“How to Sell Your Study Abroad Experience in a Job Interview”

by Daniel Klamm (SU London 2007) Find his blog here.

This week I want to talk about study abroad — particularly, how studying abroad can make you a better job candidate.

Let me start off by saying that I studied abroad in London the spring of my junior year. Despite the terrible dollar-to-pound exchange rate, my flatmates and I had an amazing time exploring London and soaking in a culture very different from our own. We lived on Edgware Road in the Marble Arch neighborhood. This particular neighborhood predominantly housed Middle Eastern people. There were an abundance of hookah bars and Middle Eastern delis (such as Maroush Juice, Ganoush, and Fatoush) on our street, yet we were still within two blocks of the Oxford shopping district, Hyde Park, and the quaint London that I had first envisioned when I planned to go abroad. Looking back, studying abroad was an eye-opening cultural experience and I am really glad to have had such an amazing opportunity.

I frequently work with students who have gone abroad. While many list their abroad experience on their resume, some are not sure how this makes them stronger job candidates, or how to articulate examples from their abroad experience in an interview. Based on my own time in London, I’ve put together a list of key skills that one strengthens while studying overseas.

1) Adaptability. Immersed in a totally foreign culture, you are now the outsider and must adapt to the norms of your new locale. You develop an openness to new ways of doing things. Whether you must navigate different transportation systems, eat your meals at different times, or learn different languages, you are honing your ability to adapt. From a career standpoint, this skill is crucial. Nothing stays the same for too long, so being quick to adapt will give you an edge. (Plus, no one wants to work with an inflexible bore.)

2) Time management. While not all study abroad programs have a weighty academic component, most require at least some dedication to classes. If you are taking 15 credits, going out at night, and traveling every weekend, you learn a thing or two about time management. Again, this is an important skill to have in the workplace, where one is often required to balance multiple projects and priorities. When you explain to potential employers that you explored Europe in style – while pulling a 3.8 GPA with a full courseload – they will be impressed.

3) Interpersonal skills. From realtors to host families to teachers to store owners to roommates, you are interacting with a vast array of people and honing your interpersonal skills. When you’re living in close quarters with people in an Amsterdam hostel (as I was here) or negotiating payment for a taxi ride in Rome, you are bound to meet people of different backgrounds and work styles. Once you’ve been exposed to so many diverse types of people, you’re better able to get along and successfully interact with a wider range of personalities in the workplace.

4) Independence. When your main support network is thousands of miles away, you are forced to develop more self-reliance. This may mean managing your own expenses and making your own meals for the first time, or becoming more self-directed in the completion of your work. This gritty self-sufficiency is important in the workplace — especially in positions where you will not be closely managed and will be expected to budget your own time and activity.

These are just some ideas to get you thinking. I’d love to hear about your study abroad experiences, and how you managed to portray them in the job/internship search process!

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