You’ve just returned from a year abroad, a couple months, or maybe a lot longer. You bought that return ticket by choice, or out of necessity, and now it’s time to combine all that you’ve seen, experienced, and done onto a 9 x 11 piece of paper.
How can you package the personal growth? How do you explain the value you bring to an organization because your mind and skill set have been expanded far beyond confining cubicle walls? As our world continues to embrace connection, globalization, and fortunately – travel, the qualities you possess will push you to the top of the resume stack. But, in order to get there, you must capitalize on your growth abroad by presenting the information effectively.
I hear from many friends who come back after a gap year, a study abroad program, or international work experience who don’t really know how to market themselves when they return. I ran into this problem after au pairing in Australia for a year post-college graduation. It was tough to appropriately and effectively frame or market my experience abroad because these powerful learning experiences are hard to summarize on a resume or in a 15-minute call with a recruiter.
So while the titles world explorer, foreign bartender/barista, and Moroccan surf instructor may not be resume-worthy job titles; the skills, experiences, and personal growth you achieved during all these odd jobs matters.
1) Stand out by bringing your story to life
Examples: Open up about the choices you made to travel the world alone or how you took the plunge to travel to a country where you didn’t know a soul. Explain the intricacies of your time abroad, what experiences did you have that shaped your day to day life, or really pushed you past your limits? Frame your experience in a way that shows you deliver on what matters most to that specific company or team.
What is shows: personability, context for the experiences you encountered, creativity
At the heart of any interview, employers want to get to the bottom of what makes you tick. How do you react when things go wrong? How do the experiences you’ve had add up to the person you’ve become, or the team member you will be within their organization? Make sure the skills presented are professional, actionable, tangible, yet personal.
2) Highlight Volunteering Efforts
Examples: My personal examples included teaching yoga at a HareKrishna village in Colombia, and spending time volunteering at local hostels. Other examples include giving your time to local animal shelters, volunteering to teach Thai children English, etc.
What it shows: leadership, cultural understanding, humility, generosity
3) Explain Transferable Skills Learned
Examples: Creating budgets, developing itineraries, creating and planning flight and trip logistics for multiple parties.
What it shows: Adaptability, organization, financial independence, proven ability to take initiative, improved leadership capabilities
No matter how long you have been traveling, or how far you went – you grew and experienced the world on a different frequency. You encountered difficult problems, had to think critically in life-or-death situations, and negotiated with the toughest in the world (the street vendors of Vietnam).
If you make sure to include skills that are appropriate for the desired position, you’ll stand out in a different way.
4) Document Problem-Solving Experiences
Examples: Negotiating, navigating (dare I say without an iPhone or Wifi), handling travel logistics.
What it shows: grit, hustle, grace under pressure
A cultural hire is becoming more and more important these days. Companies are looking for a fresh perspective, and someone with a thriving personality. Traveling by motorbike, getting lost in Indian towns where you don’t speak the language, and the million other problems you ran into and survived show grit; they demonstrate perseverance and an ability to dig through the dirt to find a solution-especially at smaller startups.
A great salesperson is one who overcomes adversity, follows-up like it’s nobody’s business, and is incredibly outgoing. So, the fact that you went back to the border official seven times after he said you couldn’t cross, and then made your case and got let into Cambodia bodes well for your cold calling capabilities.
Do a little stalking on the decision makers of the company. Do their social profiles portray an aura of adventure, does the company encourage travel, or promote events getting outside of your box?
5) Showcase Creative Projects
Examples: Website creation, video, blogging, social media work, portfolio, photography, coding skills, SEO, Google Analytics certificates, etc.
What it shows: Ability to be a digital entrepreneur while traveling around the world, design skills, drive to learn
Did you go any consulting abroad? Did you work or help out at hostels, bars, teaching english, instructing diving, yoga, etc.? All of these show the capability to roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs to be done.
6) Highlight International Experience
Examples: Use bullet points to highlight your specific action activities. Below is my personal example:
- 12 months of travel to Australia, India, Vietnam, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia from September 2014-2015.
- Activities included au pair work at AupairWorld, teaching yoga in India, and volunteer work at Hare Krishna in Colombia.
- Designed and authored a travel blog during these multi-month solo trips. Currently one of leading contributors at Travelettes.com, an internationally acclaimed women’s travel blog.
What it shows: innovative spirit, audacity to experiment, perseverance to travel alone and deal with ambiguities
Your ‘travel’ activities can contribute nearly the same or even outweigh full-time job experience. Don’t underestimate the value of your international experience. Sometimes it can be as simple as navigating the way home from a waterfall in the middle of the jungle, using sign language to communicate your way onto the last bus for the night, or learning the hard way about foreign scams.
Highlight this fresh perspective you bring, as well as the can-do attitude that you will succeed and overcome any problem that comes your way. You’re a traveler at heart, and that means you always hustle.