On average, about 29% of all Smeal students study abroad during their time at Penn State. It is also safe to say that the majority of students will be looking for a job in the future, whether it is immediately after graduation, or later down the road. The large percentage of students who studied abroad often ask themselves: How can I effectively market my study abroad experience to be the most attractive to recruiters?
In order to get inside the minds of recruiters regarding study abroad, we recently surveyed ten companies at the Spring Career Fair at the Bryce Jordan Center. The recruiters we talked to were from a variety of industries, including banking, retail, digital marketing, insurance, healthcare, staffing, transportation, and technology. Despite this industry diversity, they had similar – very interesting – thoughts surrounding our questions:
- How important is study abroad in evaluating a student as a potential employee?
The most common theme uncovered was that the recruiters value study abroad, but it would not be a make or break factor when considering a candidate. Specifically, the recruiter from a bank viewed study abroad as “a bonus… Any extracurricular, including study abroad, shows ambition and leadership.” A technology recruiter appreciated study abroad the most, saying, “I definitely think it’s important because we are such a diverse company, and in a sales role, you may have to travel to different countries.” The employers agreed that although it’s not required, study abroad adds to a resume and shows that the candidate went outside of their comfort zone. Having studied abroad allows you to stand out and may even move you to seek companies that share your open-minded principles.
- What kinds of experiences do you value the most from someone who studied abroad?
The employers expressed that they admire a little of everything, including extracurriculars, foreign language capabilities, internships or jobs, relevant classes, and leadership abroad. The recruiter from a logistics firm said that the most important consideration is, “how they immersed themselves and how they decided to utilize their time there.” A retail employer went further to say that it depends on the role they are seeking. For example, if a candidate is applying for their Merchandise Buyer role, it may demonstrate their interest in the industry if they chose to study abroad in a fashion city, such as Paris or Milan.
Regarding foreign language level, some industries and roles value it more than others. While the technology company holds it to a high regard and says it is especially useful in sales, the bank and digital marketing firm claim that they are not exceptionally language-focused and look for other skills first.
- Which skills do you find that most students who have studied abroad possess that others might not? Or, what stands out most about students who have studied abroad?
Although certain qualities are not exclusive to study abroad students, the recruiters find that many of them strengthen their soft skills, especially initiative and adaptability. The insurance recruiter answered, “they present themselves differently. They’re more confident and adult-like.” Similarly, the employers from the digital marketing company suggested that they’re “independent, have a stronger sense of self, and are more personally developed go-getters.” The recruiters value that many of these candidates possess the ability to work with people of different cultures and work styles.
After considering all this feedback, how do you then leverage your study abroad experience to portray it most effectively to an employer? The simple answer is that it is all about how you frame your time abroad. It’s important to relate your expertise and what you gained from your experience to the role you are applying for. Get to know the industry and position that you’re striving for, then tie in the most relevant aspects of your experience abroad. Whether the most impressive aspects of your time in a different country may be the courses, the extracurricular activities, a global internship, or the soft skills built, recruiters will appreciate your initiative, confidence, and flexibility that you bring into the workplace.