Approaches and strategies that individuals use to advance or start their careers vary. Today, many rely on internet-based searching and applying for jobs. There are a large number of websites and databases that one can explore. Most everyone is familiar with sites such as CareerBuilder.com and Indeed.com. Other sites are less well-known and might specialize in a particular line of work, such as careers in the nonprofit sector. Idealist.org comes to mind.
For others, a more intimate strategy works best. This often is a better approach for mid-career professionals who might work with headhunters and through their informal networks. LinkedIn, which offers more targeted means, is often good for professionals who are moving up in their fields.
For those just starting out, having an opportunity to explore careers with those who’ve had similar experiences in an intimate one-on-one environment is valuable. This is particularly the case when the backgrounds of those gathered are similar and when they can relate to each other’s anxiety and uncertainty. A career fair for recent (and often younger) veterans is a good example. The employers present can tailor their offerings to those attending. And related services — like resume writing for those with military experience — can be offered.
Recently, I participated in a Career Connections seminar funded by the U.S. State Department and implemented by its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Partners of the Americas, a Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental entity that works on improving conditions for those living in North and South America. Held in Los Angeles, the program was a three-day gathering for those who’ve participated in U.S.-government-supported work and study abroad programs including the Fulbright Program and the Peace Corps.
Upon returning from living or working abroad, many students and young professionals look for opportunities to apply their experience to their careers. A common value of many who engage in international experiences is the desire to improve conditions around the world and give back. As I wrote in a previous article, an international experience can help people hone valuable skills and aptitudes that can be used in the work world.
Nearly a hundred alumni of government-sponsored exchange programs attended the Career Connections seminar to learn from peers and senior experts about how to find work. Those attending were seeking direction that would get them started. I talked at lunch with attendees who shared similar stories of learning much abroad but now felt lost in how to apply it. There were sessions on networking, developing a resume, interviewing and ways in which they can apply their experiences to their professional lives.
I’ve noticed that many who are exploring their career options have a tendency to overcomplicate the process. They too often focus on minutiae rather than the big picture. At the seminar, I asked participants to envision where they wanted to be in five years. What steps do you need to take to get there? Envisioning where you want to be can be an important motivator in career exploration.
I also emphasized the basics of looking for work. While you need to be organized, such organization can take different forms. Rely on what has worked for you in the past. Are you a list maker? Then make a written list of things you need to do every day, and put it on your refrigerator. Do you organize by using reminders on your phone? Then set up a system to remind you about what you need to to do.
It’s important to invest in yourself while you’re looking for work as well. This can mean eating healthy and exercising, or it can mean taking a foreign language course.
When it comes to connecting and communicating with potential employers, make sure to give them examples that demonstrate the skills and abilities you developed during your time abroad. An international experience offers the chance to build confidence, develop a level of resilience and use creative approaches in navigating a different culture. These are important attributes that most employers seek in a worker.
On your resume, curriculum vitae or LinkedIn profile, clearly identify your experience abroad. It can help draw employers’ attention and very likely will be something they ask about. An easy way to highlight your time abroad on your resume is to mention it in an objectives statement at the top. Using words in your LinkedIn headline like “globally educated” can also attract positive attention.
Cover letters are good places to mention what you learned while abroad too. Cover letters offer a chance to tell potential employers who you are, while your resume is more focused on what you’ve done. In your cover letters, you can share your interest in learning about new cultures and taking on new challenges where skills drawn from your experiences can be applied, as well as your passion for diversity.
Perhaps the best opportunity to share the impact of your time abroad is during an interview. Beforehand, consider the work of the company or organization. In what ways can you highlight something that you learned overseas that can be an asset to the firm? For instance, recall an uncomfortable situation abroad that you navigated well — say you were stereotyped as an American but were able to delicately and diplomatically correct the person making the generalization. Show the employer how this type of finesse would be beneficial to their environment. Storytelling is an ideal way to share a situation where you were able to employ important “in the moment” skills and aptitudes.
If you’re looking for additional insights on how to apply your experience abroad to your career, connecting with those who’ve had similar experiences can be helpful. Learning collectively about career paths can help you identify the skills and attributes that you’ve gained.
If you’re a senior professional who’s lived or worked abroad, then consider sharing how your own experiences abroad got you to where you are today. This can be a transformational opportunity both for you and those looking to you for guidance.