What is international work experience?
International work experience is any experience that allows a person to gain skills and grow professionally within a specific field or occupation. It is a term that is used to encompass a wide variety of experiences, both paid and unpaid.
There are four main kinds of international work experiences that one can have: study abroad, an internship, a work placement, and volunteering. Each type serves a different purpose, is targeted at people with varying levels of experience, and can be done for different lengths of time.
If there’s one common fear among graduates, it’s finding a good job right out of college. It’s not an entirely unfounded fear as most of millennials will either be underemployed, or search for employment upwards of six months before landing a job in their career field.
Setting yourself apart in an already tough market becomes even more difficult when your peers have similar degrees and GPAs. However, recent studies by the Erasmus Student Network and different universities found that going abroad is the one true way to stand out and get hired faster.
What do employers think of international experience?
What employers think of international experiences depends on what type of experience it is. Based on The Frontiers Journal: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, employers consider multiple factors, such as:
- Length of experience: Longer is better, as it allows an individual to get to know the company or organization, the role and the culture. It will also allow you to dive deeper into a project, take on more responsibility, and have a greater impact.
- Relevancy of placement: Do you want to go into healthcare management but you’re volunteering on a marine conservation project? While it may still be incredibly unique experience, it will be more difficult to translate that experience to prospective employers than an experience based around promoting community health.
- Location of placement: Depending on your interest area, where you go matters. For example, structural engineers might consider going to the Middle East for a placement, and those interested in finance should consider hubs like Hong Kong.
- Uniqueness of placement: Are you playing it safe by working in the London’s business sector rather than in China’s or India’s? Getting out of your comfort zone by going somewhere so different than from what you’re used to is a bonus.
Not only does having an international internship look great on a resume and catch the eye of hiring managers, but international experience is proven to get you hired faster. The University of California found only 49 percent of students who did not have international experience found employment within in 12 months. Where on the flipside, 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within in 12 months.
An internship abroad gets you hired even faster after graduation. Global Experiences’ alumni have been proven to get hired 2x faster than other recent grads. Alumni of our program generally get hired within three months of graduation. A majority of interns credit their time abroad as the thing that made their resume stand out and get hired faster.
How employers view international experience
Despite roughly 60 percent of employers citing a favorable view of international experiences, there are still employers who do not view international work experiences as favorably. There are a few reasons for this.
First, participating in such unique experiences, particularly gap years, is a relatively new thing in the US. While gap years and international work experiences have been popular and common in places like the UK and Australia for years, these types of experiences are just starting to gain popularity in the US. Many employers have yet to catch up and move beyond the mentality that international experiences are just a way for people to delay “real life.” This is particularly true of study abroad, as many employers view it as academic tourism where the students do little more than go to class, travel and party.
That leads to the second reason why some employers don’t value international experiences: the inability of students, interns, employees and volunteers to translate their experiences to the roles they’re seeking. Making your experience relevant is paramount. Rather than writing, “studied abroad in Cape Town” on your resume, be more specific. What did you do? Did you lead a project? Did you learn a language? Did you work alongside and problem-solve with international students? What barriers did you overcome? Did you get involved in the community beyond your academic studies?
The benefits of interning abroad are endless. You get to see the world, learn about yourself, and of course, it has a massive impact on your career. The type of skills you gain by going abroad are the ones employers want, but struggle to find in recent grads. CEO’s of major corporations often complain about the lack of international experience in recent grads and have encouraged universities to start finding ways to send as many students abroad as possible
Even former First Lady Michelle Obama has stated students having educational and professional experience abroad “is a vital part of America’s foreign policy.”
Erasmus found 64 percent of employers said international experience in a candidate extremely desirable. Employers even recruited candidates with international experience because of the skill set they brought to the table.
The University of California even found 40 percent of businesses in the United States were struggling to expand due to lack of international experience in their employees.
No matter what career field you work in, by going abroad, you learn communication skills, adaptability, and many of the other soft skills over 90 percent of employers are desperately searching for.
Why employers look for international experiences varies, but here are five benefits of international work experience to highlight on your resume:
- Adaptability: Moving somewhere completely new is not an easy task, especially if there’s a language barrier involved. Doing so shows that you are not only a risk-taker, but that you can adapt to and thrive in new and changing environments.
- Problem-solving skills: Having to solve problems can be a challenge for anyone. Having to do so in a country with different customs, social norms, and regulations? That requires learning, adapting, and thinking outside of the box. You will then return home with a unique perspective on how to solve problems US companies or organizations are facing.
- Cultural awareness: Having a successful international work experience means adapting to different cultures and customs. As many companies and organizations open themselves up to global markets and issues, the ability to work across cultures will become incredibly important.
- Self-sufficiency: It is highly unlikely that those willing to take the leap and participate in some sort of international work experience are not self-sufficient. It takes time, energy, and patience to plan a valuable experience, to get around once in country, to navigate new laws, customs, foods and languages, and to succeed as the obvious outsider. Being able to do so largely independently is a major plus.
You’ll be more satisfied with life
Researchers found the effects of going abroad weren’t just beneficial to getting hired, but also linked straight to happiness in the workplace. 80 percent of the students that had been overseas and the University of California surveyed said their international experience helped them adapt to diverse workplaces. In the same study, 70 percent of those students felt going abroad made them more satisfied in their jobs.
In an ever-increasingly global economy, the importance of international experience cannot be overstated. It is not only a unique experience that, if done thoughtfully, will set you apart from the competition, but it will prepare you to be successful in whatever field you are interested in. It’s important to remember the benefits of gaining international experience are immeasurable – so do your research, plan carefully, do well, and don’t be afraid to bring your experience to your next interview!