Did you know that studying abroad gives you an edge in the job market? According to a survey by IES Abroad, 97% of people who study abroad land a job within one year of graduation. Also, the fact that they earn an average starting salary that's $7,000 higher than usual means employers value them more than the typical graduate.
That said, a degree from a foreign university is just a springboard. You still have to pull your weight and translate your degree into something that'll make employers go "wow!" Here’s how to make that happen.
Be More of a Participant than a Tourist
Unless you're applying for a creative job, you're not going to impress employers with a pitch like "Took 10,000 Instagram-filtered pictures of orangutans." Be more proactive when you're learning about, and interacting with, a foreign culture. You can teach English classes, do volunteer work and engage in other activities that somehow make a difference in the culture you're immersed in – and make your resume look good at the same time.
Speaking of resumes, it'd be great if you can write something like "Increased the literacy rate of 50 children in a far-flung community by teaching them the basics of the English language." That way, you can show your employer that your work abroad meant something.
Emphasise Your Ability to Empathise
When you study abroad, you interact with a lot of people whose mindsets differ from yours. You learn to view the world through their eyes, rather than through the eyes of a foreigner trying to interpret a culture according to his own values. If you can do this, you can also deal with co-workers of different backgrounds, personalities and attitudes.
Also, you might've picked up other soft skills as well – management, maintaining relationships between people and problem-solving under pressure – so don't forget to mention these in the interview, too.
Tell a Story about a Cultural Barrier You Overcame
One question employers love to ask is "What was the hardest problem you ever encountered, and how did you overcome it?" This is where your role as a participant, rather than a tourist, comes in.
Talk about how you managed to teach impoverished children their letters – despite the language barrier, lack of funds and less-than-ideal environment. Talk about that time you accidentally misinterpreted a gesture as rude, when it's actually the way those people say goodbye and good luck in their language – and how you apologised for it. Talk about the experiences that taught you valuable lessons and how these lessons, in turn, make you more valuable as an employee.
Play up the Other Skills You Learned Abroad
Of course, you can't forget the hard skills you learned as well. Tell prospective employers about your degree of fluency in a foreign language, and how this will come in handy in your particular line of work – whether it’s working with customers or translating important documents. Talk about the virtual communication software you learned to use as a result of back-and-forth messages with your foreign friends. If you're applying for a position that requires a lot of blogging, taking photos, interviewing people and knowledge of content management systems, talk about these skills too.
Be Genuinely Interested in Your Host Culture
It might sound cliché and obvious, but it helps to be passionate about your stay abroad. When an employer sees you bursting with enthusiasm at the way you talk about a culture that's literally and figuratively miles away from yours, you'll come across as more likeable – and therefore more hire-able. So if you're one of those people who's had a less-than-pleasant experience studying abroad, try to look at what you learned from the experience and how this translates to your function in the workplace.
Remember: Being able to study abroad is a privilege. If you make the most of it, you'll be rewarded a hundred times over – not just in terms of career, but also in terms of the richness of your life.