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Careers after studying abroad

Date of publishing: 2016.09.22     Published by Attila M.

Study abroad career impact

Recently your parents have been asking question about what you will work and also you have this feeling that life is a bit different, because it is time to prove that your study abroad program was not for nothing: you have to find a job and get started with your life.

Once upon a time you were thinking about the advantages of studying abroad. Probably you figured that international education is a great chance to boost your language skills and improve your international career opportunities. Also you hoped for various educational benefits, a decent amount of air miles bonus (i.e. traveling), networking and some fun in your target country.

In this section we discuss the positive impacts of study abroad programs from the professional angle and take a look at your international and domestic opportunities after you studied in a foreign country. You will find helpful details on:

  • how can studying abroad support job search,
  • how to get started with landing a dream job,
  • what employers require and how to sell your global experience,
  • how can you stand out when applying for a job.

How does study abroad help your career?

  1. Most employers think that international experience is essential.
  2. International students get a 25% higher starting salary on average.
  3. Higher rate of acceptance into graduate school or doctorate programs.
  4. 97% of international students find a job within a year after graduation.
  5. Fortune 1000 executives find studying abroad to be a good investment.
  6. International students are more satisfied due to their clearer career goals.
  7. Unique insights into the local culture and a better understanding of the world.

You walked the extra mile, you have the right to expect above the average salary at a top company.

Studying abroad may reshape professional goals

You had a rock solid life plan, but your international experience just washed it away – in a good sense tough. How can this be? Studying abroad acts as a natural catalyst to:

  • tap into your hidden resources that lead to a breakthrough in your field
  • look at your sought career path from a different angle
  • refocus your interest to border sciences
  • explore unfamiliar professional areas
  • wake up the entrepreneur inside
  • think global forever
  • personal growth

It goes without saying that whenever you turn the wheel of your life a degree to the right or left, your overall career path may go through dramatic changes. It is all okay, as long as you thought through all your options and your new life plans make sense from the professional and personal aspects equally.

However you can never be sure whether reorganizing your professional plans is the best thing to do. It is obviously risky to change anything in life, because we like to keep what is already in our possession, let it be experience, network or status in a given field. On the other hand a missed opportunity may lead to constant stress in your life. International education can trigger radical changes in your professional interest that naturally influences your career choice as well. So here is a study abroad career lifehack.

Ask yourself the following questions to compare your professional alternatives:

  1. What offers the best professional potential in the longer run?
  2. How could you apply your experience and skills in a new field?
  3. What is a better fit for your personality?
  4. What makes you - and the people you love - happy?

In case most of your answer are in favor of preserving the status quo, then you are not ready to take the risks of substantial changes in your life. However if the career changes allow you to better exploit your personal and professional strengths, reduce inner stress and simply make you happier in the long run, well, then you know what to do.

Plan your global career

Maybe you graduate next year only, you want to go to graduate school or go on with a PhD program or you're done with your studies: you have to make plans for the future regarding your profession.

  • learn about your personality, write down your strengths and weaknesses
  • understand your professional strengths and weaknesses
  • decide about the destination: domestic (at a multi) or international
  • define your professional interest: industry and type of organization
  • align your personal and professional strengths with your professional interest
  • set up a timeline: get started with a job search months before graduation

Where should you work abroad?

You decided that you apply for an international job opportunity, that took some courage. Most likely you already have some destinations in mind (maybe it's your study abroad host country), but you have to collect information about:

  • working visa restrictions
  • apartment finding, public safety
  • required foreign languages
  • cost of living in the host country
  • salary range and career advancement opportunities
  • host culture and working ethics
  • local labor market
  • experience of fellow expats in the target country

Sell your international experience

You invested a lot of money in studying abroad, so find a job that lives up to your potential.

Besides the professional experience, hiring managers value the skills you acquired in an intercultural setting and that can be easily transferred to any work place. These are the so called transversal skills that forecast your potential at any workplace, such as your ability to:

  • quickly integrate into a new environment,
  • apply your host country specific culture knowledge,
  • use your foreign language skills on a professional level,
  • take the initiative when it is needed,
  • learn new things time after time,
  • communicate effectively in an intercultural team,
  • solve unexpected problems.

