Study Abroad: Guiding Students to Demonstrate Skills To Employers
By Sheri Young and Donna Remington
Studying abroad is more than taking classes or having a good time with friends while exploring a new country. It can be a truly profound, life-changing experience for our students whose perceptions of the world and themselves will forever be affected. The experience doesn’t end when the students return to their home campus. Career advisors can have a big impact in helping these students understand the significance of their newly acquired status as a global citizen. Working closely with the Study Abroad office to provide programming for students preparing for and returning from Study Abroad will better connect them to career services, gaining access to a population that may not otherwise visit Career Services.
Identifying and Communicating Skills
In a competitive job market, our students need to highlight everything that might set them apart from other candidates. It is essential that their study abroad experience be thoughtfully incorporated through skill sets in their cover letter, resume and during job interviews. Our students need to think about the skills they have gained and what they have learned while abroad. Questions to get your students thinking include:
Did you gain writing skills or publish an article?
Did you gain research experience or conduct an independent study project?
Did you become well versed in some aspect of your host country’s culture?
Was your academic learning conducted in another language?
Next, assist students in capturing what they have learned. Guide the students through the following questions:
What did you do and learn outside the classroom?
Describe any group projects with other students.
What were your goals? Did you achieve them?
What challenges did you face and were you able to overcome them?
This will help students to identify the actual skills they have gained through the abroad experience—which are not always obvious to an employer. Employers value the skills students develop through studying abroad as long as they are communicated in a way that relates them to the work setting. This goes beyond the technical skills and includes other sets of skills that make a well-rounded individual. Employers tell us that they will provide on-the-job training, but what they really want are students who possess soft or transferable skills such as:
Professionalism/Work Ethic: The student has a positive attitude, carrying out work with a sense of responsibility and showing professional work behaviors in the workplace.
- Can the student share an example of how they handled themselves professionally during a team project while studying abroad?
- Is the student prepared for the employer to ask: Tell me about a problem your team had during the project and how you resolved it?
A student may think that leadership is illustrated when someone on their team didn’t carry their weight, resulting in another doing all the work. It’s important for advisors to point out that this has the opposite effect and denigrates any sense of professionalism and teamwork that the employer is seeking.
Problem Solving: The student is competent in assessing, analyzing, recommending, and/or implementing suitable solutions to workplace problems.
- General travel and navigational skills gained from study abroad and adapting to different cultures while away from home can demonstrate their self-confidence to an employer.
- Adaptability and resiliency (i.e. thinking on their feet) demonstrate that their study abroad experience taught them to understand the global connection in a shrinking world.
These could both indicate to the employer the student’s ability to be a good problem solver.
Communication: The student is competent in listening and communicating verbally and in writing with co-workers and guests/clients (as appropriate to their work experience).
- Foreign language skills can demonstrate competency in more than one language or the ability to navigate in a foreign land while learning the language. This could demonstrate to an employer that the student can adapt and function when faced with barriers.
- Identifying and managing different needs of people and groups can demonstrate cultural competencies and awareness, while utilizing solid communication skills to bridge any gaps.
Students who are targeting a position that emphasizes communications skills should be able to answer questions such as: Describe the listening skills you developed during this process? They should be able to present how they overcame any language barriers or any adjustments they had to make to their communication style to meet their goals.
Collaboration: The student is competent in working within a team and relating to others in the organization/group.
- Effective participation in group discussions with people from diverse backgrounds while also showing sensitivity and tolerance to differences in cultures, can result in work that shares a global perspective and demonstrates their flexibility.
Ask the student if it is important to an employer to be collaborative. How will they communicate these skills to their own benefit so the employer will want to hire them?
Advise your students, as they share these experiences with employers, to consider the responsibilities of the position they are seeking and the context of the company/industry. Ensure they focus on the relevance of their study abroad experience to the position and organization they are pursuing.
Life-long Career Benefits of Study Abroad
Students who become global citizens gain additional skills and a competitive advantage. Currently, one in five U.S. jobs is linked to international trade, yet U.S. companies lose an estimated $2 billion a year due to insufficient cross-cultural guidance for their employees in multicultural positions. Today’s workforce requires a depth of international expertise and language skills lacking in most U.S. graduates. Students living and learning in countries and cultures other than their own learn important skills enabling them to fully participate in today's global workplace of constant change (NAFSA: Association of International Educators, n.d.). By assisting students who have studied abroad to better share their experiences with employers, career advisors are providing them with an incredible advantage over their peers by giving employers graduates who are better prepared to work in today’s global workplace. Study abroad is more than just an academic passage; it gives students skills for life that enhance their careers and which employers value.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators (n.d.). Public Policy Benefits of Study Abroad. Retrieved from http://www.nafsa.org/Explore_International_Education/Advocacy_And_Public_Policy/Study_Abroad/Public_Policy_Benefits_of_Study_Abroad/
Career Convergence welcomes articles with an international connection.
Sheri Young is the dean of Experiential Education & Career Services at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. Sheri has worked for the university for the past 20 years, spending the first half of her career recruiting international students for JWU in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. She joined EE&CS as director in 2005 and became dean in 2014. Sheri has a Master’s degree from JWU and is pursuing a doctorate at Northeastern University. She is the president of the Rhode Island Career Development Association and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 401-598-1872.
Donna Remington is the assistant director for career services in Experiential Education & Career Services at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. Donna’s career path includes more than 30 years in marketing, communications, events management, and public relations in a variety of industries before joining JWU in 1999 and EE&CS in 2006. Donna has a Master’s degree from JWU. She is chair of the membership committee of the Rhode Island Career Development Association and co-advisor for Omicron Delta Kappa at JWU. She may be contacted at email@example.com and 401-598-1180