Make It Count! Education with a Purpose Will Drive Your Career.

It is the calling of our generation:  we are being educated for jobs that do not exist yet and will be asked to solve problems that have not been identified yet.  This is a challenge for everyone and an opportunity for the few who embrace this dynamic environment.  So, how can you position yourself to come out ahead? If you study internationally then you are ahead of the pack, however, as the number of students pursuing foreign education increases in correlation to globalization it is no longer enough to simply go overseas. If you want to stand out you have to have a meaningful experience.

Have a Purposeful International Education

The first step is to plan your educational program based on specified goals.  So, let’s work back from these goals and plan accordingly.  With such a competitive work environment you have to make your international experience count to stand out. Sheila Curran, a noted career expert, remarks “education abroad does not inherently endow a career advantage.  It is only perceived as advantageous when the student is able to articulate how she has used that experience to obtain the knowledge, skills and abilities required by the employer.”  Key professional attributes that recruiters are looking for are risk taking, adaptability, and communication competencies.  Framing your international educational experience during an interview as an extended vacation is a sure way to undermine your credentials.

Decide What Type of Experience You Want

So, how to prepare?  Do you want a deep experience with multiple or long term immersions in countries sharing a common language and/or culture? Or, would you prefer a broad experience with multiple study abroad experiences in different languages and cultural settings or by mixing study abroad with foreign internships, volunteer projects or research abroad?

This can be a dynamic decision; you can choose after your first experience whether to continue your studies in a certain country or whether you want to diversify your exposure to languages, cultures, and situations.

Whichever course of action you choose, you will want to hit the ground running when you arrive in your chosen country, this means enrolling in intensive language courses (if your mother tongue is not the official language) and learning about the history, politics and customs of the country before you travel there. Your peers who didn’t take the time to prepare will only be hitting their stride when it is time to return home, while you will have a wealth of experiences to draw from.  This can certainly be a time for calculated risk taking; consider less popular destinations, different languages, different academic courses, etc. The most important thing is to have a goal and to set parameters to evaluate the outcome.

Be Proactive During Your Time Abroad

The students returning from foreign study brimming with excitement, purpose, and ambition are those that recognize that the advantages of an international education are the challenges that define their self-awareness and values. Pushing boundaries helps students find their niche, their message, and what makes them stand out.  So, maintain focus on challenging yourself, pursuing different paths, and being flexible and adaptive in a demanding environment.  Throw in an international internship to enhance your time.  Remember what the goal is: to be able to articulate meaningful experiences.  As Rajesh Setty, a thought-leader in the entrepreneurial space, says: “competence to adapt and deal with complexity and adversity” is the key to success.  Rajesh has been involved in many cutting edge companies in Silicon Valley and knows better than most just how dynamic the corporate world and job market are.  Studying internationally can put you directly in a situation to prove or develop your skills with respect to adapting to complexity and adversity.  Make sure that you are proactive in creating those experiences for yourself, something beyond just partying and sightseeing in your host country, or it will be too late.

Articulate the Benefits of Your Educational Experience for Career Enhancement

Many careers whether in the private, public or non-profit sectors are now globally-facing.  You can expect that at some point in your career you will have foreign co-workers, customers, and/or vendors.  Being able to seamlessly work with everyone will give you a huge advantage.  You do not need to know every language and every custom in every country; you just need to show cultural sensitivity and the ability to adapt. You should be able to point to both of these skills with examples from your international education.  Employers rank communication, interpersonal, and teamwork skills as the most important attributes they are looking for. All of these characteristics can be enhanced by and articulated from your foreign study. Multi-linguistic ability, per se, is highly desirable but not the most important factor (unless a job specifically requires it), but the ability to adapt to ambiguous environments, make decisions, and act based on limited information is critical for career success.

In your career you will need to be responsive as jobs change, problems change, customers change, and technology or methods change.  To be successful you will need to read the environment, stay current in your field, do research, and continue lifelong learning.  Know yourself well enough so that you are ready when an opportunity presents itself.  Foreign study enhances many of these attributes and will set you on a course for success.  Experienced professionals with ten years of experience are still emphasizing the benefits of their international education, long after their undergraduate major and GPA are no longer topics of conversation in interviews.

Final Thoughts

Make your international education count by developing your personal interests and key career and life competencies. Then make sure that your educational plans will provide the evidence you need to articulate these characteristics in your resume and interviews.  Your life will always be subject to a series of external forces that you will not be able to influence and you will always have to adapt to changing circumstances.  Start with international study and do not look back.

[Top image credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock; Second image credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock]

© 2012 StudentRoads. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.


Jeff C.

It absolutely amazes me that such young students and young minds are ready to take up such a challenge. The days of me studying abroad have vanished, but your posting does highlight some key ideas and points that regardless of whether you are going to study abroad, can assist students in being successful. As an educator, I am constantly on the lookout on ways and means to prepare for the future, and while many of my students are adult, and unable to travel, much of the advice you offer is still applicable.

For those who are headed abroad, good on ya!

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