The value of international work experience
Between 2016 and 2018, the number of United States citizens holding a passport grew exponentially, from fewer than 20% to over 40%.
It’s difficult to track just how those passport holders are spending their time overseas. But given the scarcity of passport holders in general, it’s safe to assume that those with international work experience have something unique to highlight to prospective employers – whether they’re embarking on a job search for the first time or making a career change.
Further reading: How to choose the right internship to boost your career
What is international work experience?
International work experience allows a person to gain skills and grow professionally within a specific field or occupation.
It is a term that is used to encompass a wide variety of experiences, both paid and unpaid. While many people engage in at least one of these types of experiences in the US, comparatively few do so internationally.
Each type serves a different purpose, is targeted at people with varying levels of experience, and can be done for different lengths of time.
What do employers think of international experience?
What employers think of international experiences depends on what type of experience it is. According to Frontiers (an interdisciplinary journal of study abroad experiences) employers consider multiple factors.
Length of experience
Longer experiences are better, as they allow you to get to know the company or organisation.
You’ll have time to get to grips with your role and immerse yourself in the local culture. It will also allow you to dive deeper into a project, take on more responsibility, and have a greater impact.
Relevance of placement
While it may still be an impactful experience, it will be more difficult to demonstrate the relevance of that experience to prospective employers than an experience based around promoting community health.
Location of placement
Depending on your area of interest, where you go matters.
For example, structural engineers might consider going to the Middle East for a placement, and those interested in finance might consider hubs like Hong Kong.
Uniqueness of placement
Are you playing it safe by working in a familiar place?
Getting out of your comfort zone by going somewhere different to what you’re used to is a bonus.
Further reading: Why I regret not taking a gap year.
How employers view international experience
Despite roughly 60% percent of employers citing a favourable view of international experiences, there are still some employers who do not view international work experiences in as positive a light. There are a few reasons for this.
First, participating in international experiences like gap years is a relatively new thing in the US.
While gap years and international work experiences have been popular and common in places like the UK and Australia for years, these types of experiences are just starting to gain popularity in the US.
Many employers have yet to catch up and move beyond the mentality that international experiences are just a way for people to delay “real life”.
This is also true of study abroad experiences. Some employers view it as academic tourism where the students do little more than go to class, travel and have a good time.
That leads us to the second reason why some employers don’t value international experiences: the inability of students, interns, employees and volunteers to translate their experiences to the roles they’re seeking.
Making your experience relevant is paramount. Rather than writing, “studied abroad in Cape Town” on your resume, be more specific.
What did you do? Did you lead a project? Did you learn a language? Did you work alongside and problem-solve with international students? What barriers did you overcome? Did you get involved in the community beyond your academic studies?
Further reading: How to describe volunteer experience in a CV or job interview
Just how valuable is international work experience?
Make no mistake: international work experience is invaluable. It shows employers that you are adventurous, curious, and eager to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
The reasons employers look for international experiences will vary, but here are five benefits of international work experience to highlight on your resume.
Moving somewhere completely new is not an easy task, especially if there’s a language barrier involved.
Doing so shows not only that you are a risk-taker, but that you can adapt to and thrive in new and changing environments.
Having to solve problems can be a challenge for anyone. But having to do so in a country with different customs, social norms, and regulations? That requires learning, adaptability, and thinking outside of the box.
You will then home with a new perspective on how to solve problems in local businesses or organisations.
Having a successful international work experience means adapting to different cultures and customs.
As many companies and organisations open themselves up to international markets and work to address global issues, the ability to work across cultures will become incredibly important.
It is highly unlikely that those willing to take the leap and participate in some sort of international work experience are not self-sufficient.
It takes time, energy and patience to plan a valuable experience, and to get around once in a new country. This might involve navigating new laws, customs, foods and languages. Being able to do so largely independently is a major plus.
Further reading: One skill every 21st century student should have and how to get it
In an ever-increasingly global economy, the importance of international experience cannot be overstated.
It is not only an experience that, if done thoughtfully, will set you apart from the competition, but it will prepare you to be successful in whatever field you are interested in.
So do your research, plan carefully, and don’t be afraid to bring your experience to your next interview!
Feel ready to start making an impact? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development,and conservation projects worldwide.
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