CV Advice for Year Abroad students and graduates
Considering how fantastic studying and working abroad is, not only as a life experience, but also as a CV-booster, it's quite incredible how many people hide it away at the bottom of page 2 when applying for jobs. We've put together this guide to help you to incorporate your international experience into your CV, without breaking a sweat. Now go forth and conquer the world!
1. Studying Abroad
If you studied abroad, you should include it under the 'Education' section of your CV. Don’t just list the name of the university and the dates you were there, but also include a few key details in bullet points:
- What classes you took
- Whether you achieved fluency in another language
- The grades you achieved (unless they're better forgotten about!)
- And skills acquired (especially those relevant to the position you’re applying for)
Study Abroad: Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain (2013-14)
Specialised in 20th century Spanish History and Politics. Demonstrated willingness to take risks through enrolment in Spanish-speaking curriculum. Gained fluency in Spanish language and culture. Completed a group project on women in the post-Franco era.
You could also list your year abroad under an ‘Experience’ section, again including some of the skills you’ve acquired or any notable academic projects and achievements.
Study Abroad: Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain (2013-14)
Learned to establish rapport quickly with individuals in an unfamiliar environment. Developed culturally appropriate questionnaire. Interviewed 25 Spanish women, overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers. Analysed data using Spanish software and wrote final report in Spanish.
Yet to leave for your year abroad?
Remember, studying abroad gives you the unique opportunity to dip into brand new subjects - make sure you take advantage of it! Not only will it demonstrate a broad range of interests, but it also shows prospective employers that you are willing to try new things and are flexible and open-minded. Plus, you might discover a hidden passion that changes the direction of the rest of your life! Quite important then.
2. Working Abroad
If you have worked or done an internship abroad, you'll probably want to list this under 'Experience' - or under 'Work', 'Employment', or whatever else you've decided to title that particular section! Keep it relevant though.
As with studying abroad, make sure you list a few crucial highlights of your time working abroad; e.g. what your main responsibilities were and which skills you developed in the role. This allows you to demonstrate how your time abroad has helped you to grow as an individual and makes it very clear why the experience would benefit a prospective employer.
English Language Assistant, Instituto Pastor Rey, Madrid, Spain (Sep 2013 - May 2014)
Assisted teacher with class of 32 13-year old Spanish children. Supported and enhanced students’ knowledge of English language and culture using a range of media and materials. Developed planning, time management and organisational skills. Improved Spanish language and communication skills. Learnt to overcome obstacles and deal with the unexpected, gaining flexibility and creativity when problem solving.
As you would with any other work experience, play down any negative aspects of your time abroad, such as ‘job hopping’, as this can come across as indecisiveness or unreliability (unless, of course, there's a clear reason for it, such as moving countries!).
If you happened to try out a variety of jobs during your time abroad, don't panic! Remember, you don’t have to include every job you’ve ever done, so emphasise the ones that are most appropriate to the position you’re applying for, in particular those jobs you've undertaken in a foreign language for a minimum of two weeks.
Alternatively, you could create a section entitled ‘Overseas Experience’ with the overall dates you were away. Then list the names of the companies you worked for underneath, without putting the specific dates when you worked there. This shows off your work experience without giving the impression that they were all short stints.
Make sure you get a reference from your employer before you return to the UK! This is essential, as it will be a lot more difficult to get a reference from them once you leave! They can always be translated if necessary. If you feel able, ask your employer to focus on specific skills and benefits you brought to the organisation so that the reference is as useful to you as possible.
Don’t just think about what you did whilst you were away, but think about all the ‘soft’ skills the year abroad has given you (believe me, there will be plenty!).
We're not just talking about mastering a new language (although that is a fantastic strength to emphasise). Employers want evidence of adaptability, communication skills and the ability to solve complex problems - exactly what a year abroad should teach you!
Not sure if that's you?
Moving to a new country, finding a flat, sorting out a mobile phone, bank account and internet access, (potentially) attempting to master a new language but certainly adapting to a new culture, introducing yourself to strangers over and over again... These are typical year abroad challenges that give you skills such as confidence, self-reliance, cultural sensitivity, resilience, flexibility, tolerance, patience, enthusiasm, initiative, determination and the ability to take risks and work under pressure - to name a few!
