Beyond Amazing and Awesome: Crafting Your Passport of Skills
From Career Services - September 28, 2012
For many of you there has existed an opportunity (which you took advantage of) to engage in an international experience of some kind. Whether it was for personal travel, studying abroad, interning or working abroad, or service-work oriented – you have ultimately developed a unique set of skills and qualities that can aid you in marketing yourself for future job opportunities. When asked about our international experience most of us tend to respond with either, “…it was awesome” or “…it was amazing.” While this certainly may have been the case, future employers will be looking for more; an opportunity for YOU to showcase the skills you acquired abroad and how they will serve as an asset for them. Outlined below are a few tips on how to take your international experience to a depth well beyond “amazing and awesome.”
When it comes to assessing and analyzing any experience, one must first reflect upon that experience. Here are a few questions to help you begin to reflect on your international experience:
- From my international experience…What changes in myself have I identified (e.g. my values, outlook, attitude and/or abilities)?
- From my international experience…I experienced new cultures. One strategy that was really helpful in learning how to interact with people from another culture was?
- From my international experience…I have clarified what is important to me (e.g. who I am, who I want to be, and what I want to accomplish). For instance…
- From my international experience…I had to learn how to adapt. One change that was really hard for me to adapt to in my host culture was?
- From my international experience…I gained a better perspective on global issues. One social issue (local or global) that I learned more about is?
Once you have gone through the reflection process, the next step is to begin to think about what type of position/job function you would most like to target. This is what we call “career profiling”. Start by naming the type of position and/or job function you can see yourself in, followed by the type of organization you feel you would thrive in the most (e.g. government, non-profit, for-profit, hospital or clinic, agency or firm, etc.). Next, determine a list of skills and qualities you feel are necessary for a person to be successful in the position you are targeting. This may require you to review sample job postings – such as those here – or to conduct an informational interview with a professional in the type of position you are targeting. For tips on conducting information interviews, click here. Lastly, try and detail out a typical day in the life of a person in your targeted position. Describe the various daily activities they are responsible for and the percentage of time spent per day on each.
DETERMINING YOUR SKILLS
Now that you have identified the skills and qualities to be successful in the type of position or job function you are seeking, it is now time to assess your own skills. When it comes to an international experience, there are several possible outcomes one may take away from their experience. These could include, but are not limited to:
- Establishing rapport quickly; and/or being able to learn through active listening and observation
- Functioning with a high level of integrity and/or ambiguity; accepting responsibility
- Achieving goals despite obstacles; and/or handling stressful or difficult situations
- Taking initiative and risks; and/or being able to adapt to new environments
- Identifying and solving problems; and/or being able to communicate despite barriers
- Other Skills: time management, organization, team work, leadership, research, community engagement, creativity, teaching, managing
- Qualities: Self-reliance, Appreciation of diversity, Perseverance, Flexibility, Assertiveness, Inquisitiveness, Tolerance/Open-mindedness, Self-confidence, Independence, Self-awareness
Once you have identified a set of skills and qualities acquired from your international experience, you can then compare this list with the list you developed through the “career profiling” process; the skills and qualities you’ve determine to be successful in your targeted position. What percentage are a fit? Which ones are not a fit? Despite the outcome, most of these skills and qualities are transferable to almost any employer/position. For instance, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the following are the top 10 skills employers are seeking: Communication; Integrity; Interpersonal; Technical; Analytical; Initiative; Adaptability; Work Ethic; Detail-oriented; and Teamwork.
MARKETING YOUR SKILLS
Like your other experiences (e.g. work, internships/field experience, residencies/fellowships, volunteer, etc.), you will be asked to draw upon your experiences and provide examples of how and when you used or acquired a particular skill set. Most of these questions will come in the form we refer to as behavioral interview questions (i.e. Tell me about a time when… or Describe a situation where…). When answering such questions, recruiters (or interviewers) are looking for concise and descriptive responses. Thus, we recommend using the STAR technique:
S – Describe the specific setting or situation for which the experience took place.
T – Describe the specific task or project related to the skill asked about.
A – Describe the specific steps or actions you took to complete the task or project.
R – Describe the results or outcomes resulting from the actions taken.
For example:Tell me about a time when you dealt with a conflicting situation.
During the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to complete a public health field experience in Spain, in which I studied epidemiology and lived in a homestay environment. From this situation, I learned to consider and respect different viewpoints and that it is possible to become very close to people with very different opinions than my own. At first, it was a bit of a strain to communicate fully with just about anyone in the household. The host mother was sweet and used a lot of sign language with me. My host sister did speak a bit of English, but it was my host father who wanted to talk the most with me, and at first I was very challenged by my developing language skills. Even more challenging was that he wanted to engage me in discussions on world politics, especially about the U.S. foreign policy. He wasn’t happy about the U.S. influence in the world and asked me questions that honestly, I wasn’t prepared to answer. I felt ignorant with my limited language skill and by not knowing the specifics about the foreign policies of my own country. I faced the challenge head-on: I made a point to read the Spanish newspaper each day so that I could acquire both the knowledge and the vocabulary. Over time, I got pretty good at being able to engage in discussion with him. We had quite different viewpoints on a number of things, but his approach was not to insult but to challenge me respectfully. I respect him for this, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see political disclosure as an exercise in learning and not demeaning anyone. I am very close with everyone in my homestay and remain in touch with them today.
In addition to interviewing, you can also market your international skill sets in your resume, curriculum vita, and cover letter; in your social media profiles (e.g. LinkedIn); in your blog; or through outreach and networking opportunities such as informational interviews, professional associations and conferences, and community service.
Despite the type of international experience you’ve had, if you take time to reflect, profile and outline yourself – your future – and your skills, your marketability for future employment opportunities will be enhanced. For further assistance, please visit the Office of Career Services in the School of Public Health.