You’ve submitted your cover letter and resume, and you’ve been selected for an interview. As you prepare, remember that studying abroad is more than an opportunity to see the world. The challenges of living in a different country build skills that make you a valuable employee, but how do you communicate that to your interviewer? In a competitive job market, study abroad experiences make you stand out, but you have to discuss them strategically.
Preparing in advance is crucial. Think carefully about how you can use your study abroad experiences to answer common interview questions, showcase your skills and build rapport with your interviewer. Here are several suggestions to guide you as you develop a collection of stories about your time abroad:
See your study abroad through your interviewers eyes. How can an employer benefit from your new-found global intelligence?
Did you get down to work? You may have had the opportunity to gain professional experience while you were abroad. Maybe you had an internship, or participated in service learning or volunteer work, and you probably included it on your resume. Even if these experiences are not related to the position you are interviewing for, consider the skills you gained and how they can be applied to a variety of jobs.
What did you study? This is pretty straightforward, as you may have taken courses that are directly relevant to the job. On the other hand, you may have improved your language skills or conducted independent research. If you achieved academic success, this is worth talking about because it highlights not only your work ethic, but also how you adapted to an educational system different to your own.
Who did you meet and what did you do? Don’t forget about your personal growth, because this can make you a more attractive employee. It is easy to overlook these stories, because, at first, they might not seem clearly related to a job. Did you overcome cultural differences and forge local friendships? Congratulations, you learned about cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communication! Did you plan an excursion for you and your friends from start to finish? You improved your organizational skills!
So, how was it? Your interviewer may ask a direct question about your study abroad experience, and this can start a compelling conversation, which in turn can be a good ice breaker. Remember though, that you are in a formal setting so you must maintain a professional tone at all times, and avoid words like “awesome” or “cool.” Rather, state how studying abroad changed you. For example, was it your first time leaving your home country? How did this help you grow?
These are just a few ideas to get you started, and you can probably think of many more ways to make your study abroad experiences work for you during an interview.
In a nutshell, you need to reexamine your study abroad experiences from the employer’s point of view and talk about specific moments that highlight the skills or insights that he or she wants to hear about. Then, you need to actively connect the dots for the interviewer. For example, it is not enough to say that you learned about working with other cultures; explain how this came about. Was it in class during a group project? Or was it during your volunteer work?
Remember employers are looking for qualified individuals, but personal qualities such as maturity, self-motivation and flexibility also go a long way.
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