Firstly, we look at the softer skills you can gain from an experience abroad. It is interesting to note that according to a report by LinkedIn in 2019, 92% of employers are looking for soft skills and say they are more important than technical ones.
There is also learning a language, which in itself is an extremely useful skill. Then we look at how you seek out this international experience, depending on the stage you are at in your life. Thoughout, we explore the practicalities of how you can sell your international experience to employers.
Soft skills gained through international experience
There are many advantages that international experiences will give you. These skills can be emphasised at any interview and will mean you are more likely to get the job.
In 2017, a study by the International Institute of Education looked at the experience of US students who studied abroad. This paper found that studying abroad had had a direct impact on the skills needed for career success. The study measured 15 soft and hard skills before and after their experience.
The top five skills, which were mentioned by over 70% of respondents are very much soft skills. These were:
- Intercultural skills
Let us look at these top skills in more detail:
As well as the language skills you will hopefully gain, the cultural, social and political knowledge that you will acquire will serve you well, especially if you work in a global organisation. Having experienced the culture of the country you will have lived in, you will understand and therefore respect the position of any colleague that you work with, or any dealings with offices based in that country. You will also have a wider respect for wider cultural differences globally.
Being curious may have led you to opt for an international experience in the first place. In another country, you will find distinct challenges and different ways of approaching these. It is a well-known saying that ‘travelling broadens the mind.’ Living aboard, rather than just travelling for say, a two-week holiday, will have an even stronger effect.
Employers will love this skill, as it will mean that you are extrinsically driven to find the solution to any problem. Curiosity will make you want to look deeper into the ‘why’ for how processes and procedures are drawn up, so that results are optimised. It also makes you a more interesting colleague, that you are driven to explore and find out more about the world.
By living abroad, you will need to learn to be flexible, as you will notice many differences in how day-to-day life is carried out. You will also need to be flexible in terms of arriving somewhere completely new, where you may not know many people or anyone even. Everything will be a new experience, from going shopping to getting your hair cut.
This type of experience, a bit like being thrown in at the deep end, will increase your adaptability.
This is a skill you can emphasize to employers at interview, it is one that they will really value, especially as a new recruit still learning the ropes. Being easily able to adapt to the organisation’s culture and work patterns will mean that you will be more like to fit in from the get-go.
Having an experience for a period of living and working overseas will usually boost your confidence. It will make you feel more resilient, as you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and have adapted to your new circumstances.
Confidence is not a personality trait, you are not born confident, it is a learned behaviour. Inner confidence refers to what you are feeling about yourself. Outer confidence is how you are perceived by people out in the world.
By going aboard, you will be able to use the example of your experience overseas at interview. The interview panel are likely to be impressed with that experience (the majority of people do not have an experience of living aboard).
Possessing a high degree of self-awareness means that you know yourself and how you will likely react in any situation. Having put yourself in a situation where you are a visitor to a foreign country, you are more likely to understand what you do and don’t like. You will also understand what situations make you feel stressed.
Talking about yourself confidently at interview, by showing a real understanding of your strengths then this is very likely to impress. The interview panel also want to know that you are confident you can do the job, so by having self-awareness and demonstrating this, it makes the decision to shortlist you that much easier.
Learning a language
It is likely that learning the language might be one of your goals for gaining experience abroad for many of the non-English speaking countries you may visit.
Even if you are largely working in English or your own mother tongue, by living overseas, you will have the chance not only to take classes in the language, but you will also be able to use and absorb it on a daily basis.
In a global economy, languages will always be a useful addition to your CV and LinkedIn profile.
How to gain international experience
There are many ways to gain international experience. The experience that you gain will depend on what stage you are at in your career.
It is not unusual to have a gap year after finishing school. There are many opportunities to get experience abroad.
At this stage you might decide to take up voluntary experience, or just spend time travelling or a mixture of both. It may also be possible to pick up paid work. That might be something you organise before you leave, or that you find on the way e.g. fruit picking, or child minding.
In 2019, a report from the Universities UK Group investigated the advantages that are held by UK domestic students that have had an overseas experience whilst at university.
This has thrown out some interesting statistics:
If you are at university and want to get involved, there are several organised schemes that you might wish to find out more about:
The Turing Scheme
This has replaced the Erasmus+ scheme which ended in 2020. More details can be found on the Turing Scheme website.
Look out for opportunities to study abroad that might be options as part of the degree you are studying.
Gaining virtual international experience
This way you gain international experience and you do not even have to travel. Projects such as ‘Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL)’ enable students to develop their digital skills, at the same time as working in a collaboration that enables them to work closely with global peers.
Some universities in the UK have been engaged in these projects which tend to involve a partnership with an overseas institution, where virtual learning can be hosted and delivered jointly.
There may be other projects like this to look out for at your university or opportunities that you can arrange yourself such as online tutoring.
Organising the experience yourself
There are several options for organising the experience yourself. Below are some ideas:
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL): With an estimated 1.5 billion learners of the English language worldwide, there is a huge demand for native English speakers.
- Au-pair work: Becoming an au-pair gives you a unique opportunity to stay abroad for some time and gain new experiences. It is a cheap way to live, as accommodation and food will be included.
- Leveraging contacts: Do you have any international contacts you might have that could be good sources of information about gaining work or studying experience abroad?
- Opportunities under your nose: If you work for a global organisation already, you might be able to ask if you could transfer overseas for a period.
The following websites provide further information:
- Go Abroad
- The Prospects website has information according to which area/country you are thinking of visiting.
Selling your experience
There are many employers who are directly looking for candidates that have global work experience. Multi-national corporations, where virtual teams work across borders.
Your international experience is something you can talk about at interview. You can use it in examples to highlight the skills you have gained. Other areas to think about when you are selling your experience are:
- Add the experience to your LinkedIn account and post about it there.
- Mention it on other social media accounts
- Keep in touch with the people you have met abroad, either via social media or by other means – can you meet up in-person with any of friends you have made?
- Include the experience in your CV
- Keep up the skills you have gained from your experience (e.g. the language skills).
Having some international experience can be an exciting adventure and there are so many advantages that will increase your employability. I would encourage you to make having some international experience one of your goals for 2023!
Lisa is a registered careers practitioner with the CDI. She has worked as a careers consultant in the NHS and the university sector. She has also trained in Leadership Coaching and is a Certified Associate member of APECS (the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors).