International networking - how and why to do it

By Martin Tillman
Published February 4, 2013

In my article, “The Right Tool for the Job” for the NAFSA International Educator magazine, I wrote:

While employers believe job applicants with education abroad experiences are most likely to possess the skill sets they seek in their employees, they do not value education abroad – or related international experiences – for its own sake. Employers are, however, actively interested in whether or not a job applicant demonstrates that as a result of their experiences abroad, they have developed the requisite skills and sensitivity that makes them stand out as the strongest candidate for a particular job.

When you decided to study abroad, you may not have considered the career impact of your international experience. However, why not take advantage of what may be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to gain extensive international experience and develop skills which employers may find valuable when they look for new employees!

So you need to be smart in preparing to network and interact in your host community in ways that may add important value to your future job search after you return to campus. Here’s what you should do:

  • Plan ahead before you go*
  • Craft a purposeful networking strategy*
  • Know what you need to know
  • Identify networking prospects*#
  • Use local resources: teachers, community resources, program alumni#

*Discuss with your campus career service advisor
#Discuss with your study abroad advisor – find out what has worked for previous program participants

As Jean-Marc Hachey, author of The Big Guide to Study Abroad suggests, there are many ways you can extend the professional dimension of your time studying abroad.

  • Join a multicultural student work team while abroad. Search out courses that require group work where you can gain valuable cross-cultural work experience.
  • Intern or volunteer as a researcher with a professor working in your field. If this fails, try to pair up with a local graduate student doing research work, and offer to work with them on a volunteer basis.
  • Offer your English skills in countries where English is not the native language. You may easily use your English language skills to: help a professor edit a paper for an international conference, teach English to fellow students, or help an organization write content in English for their web site.
  • Meet professionals in your field of interest while overseas. For example, as part of a group of foreign engineering students, take the lead to organize a visit to a local research and development engineering firm. Alternatively, as a political science student, organize a visit to meet with professionals at headquarters of an international organization situated in a neighboring city.
  • Volunteer off campus – preferably in your field. Consider a service-learning experience.
  • If possible, extend your stay abroad with an internship, language learning or cross-cultural travel with a professional purpose.

Discuss these and other options before you leave campus with your advisors and if possible, with students who have already studied in your country. Craft a plan of action for your service or volunteer experience which best meets your needs. Seek experience which may provide the kind of practical cross-cultural interaction that builds your self-confidence in a cross-cultural environment; provides an opportunity to use a foreign language; creatively problem-solve, and fosters interpersonal relationships working alongside professionals from another culture or ethnic background.

These types of experiences can be placed on your resume and may add significant value during your job search. They may strengthen your narrative in a job interview when you are asked to discuss what you learned while abroad or what you learned about the community in which you studied.

Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.

Martin Tillman is president of Global Career Compass. Global Career Compass navigates career pathways for students and international education professionals.