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Talking About Study Abroad

Highlighting Your Experience in an Interview

From the day you stepped on Cornell's campus, you have been building your path to the future. 

Your Cornell education gave you the essential foundations to make the most of your time abroad. And now returning home, study abroad has deepened your academic understanding and helped you gain important life skills—critical thinking, problem solving and flexibility—that will distinguish you long after your time abroad. 

Nearly every large organization has an international component, and your time abroad will set you apart as an ideal candidate for many of these positions. 

Below are a few findings from research with employers planning to hire recent graduates. 

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills

Many study abroad graduates are shocked to find just how essential this experience was to their career. 

Much research shows that employers often value "soft skills" in new employees as much or more than technical skills. These soft skills include: 

  • Ability to work in a team 

  • Effective interpersonal communication 

  • Ability to learn new ideas quickly 

  • Ability to embrace differences 

  • Ability to identify, define and solve problems 

Many essential skills can be gained abroad.

A recent study by the Institute of International Education asked over 4,500 returnees what skills were gained from their time abroad. Among the top skills gained were: 

  • Intercultural skills 

  • Flexibility and adaptability 

  • Curiosity 

  • Confidence  

  • Self-awareness 

  • Interpersonal skills  

  • Communication 

Study abroad strengthens your personal brand.

You have a personal brand—whether you are aware of it or not. Your brand is how present yourself to others, giving them an idea of your individual strengths and skills. When cultivated intentionally, your personal brand can be a powerful tool to help you display the value you bring to your peers and colleagues, your community and your future workplace. 

Each of you has many amazing stories to tell about your time abroad. These are stories your interviewers and employers want to hear. However, you need to make sure you are telling the correct story. 

An Important Exercise: REFLECT on your time abroad to talk about it competently.

There are ways to talk effectively about your time abroad, and others that are much less effective. Most employers won't care how many countries you visited. They'll want to know about the skills you gained during your time abroad. 

To help with your reflections: 

  1. Get a pen and paper. 

  1. Write down your experiences as if you’re talking with someone. 

  1. Shift to action verbs (a starting list can be found here). 

  1. Group related ideas to make one final sentence. 

Example: 

  • lived with a host family 

  • learned about Turkish culture, especially family dynamics 

  • improved my Turkish language skills 

Turns into: 

  • Developed basic Turkish language skills and broadened cultural knowledge by living with Turkish host family for six months. 

Then ask yourself: 

  • What did you learn from a particular challenge abroad? How did this experience, for example, help you develop problem-solving skills? 

  • What interpersonal qualities are the company looking for? What are two or three stories from your time abroad that illustrate that you have these qualities? 

  • Reflect on ways in which you used your strengths abroad to be successful. Share these examples with prospective employers. 

 

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