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
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.