These are all skills which are attractive to a prospective employer and so it is ESSENTIAL that you emphasise at least a few of them in your CV and Cover Letter.
Your travel experience is also an asset; graduate recruiters like to see that you have a global awareness (especially if they have offices abroad) and travelling demonstrates this. You might consider listing the countries you've visited in a 'Skills' section, as 'International Travel Experience'. Of course, you have to be careful that it doesn’t come across as boasting!
Top Tips for the 'Skills' Section:
- DO consider calling it 'Global Skills'.
- DO make sure you tailor your CV to fit the job you’re applying for - highlight the key words, skills and traits on the Job Description and think about how you can shape your CV accordingly.
- If you kept a blog of your year abroad experiences (or even wrote for online publications like TYA!) then DON'T forget to mention it! A blog provides evidence of your writing skills and commitment to a task (as long as you kept it up!), plus the Digital Sector is a big graduate recruiter and a blog proves that you're comfortable using content management systems and social media.
- Didn’t do an internship or volunteer abroad? It’s likely you got involved with at least one thing besides your studies whilst you were there - did you join a club, tutor, play sports or work on a project? DO include it!
- DON'T lie about your language skills - you could be in for a nasty surprise if your interviewer attempts to start a conversation in Spanish when the only words you know are 'fiesta' and 'Antonio Banderas'.
- DO make it sound fun! You didn't spend your whole year abroad slaving away in an office or sitting in lecture halls (and if you did, I'm very sorry to tell you that you did it wrong and should go back and do it again immediately). Your year abroad adventures prove that you're not only a model employee, but would also be fun to work with!
Remember that if you big up your experiences abroad on your CV, you will almost certainly be asked about it in interview - but this is a good thing! It's something you can talk about fluently, enthusiastically and passionately, which is just what an employer wants to be livened up by at the end of a day of boring interviews.
One of the best things about a year abroad is that it provides you with a ready-made answer to all those awkward interview questions.
When did you overcome a challenge?
Remember when upstairs' bathroom leaked, the ceiling caved in and you had to deal with firemen, plumbers and your landlady's insurance people, all in a foreign language? Or when the school teacher you worked with as a Language Assistant called in sick so you had to come up with a lesson plan for 29 German twelve-year olds on the spot? These are fantastic examples!
What are you most proud of?
When someone asked if you were from [insert your year abroad destination here] when they heard your accent? Or when you hitchhiked from A to B? Or the difference between your language skills when you made your first business call at work in German, to closing the deal in your last week?! Or doing an online TEFL course, advertising to find your own tutees, and conducting paid lessons, with one great success story?!
Be ready with some examples and stories to back up your key skills and you’re bound to impress at interview.
5. International Jobs
Want to apply for a job abroad? Remember you’ll not only need to submit a translated CV, but will also have to present your application in a manner suitable for the conventions of that particular country.
- How to write your CV in German
- How to write your CV and cover letter in Spanish
- How to write your CV and cover letter in French
If you're set on working in a particular country, why not consider using a professional translator? You need to be sure that your CV reads fluently and a stupid spelling mistake or grammatical error could jeopardise your chances of getting the job. You could always have a go at translating it yourself before getting a native speaker to look over it for you.
A native speaker can also be a gift when you're trying to familiarise yourself with the conventions of a particular country. For example, in the US, it’s normal to submit a photo with your resume and not including one can lead to your application being rejected before the employer has even glanced at your meticulously-crafted CV. Avoid being caught out and do your research, with the help of a native speaker, or even a trusty search engine. There is more info on translating your CV in our Work Abroad section, but you could also have a go at creating your own Europass CV and European Skills/Language Passport - a free online platform offered by the European Commission to help you express your skills, grades and experiences in an EU-wide accepted/understood format.
For more advice on applying for international jobs, check out this article from All About Careers!
Have any lingering questions? You can always ask for advice from students and seasoned professionals.