University of Iowa

Connecting Study Abroad to Your Career

Your study abroad experience not only has the potential to bolster your academic life, but your life post-graduation as well (link is external). As globalization is emphasized more and more often in professional fields, so too is having international experience. Thinking about how your own experience will impact your future career before and during your time abroad will help you get the most value out of it in your professional life.

Here are some tips and resources on how to utilize your study abroad experience in a professional context.

Before You Go

Being aware of where your strengths lie beforehand could help you improve upon them while abroad and excel at them in your professional life. The Be Better @ Iowa StrengthsFinder initiative for first-year and incoming students is a great way to figure out how your top Strengths can help you navigate your study abroad experience. Self-reflection is also a great method to determine what you'd truly like to gain from your time abroad. Talking with your academic advisor and/or a study abroad advisor can also help you identify specific personal and professional goals.

Here are some things you can think about/discuss with an advisor:

  • Study abroad program start and end dates and how they align with internship dates and opportunities for graduate and professional applications
  • Whether to focus solely on academics or to build in volunteer, work, or internship experience
  • How an international experience can make you stand out on a resume
  • How an international experience fits in with your professional and personal identity
  • What kinds of experiences you should record for future reflection
  • What cultural/professional lessons you hope to learn

You can also meet with a career advisor in the Pomerantz Career Center prior to departure to discuss how study ties into your future career goals. 

While You're Abroad

After figuring out where you want to go and discussing your aspirations with your advisor, you’re ready to start putting your plan into action! The best way to do this is to keep a journal and record moments during your study abroad experience that could prove helpful on a resume or in a job interview. There are various ways of journaling, so don't feel like the process has to be too tedious. You can write little blurbs or full-length entries in paper journals, blog/vlog about your experiences, create a Google doc to maintain over the course of your program, or use a diary/journaling app such as Penzu. You also might consider becoming a student blogger while abroad, either for International Programs here at the University of Iowa or for your program sponsor (IES and USAC, for example).

Here are some things you might think to note:

  • Challenges you face and overcome
  • Skills and competencies you're developing and how you're developing them
  • Languages you're gaining proficiency/fluency in
  • Key points from conversations/meetings
  • Experiences that improve your cultural awareness/sensitivity
  • Experiences that improve your confidence and sense of independence
  • Notable accomplishments (academic, professional, or personal)
  • How your strengths are being used productively and how they're being challenged

NACE (link is external) (National Association of College Employers) has an annual survey that lists which attributes employers seek out on resumes. Familiarize yourself with these attributes so that, when you record your experiences, you're aware of which ones will look best to a potential employer in the future.

Other things to consider while abroad are: building a network (professional and personal relationships), cultivating your personal brand (link is external), practicing sharing your experiences with others, and seeking out a mentor. Mentors are especially helpful– not only do they serve as teachers and supporters, but also as good references and connections for future academic or job-oriented endeavors.

Returning Home

Returning from your study abroad experience can be difficult, but it also marks the beginning of your new and improved life at home. It doesn't matter if you studied abroad for major/elective credits or if you worked, interned, or volunteered abroad – your international experience can positively impact your future career or application to a graduate program in one way or another.

Here are some resources to help you best integrate your study abroad experience into your future career.

Editing Your Resume/CV and Cover Letter

Study abroad has assuredly taught you many skills, cultural lessons, and ways to exist and operate within a global context, though it might be difficult to effectively translate that onto your resume. Your resume (and cover letter) are the first impression your future employers will have of you, so it's important to make sure you make it a good one. Generally, international experiences are viewed positively by employers (link is external), but it's still important to effectively convey why your experience makes you a great candidate for the position.

Here are some tips to help you record your study abroad experience on professional documents.

Resume/CV

Be sure to list your study abroad experience in the appropriate section of your resume or CV.

  • If it was a study program, consider listing the program in your education section rather than under the activities or experiences section.
  • If the experience included an internship, list it as a professional experience rather than as an activity.
  • If you did an internship/work program but the work was not particularly related to your intended profession, list it under work experience, but concentrate on the cultural aspect of it.
  • If your resume includes a section for skills or proficiencies, include specific skills acquired or improved upon while abroad (languages are usually good to include here).

For more help building your resume/CV, meet with a career advisor in the Career Center.

Cover Letter

Cover letters are specifically geared toward the position for which you are applying, which will make it easier to explain how your experiences abroad have informed and will continue to inform your work in that position. These questions may help you narrow your focus. List specific examples as often as possible.

  • How does your experience abroad relate to this field?
  • What are some transferrable skills?
  • How might your international experience uniquely benefit a professional in this field?

For more help developing a strategy to address study abroad in your cover letter, meet with a career advisor in the Career Center.

More tips for including study abroad experiences on your resume/CV and cover letter can be found on StudyAbroad.com's career information page (link is external).

Job Interviews

Interviews provide the perfect opportunity for you to further delve into your international experience and to best highlight your new skills and knowledge.

Consider sharing examples of how:

  • You set priorities to achieve a desired outcome in your study abroad experience.
  • A situation helped you build your understanding of human motivation, leadership, and teamwork.
  • Your international experience has improved your skills in communication with others.
  • You resolved a conflict or solved a problem, and what personal skills/qualities you used in that situation.

Developing and practicing these responses prior to the real interview is a good idea. If you're having trouble organizing your thoughts into a good interview story, start with this simple format:

  1. Why you chose your program
  2. A story that illustrates a skill being learned/used
  3. A few sentences about how that skill is transferrable to this specific job 

Building a Personal Brand/Network

Everyone has a personal brand, which is used to help market oneself to potential employers and to make connections within your career community. They are perhaps our most important marketing tool (link is external). Even when you're not actively seeking out the next job opportunity, it can still be helpful to build your personal brand and to understand how your study abroad experience fits into it.

Here are some ways to incorporate your international experience into your personal brand/network:

  • Use the information provided on this page to market your study abroad experience to employers/others in your field.
  • Consider the ways in which studying abroad has changed you. Did your goals/career path/cultural awareness/etc. change in any way?
  • If you ran a blog during your time abroad, promote it on social media and use it as an archive for shareable experiences.
  • Keep in touch with those you connected with abroad via email, LinkedIn, etc. Take advantage of those international connections!
  • Edit your LinkedIn profile to reflect your experiences abroad. (If you do not yet have a LinkedIn profile, here are LinkedIn's tips on getting started. (link is external))
  • Share your experiences with others via travel blogs/sites, such as Transitions Abroad (link is external), or even by word of mouth. Each time you share those experiences, you are promoting your brand.