Overcoming Employer Skeptisim of Study Abroad


Woman gesturing thumbs up in front of corporate personnel office


Those of us who work in International Education see the rewards of students returning home from abroad. They are wiser, confident and more mature, and we naturally think that Study Abroad is a great step toward a rewarding career. As a student who has overcome all the obstacles that study abroad might put in your way, I’m sure you would agree that the eye opening experiences, greater independence and self-awareness provide a jump-start in your career. Unfortunately, there are many hiring managers and employers who don’t see it that way.

Study Abroad may not be the secret ticket to getting a jump-start in the career place. Many human resource professionals and hiring managers do not value experiences abroad when making hiring decisions, and while corporate and organizational leaders talk about the global workplace, your study abroad alumni card isn’t your FAST-PASS to the front of the line.

The following two quotes are just a sampling of some of the biases that exist against study abroad:

“People put ‘study abroad’ on their resume. I actually like when they don’t study abroad because that means they aren’t entitled.” – Millard Drexler

Millard “Mickey” S. Drexler is the current chairman and CEO of J.Crew Group and formerly the CEO of Gap Inc. He has been a director at Apple Inc. since 1999.  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/millarddre532208.html


“Studying abroad can be a nice “add on” in theory, but it also can be a waste of time, or simply a good time, for an unfocused – and privileged – high school or university student.” And “And even the best programs will do little for an unmotivated student.” – Curtis S. Chin

Curtis S. Chin, the United States ambassador to the Asian Development Bank from 2007 to 2010, is the managing director of RiverPeak Group, an advisory firm.  http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/10/17/should-more-americans-study-abroad/studying-abroad-can-be-an-expensive-waste-of-time


Entitled. Privileged. We also hear that study abroad returnees are viewed as unmanageable, always with a cause, always want to change things and even anti-corporate. These are stereotypes and just like you had stereotypes of the place you visited before you left, you now have a label associated with you. How you handle this label and the associated bias will affect how your career unfolds.

Stress the workplace values when talking about study abroad

Now before you panic and sign up for grad school or an internship program or resolve yourself to teaching English in some remote corner of the world, there is hope. There’s work you need to do, but there’s real hope turning what some perceive as lemons, into lemonade.

Consider the following statements.

“Study abroad doesn’t count to an employer unless the job candidate can say how it has made them a better person, scholar, citizen, and professional…”  – Linda S. Gross, Associate Director of Career Services, Michigan State University


According to a 2012 survey of employers done by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University (MSU), hiring managers considered study abroad to be of “limited importance” in relation to recruiting new graduates. In fact, study abroad was ranked the least important of several college activities, with internships listed the most valuable activity.

So how do you highlight your study abroad experience?

Keep this in mind. Employers want creative, independent thinkers who can work in teams, take responsibility and get things done.

Think in professional analogies about your time abroad and how you overcame obstacles and how those prepared you for the workplace. How did you show leadership? How did you take responsibility? How did you pull together disparate people and get them operating as a team? How did you face long odds, overcome poor preparation and lack of support and achieve something notable? What got you out of bed in the AM and got you to avoid the distractions of the social and partying scene?

Do not simply talk about how great it was abroad, what wonderful friends you made and the amazing sites you’ve seen. If that is your focus the following is what an employer could think.

“I’m not interested in your life journeys. This includes your experiences studying abroad, even if you had an amazing time. Save these musings for late night dorm room chats with your best friend.”   By Katherine Goldstein

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/08/ cover_letter_writing_advice_how_to_write_a_cover_letter_for_an_entry_level.html

Instead, translate your experiences abroad into practical examples of how you have matured and can take on responsibility. If going abroad means you can enter into an honest conversation about how to take and offer criticism, then your experience has prepared you well. If you can articulate how lucky you were, how humbling the experience was and how you want to rise to serve, you have a real chance at breaking the privileged student stereotypes that surround study abroad. Hiring a study abroad graduate should give employers the confidence that they will get an employee who is a problem solver, a confident well-spoken team player who will be a loyal asset to the company.

Convey these messages while interviewing and you will now have The Study Abroad Advantage.

Feel free to add your comments below and join our initiative called The Study Abroad Advantage on LinkedIn and Twitter.





3 Reasons Why Studying Abroad Enhances Your Job Prospects

All over townIf you’re like me, your parents and professors were skeptical about your decision to study abroad during college. After all, it’s a daunting prospect to go through the immense task of immersing yourself in an entirely new language and culture. And for all this trouble, what is spending a few months overseas going to do for your job prospects? Incidentally, studying abroad — and the invaluable language skills and cultural knowledge that come with it — can end up being one of the most career-defining decisions you could make. Having spent a summer in Argentina, I can personally attest to this: studying abroad is a great way to enrich yourself — personally, professionally, and linguistically.

1. Learning a language gives you problem-solving skills

When you are living in a country that speaks a foreign language, you are forced to leave your comfort zone. Suddenly, even seemingly mundane, everyday tasks become challenges that require patience and creativity to overcome. In my case, the day after I arrived in Argentina, I was forced to confront one of these challenges: I realized that I had fallen ill with Lyme disease, an illness that exists only in North America and Europe! Despite the language barrier between us, my doctor and I were eventually able to communicate, and I received proper treatment.

Despite its difficulty, learning language through this type of experience is crucial in developing real-life language skills. But more than improving your language skills, your trials in communication are great fodder for cover letters, application essays, and interviews. Studying abroad is guaranteed to give you a plethora of answers to those dreaded and ubiquitous application and interview questions about conflict resolution and problem-solving.