You may have volunteered at a university department, in a student association, did a consulting project or did an excellent work on a class project. On a job interview you have to be ready to talk about 2-3 major projects from your study abroad program. Any project can be okay, as long as it can be connected to one of the skills listed above. Tell them how you contributed to the success of the project and how your international experience improved your skills that are appreciated at your potential workplace.

Be the one in a million

Many students think that international education is a universal, one size fits all solution to pursue an international career. After all, employers adore candidates who took the initiative to move to another country for a semester or more. Yes, most likely you improved your cross-cultural competence, foreign language skills, confidence, flexibility and all things considered you have become a better person.

Surely your study abroad experience gives you an edge when applying for domestic or international job opportunities alike, but let us kindly remind you that there are over 5 million international students studying abroad every single year. You will face tough competition in the job market if you want to get the best offers from top recruiters. International education does not make you a rare breed anymore, at best it gets you in the door to have a personal interview. Be confident, but do not overestimate the importance of your study abroad experience, because on the job interview it might come off as bragging. Be objective, ambitious, give the necessary details, but a bit of modesty won't hurt either.

International resume writing

Your resume is usually enough to get you an interview. But no more. If there is a tough competition, your motivational letter gives you a chance to tell your story and show your personality – enough for the hiring committee to choose your CV from the pile.

So how does study abroad help your career?

You have to flex some 'international muscle' in your CV the smart way in order to impress top recruiters and headhunting agencies – that is particularly true if you pursue an international job opportunity. Let's see how:

  1. use action verbs, bulletpoints, concise and concrete examples
  2. display the elements of your international experience that are relevant to the position
  3. what is recommended and what is required – follow the wishlist of the employer
  4. proofread: correct contact info, well-flowing text, no grammar mistakes

Don't give up on your dream job or career path after a couple of rejections. Start from the best possible and lower the bar if necessary, but do not settle for something you don't want to do.

Reach out for help

You made some plans, so at least you have the target industry where you imagined your future career.

Asking for help from people you know

If you took the time to maintain your international connections, you can ask for help from:

  • alumni
  • international office
  • career office
  • academic adviser
  • closer local and international professors
  • closer local and international friends

Maybe they can connect you with the exact person, a past student who faced the same problem, the hiring manager of a corporate partner, a headhunting agency, student or professional associations. If none of these options work out for you, then what? Look further, reheat older friendships and make new personal and professional connections. Networking online is easy, but there are some rules to that. If you send an online message like 'Hey! How are you? Can you help me to find a job in the field of…?' to someone you haven't talked in ages, well, most likely you won't get any answer. Some will help, so then at least show some genuine interest and do follow up your conversation later – otherwise you just exploited someone.

LinkedIn for networking

LinkedIn is on the rise and it is designed to build your professional network by connecting with unknown people who have similar professional interest. You don't need to engage on the emotional level like you did with your friends and acquaintances, but you may have to message dozens to get some answers. A single sample text won't cut it, people know if you sent them a copy. Take the time to read through their profiles and approach them with a personalized message. Reading their profiles you can also better see if there is a real chance to form a mutually beneficial professional connection.

Keep it simple, casual and to the point. You need one paragraph about your background, one about your career plans and one last section about your question to them. Since you read their profiles, you are able to outline some of their achievements that made you think they are the best to connect with. Done the right way, you will enjoy multiple rewards for your efforts: more people will take the time to answer and they can better understand how can they help you.

Flesh out your LinkedIn profile: list your skills and move them to the top, join professional and alumni groups to see where past students work and find opinion leaders on the fields of your interest and contact them for guidance. Do not push for a direct hire immediately, you better seek for professional advice regarding your career path.

International career examples

'I studied abroad for 3 years in 2 countries, also I did a brief summer internship while I was studying abroad. It was really intense. During all these years I changed the focus of my career literally in every semester. I was toying with the idea of learning sales, marketing, strategy or finance and had 3 business ideas, until I finally made up my mind: I want a combination of all. I decided to build my own business and do the marketing, get into website making and content creation, plus I planned the strategy and financials of my future business. I am convinced that I got all the energy, motivation and skills from the semesters spent in different countries. I was inspired by the global opportunities and I understood that the world today is so small, that it would be a mistake to miss the opportunity to build a global business. It took time yes, but I am happy that I made these decisions. No matter how much struggle I've been through, it was all worth it. Now that I see the bigger picture I also understand that my journey has not ended, it is just getting started. Studying abroad gave it a kick start.'

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Careers after studying abroad