: what marketable skills did the experience help you find?

“Employers increasingly want workers who can work cross-culturally and speak another language. Study abroad is one of the best ways (often the only way) for students to acquire marketable international qualifications, cross-cultural competency and proficiency in a second language. In addition to valuing the soft skills acquired while spending time abroad, employers want workers who can collaborate with others around the world. But just listing study abroad on a resume or in a cover letter won’t cut it. Students must package their study abroad experience in a way that showcases what they’ve learned. Organizations will want to know what an applicant did and learned while abroad — and how that experience can be brought to bear on the job.” – The Huffington Post, Oct 30th, 2013

What did you gain from your time in Shanghai?

Here are some examples of skills and qualities to highlight in your résumé, cover letter, and interviews. Think about concrete situations or scenarios that helped you better develop these skills.

  • Adaptability
  • Foreign language proficiency
  • Flexibility and patience
  • Ability of function with a high level of ambiguity
  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Organization
  • Listening and observation
  • Awareness of global issues
  • Increased confidence and independence
  • Communicating across language and cultural barriers
  • Problem solving skills
  • Self-reliance and self-knowledge
  • Tolerance/open-mindedness
  • Appreciation of diversity
  • Assertiveness
  • Perseverance
  • Independence

When asked about your abroad experience, go beyond “It was great!”
Imagine encountering these questions in an interview:

While abroad, did you…

  • complete a specific project or research applicable to your field of interest?
  • travel independently?
  • learn to work with a more diverse group of people?
  • resolve a conflict based on misunderstandings or cultural differences?
  • learn new activities, languages, hobbies, or skills?

Tell me about a time when you…

  • dealt with uncertainty or ambiguity.
  • confronted a challenging situation.
  • had to handle conflict.
  • had to learn something new

Other resources:

  • UCMerced statistics on the professional value of study abroad
  • USA Today article on showcasing your abroad experience during your job search
  • StudyAbroad.com article on the marketability of study abroad in the tech world
  • Boston Globe article on the importance of abroad experience in the corporate job market
  • Skidmore College practical guide to including study abroad on your résumé
  • GoOverseas.com guide to reflecting on your experience in a professional context
  • Institute for Study Abroad guide to leveraging your abroad experience on the job market
  • University of Miami guide to presenting abroad experience on your résumé