Whether you’re participating in Peace Corps, you’ve earned a prestigious grant or fellowship, or you’re just taking some time to travel, time abroad will take you out of your comfort zone and allow you to hone a new skill set.
Aside from a huge personal milestone, your time traveling the world will end up on your resume whether you want it there or not, so it’s wise to plan ahead and use it to your advantage.
Below, you’ll find six ways to jump into the job market after time spent overseas.
Set clear expectations before you leave for your time abroad
Unfortunately, on a resume, time overseas doesn’t always speak for itself.
Dylan, 26, who was an assistant language teacher in Hyogo, Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, learned this firsthand.
“When I first got back from Japan, I didn't know where to start. Since I went abroad right after college, I didn't have substantive full-time work experience to draw from, outside of teaching English, and my Japanese was okay but not quite business level, so I was stuck between those two limitations a lot of the time.”
Dylan adds that, in hindsight, his issue may have been that his resume was too focused on his time abroad.
“If I had let my time abroad just be the cherry on the top,” he reflects, “it would have been perfect.”
How should you adjust your resume so that a significant chunk of time in another country is a complement rather than the focus?
As a world traveler and a growing professional, it’s up to you to create expectations for your return.
- Before your time away, contact references to let them know where you're headed and why. Make sure they have whatever information they’ll need in order to be a good reference for you upon your return. This will likely include dropping them an email every so often during your overseas adventure.
- Ask yourself what skills you may be interested in pursuing and developing (other than travel know-how) while you’re away. Consider writing freelance articles, creating a blog, or practicing digital design.
- Reach out to college mentors, peers, or people who you think will be good sources of advice and offer to buy them a cup of coffee. When you’re low on ideas, asking your connections for suggestions and direction is a good move. Find templates for reaching out in, "5 Templates You Can Send to Your Network Today."
Actively building your resume and skills may be the furthest thing from your mind during your travels, but it shouldn’t be. Be intentional and ask yourself what you can do to grow as a professional while you’re away.
- Invest in becoming fluent in a second (or third!) language. It will be a great challenge and a great boost to your resume. Plus, there’s no better time to learn and practice than when you’re surrounded by native speakers. Find sites for online courses in our post, "6 Go-To Sites for Online Learning."
- Carry business cards so you’ll have something to hand people you meet along the way. Here are some options for what to include on your card: Self-given freelance titles such as freelance editor or freelance travel blogger; your name and a simple invite to follow your travels via social media; if you’re traveling post-college without much career experience, list your major, university, and graduation year.
- Practice a skill that you want to improve. Whether it’s blogging, tutoring, community organizing, or fundraising, this can be a great time to develop your skills and build your portfolio.
Rachael, 25, was an English language assistant in Spain from 2014 through 2016. As she puts it, reconnecting with a contact from your trip can be “really hard three months later when they have a new assistant and it was someone you were only in class with an hour a week and you're like, ‘Please respond to my Whatsapp message, I need three professional references.’”
Schedule a quick meeting to say goodbye to your contacts and thank them for their support during your experience. Contact references well in advance to request that they have letters of recommendation prepared for that meeting. Collecting and organizing all materials while you’re in the same country as your contact is key.
Consider temp work
After completing a Fulbright grant in Malaysia, temp work was a saving grace for Kelsey, 27.
“I worked with temp agencies for nearly a year and my temp job ended up getting me my first full-time job. So many companies want to hire from within,” she says.
Because temp work is set up to be finite, you’ll have the opportunity to feel out different organizations as well as the flexibility to change your placement for a better fit.
According to thebalance.com, 90% of all companies use temporary employees, 40% of Manpower's workers find permanent employment through their temporary placements each year, and 79% of temps work full-time.
Be flexible upon returning home
When you get back, the job search can feel daunting. However, your greatest asset as you look for your next step will be your newfound ability to adapt your expectations to fit your skills, and worldview.
After graduating from college, Jessi spent fifteen months in South Africa working for an HIV prevention and education agency. Flexibility helped her land her first job back in the US.
“Working with traumatized and marginalized populations and in underserved communities abroad made me a desirable candidate for agencies that deal with crisis on a regular basis in the United States,” Jessi says.
“Flexibility is important because agencies are always looking for someone who's willing to take on challenges. The hard part is knowing when to draw boundaries for the job because even though you can do the task, doesn't mean you should.”
If you’ve yet to develop your professional network stateside, start with the people who knew and loved you before you went overseas: Peers, professors, and colleagues. Reach out to schedule meetings with them once you’re back to discuss your goals and possible next steps.
In addition to reconnecting with people you knew before you left, now is the time to expand your network by adding new contacts to the mix. While you’re job hunting, commit to connecting with one new person a week. This may be through finding fellow alumni on LinkedIn, attending a networking event, or connecting with your college career center to become a mentee or attend an event. Read up on more ways to grow your network in "7 Tips to Up Your Digital Networking Game".
Don’t sell yourself short!
Be sure to highlight skills from your time around the world on your resume. More on that in "Turning Your Travels into Marketable Job Skills."
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About the Author | Gina Ciliberto first delved into social impact when she created a campaign to raise awareness around immigration in her high school. She now writes about social justice issues ranging from fracking to human trafficking for the Dominican Sisters of Hope, and volunteers with the ASPCA in her spare time. Her work is featured on the Huffington Post and Let’s Travel! Radio, among others.