3 ways your students can market their study abroad experience

Emily Arnim, staff writerEmily Arnim, Staff Writer

After my semester abroad in Spain, I was certain I had grown as a person and developed skills indispensable to both my education and my life going forward. But I wasn’t sure how to convey that to others—especially during interviews.

It's true that employers value study abroad experience in prospective employees, especially in recent grads and entry-level candidates. A 2016 study demonstrates that more than 80% of employers seek candidates with soft skills­—such as leadership, teamwork communication, and problem-solving skills. And a separate study shows that employers—CEOs and HR professionals alike—believe that studying abroad generally enhances those skills.

But homebound students don't always realize they've acquired desirable skills. And they’re often stumped when it comes to communicating what they learned abroad when it matters most—during interviews.

Learn more: 7 ways students can build in-demand skills while studying abroad

Advisors can help students market their study abroad experience by emphasizing desired learning outcomes before students travel abroad and helping them recap their experience when they return. Here's what to do before, during, and after the trip to help students relate their experience to potential employers.

Before: Encourage students to make a plan for building skills

Students should study abroad to enhance their academic experience in their chosen major. Before sending them off, encourage students to consider the types of skills they hope to develop abroad and how those skills will make them more competent students and more desirable candidates in the future.

Both Middlebury College and the University of Virginia (UVA) require students to write a pre-study abroad application essay for this very purpose. UVA also requires students to create an action plan that includes practical steps to attain the skills and competencies they wish to learn.

"Not only does this help the student later explain to employers the value of their study abroad experience, but it primes the student to seek out relevant, high-impact activities abroad and reflect on the experience's connection to their major throughout," EAB's Colin Koproske explains.

During: Prompt students to reflect on the skills they've learned

Connecting real-life experiences to abstract skills and competencies requires some introspection. The University of Kentucky urges students to journal while abroad to not only record meaningful experiences, but also to reflect upon those experiences and become more self-aware of new skills and abilities.

And the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire asks students to write reflective essays upon their return to campus, which helps students position their experiences abroad within the larger context of their academic understanding and knowledge.

Encourage students to consider which experiences they can match to the skills employers care about most. For example, a student who worked on a group project with students from different cultures could discuss the teamwork and collaboration skills involved.

After: Guide students through telling their story

While fun travel stories and discussions of local cultural life are great for friends and family, students need to be able to communicate the specific knowledge and skills they gained in ways that potential employers will appreciate. Encourage students to emphasize specific learning outcomes, using concreate examples that concisely illustrate their new skills—and, if applicable, how those skills relate to the position they are interviewing for.

Students should practice telling their abroad story and be prepared to bring up their experience whether the interviewer prompts them to or not.  UVA career services suggests advisors and career counselors conduct mock interviews to help students nail their delivery (Koproske, EAB, 9/7/17;  Trooboff/Vande Berg/Rayman, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, accessed 4/27; UVA Career Services site, accessed 4/27).

Keep reading: Tips to close the gap between student aspiration and achievement

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How one college helps liberal arts grads find purpose—and good jobs

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