2. Being bilingual helps you make international connections

As your language skills progress on your trip abroad, you will undoubtedly find it easier to make friends internationally. While making friends is great on a personal level, it’s also a fantastic start to building an international professional network. The relationships that you build on your trip abroad are an excellent way not only to expand your own horizons, but also enhance your ability to be a serious contender in an increasingly global workplace.

Since my trip to Argentina, my knowledge of Argentinean Spanish has helped me greatly in making connections in the Spanish-speaking world. For example, when an Argentinian author visited my college the year after I studied abroad, I struck up a conversation with him in Spanish, showcasing my knowledge of Argentinean idiomatic expressions and slang. Impressed with my knowledge of his language and culture, he offered me a job in translating some of his work, and I continue to work for him to this day.

3. Bilingualism is a huge plus for prospective employers

Perhaps the most important career bonus to studying abroad is that it gives you constant exposure to native speakers of a foreign language, which is the only way to really learn the intricacies and complexities of a new language. In addition to the chic factor of bilingualism, fluency in a foreign language gets you jobs. Indeed, learning a language abroad demonstrates a host of positive qualities to prospective employers — it highlights your independence, your intellectual flexibility, your resourcefulness, and your ability to thrive in unfamiliar environments.

In my case, only by immersing myself in a Spanish-speaking culture was I able to truly acquire proficient Spanish-language skills, which has opened countless doors for me professionally. In fact, my bilingualism is the reason that I have the job that I do now, which requires me speak in both English and Spanish on a daily basis. My job allows me to write about what I love, and sustain myself while I study Spanish and plan the next destination on my list of travels.

As my journey shows, today’s job market is as much about networking as it is about skills and where you got your degree. Being in the market, making personal contacts and connecting with people proved to be the answer for me, if you really want to work overseas, I suggest you go for it. Showcase your time abroad by creating a review, demonstrate your ability to offer constructive criticism, take ownership of adversity and grow to have a enviable world view. Submit your education abroad review here then use in in networking groups like The Study Abroad Advantage to find opportunities.

Don’t listen to the skeptics: studying abroad is one of the best career moves that you can make. And if you have reservations about jumping head-first into a new language and culture, you can prepare yourself with some free online resources that help you practice the language you’ll be using overseas. Studying abroad allows you to engage your curiosity, expand your worldview, and experience a new culture. Most of all, it grants you the gift of bilingualism, which has proven time and time again to be a serious advantage in terms of both bragging rights and job prospects. For those looking to embark on an exciting adventure and advance their careers at the same time, I couldn’t recommend studying abroad more highly.


paul_thumbnailPaul currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he teaches English and writes for Language Trainers, a worldwide language teaching service for individuals and professionals. You can visit their website or email paul@languagetrainers.com for more information.

Take What You Learned While Studying Abroad to Land Your Dream First Job

Guest Post…

Studying abroad is one of the greatest adventures and challenges any college student can take on. Many exchange students look at it as a fun opportunity to travel, but, in all reality, it’s a whole lot more than that. The experience can impact you in a big way, including the things you’re interested in, how you see the world, and what you want to do with your life…and it can make you more marketable, too.

If you’re a college senior or have just graduated, you probably have one priority on your mind right now, and that is getting a job. But forget the notion of just getting any old job and up the ante: landing your dream position. Remember all the things you learned while studying abroad and follow these tips for transforming your application process to land the first job you’ve been dreaming about.

1) Become a scrapper.

Remember how you were forced to toughen up when you landed in your foreign destination at the beginning of your study abroad program? Maybe you didn’t know the Metro system, couldn’t speak Spanish, or were greeted with stares from the locals. Over the course of your program, you overcame your insecurities, learned to live and speak like a local, and all around toughened up. Apply those learned skills to your job search by becoming more aggressive and nimble in your application approach. Just because your dream employer doesn’t have any job listings posted doesn’t mean they may not be accepting resumes. Call to inquire about any open positions and express your interest. If you can, drop by to leave behind a hard copy of your resume; it will stand out from the boatloads they receive via email. Follow key employers on social media, read their blogs, and stay abreast of any announcements they make regarding acquisitions of new accounts, and other signs of growth. Pounce on the opportunity to send a personalized cover letter congratulating them on the news and explaining how you would be a valuable asset to their team now more than ever.

2)  Perfect your language skills.

If you learned the basics of a foreign language while abroad, now’s the time to hone those skills to perfection. Most students return from their program with strong conversational skills, yet lack the needed reading and written skills to be considered truly bilingual. Sign up for formal training, such as one-on-one tutoring, to fill out your education in the second language. Add it to your resume and talk up your enviable Italian, French, Russian, or Icelandic skills in interviews. Employers will take note of your dedication to mastering the language.

3)  Get personal.

Students who study abroad can easily fall into a trap of highlighting generic takeaways from their experience. While the fact that you made friends with people from other cultures is important, it’s critical that you share your own, more personal highlights with potential employers. On your resume, bullet point three challenges you faced and how you overcame them. In an interview, talk about how the experience changed you and ignited a newfound passion for Bollywood films, Australian folklore, or German cuisine. Make it personal and at the end of the day, when potential employers think back on all those candidates they’ve interviewed, they’ll remember the recent college grad who got lost in Amsterdam or hitchhiked along the Pan-American Highway in Chile.

You may be riding on cloud nine upon returning from a study abroad experience, and rightly so. Enjoy the memories, the souvenirs, perhaps the last of that tan you worked on for the past 4 months. But when it’s time to build your resume, practice your interviewing skills, and get a first job you’ll be excited about, be sure to draw on that study abroad experience to give yourself the extra advantage among your peers.

Contributed by our guest blogger:
dustyFoxDusty Fox is a full-time freelance writer who contributes to Ivy Trainers and the Language Trainers network. Visit the Ivy Trainers website to learn more about the nationwide tutoring services they offer.