You’ve studied abroad and the world of international education has been opened to you. So now, here you are, trying to find ways to stand out from the 5 million other applicants (not really, even though it sometimes feels that way!) and employees that are just like you! How are you going to stand out from the crowd where almost everyone studied abroad, dedicated their undergraduate careers to the study abroad office, and are now ready to take international ed by storm? A lot goes into being a professional in international education and being a study abroad participant won’t be enough to help you stand out from a very competitive and crowded field of candidates. If you want to be a professional, you’ll have to start acting like one. Below we’ve outlined the key things you need to consider and tackle to help you establish your personal brand, demonstrate your qualifications, and launch your career in international education and youth travel.
Know Thy (Study Abroad) Self
Nearly every interviewer will ask you some variation of “Tell me about yourself.” What will you say? Do you have your story all lined up and ready to go? Don’t undervalue who you are and your life experiences. You have experiences and stories that already make you stand out. Create a story around those facts. Remember the who, what, when, where and why from elementary school? Well trot those back out to create the story of you.
An important part of the participant to professional path is to think about how your study abroad experiences have led to you wanting to move forward in international education. Those ah ha moments need to be included in your story too. Did you have an awesome experience, an OK experience or did something happen that just blew you out of the water? Use those moments to create your story.
- Answer the question, how did you come to want a career in international education?
- List 5-10 things that you learned from your study abroad experience that you think will help you in your professional life.
What do you Believe?
Another way to stand out from the crowd is to be acutely aware of your own beliefs and values. What do you spend your time doing? If you were stuck sitting beside a total stranger on a looong flight, what would you chat about? What passions could you effortlessly discuss hours on end? How do you want people to remember you?
How you spend your free time says a lot about you as a person and can be the thing that sets you apart from the next interviewee. Your passions are always your best asset and it’s important to showcase them!
- Write a list of what your free-time entails. Do you volunteer at a shelter, raise money for a good cause, restore old furniture (this is something I love), train for marathons, go climbing every weekend, brew your own beer?
- With questions 1, 2 and 3 in mind, create an ‘elevator pitch’ that will tell your interviewers and/or colleagues who you are as a person.
Bonus Points if you can describe who you are and your story in just 13 words.
What’s your unique value proposition?
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde knew what he was talking about. Most of the time, we’re taught to be excessively formal in the professional world. And sometimes that’s a good thing as we fight a world of text abbreviations, bad grammar, and very informal communication standards. But some times that formality can come across as robotic and stiff especially if means you’re squashing your own personality and style.
Never be afraid to show your unique personality, talents, and skills. When you are unapologetically yourself, you will automatically attract the kind of positions and colleagues that you want. And on the flip side you’ll repel those that aren’t a great fit. The right group of people will be attracted to you, and those are the colleagues you want. Will this work for every company and person you interview with? No. But not every job is a perfect fit. Use the interview to find out if you are the perfect fit for them. However you choose to come across, be consistent. Make sure your voicemail has the same tone and structure as you would use when you send an email or meet them in person, on the phone, or online.
This works both ways. If you go into an interview and the interviewers aren’t showing you much of their personality as a team, office, or organization, what does that tell you about them? Find a company and colleagues that align with your personal beliefs, and be your awesome best self.
- Send a personal message to 25 of your most trusted family, friends, professors, and mentors and ask them how’d they’d describe your strengths and personality assets in three words/phrases. This will tell you a lot about what your skills and assets are...and your prominent personality traits. Start intentionally leaning in to those characteristics.
Appearances mean a lot in your professional career. And we’re not just talking about your wardrobe. The look and feel of your application materials will often be your first impression with a hiring team. Make it count! You want to make sure that the substance of your application is just as good as the style (and vice versa). Don’t slack on this. Make sure your documents support each other, match format/styling, and are full of reasons why you will be the best (insert job title here) ever!
Your appearance also extends online. Have you googled yourself lately? Do it. I guarantee that someone will and what will they see? Do your photos, posts, tweets and FB cover photos show who you are? Make those work for you. Use them to reinforce to the hiring manager that you are a professional, not just a participant.
- Take a look at your cover letter and resume: What do they say about you? If you don’t see you in them, change it up.
- Google yourself. See what pops up and change the things you can.
- Update your LinkedIn (sign-up if you haven’t yet) and keep it updated. It’s a great way to get connected to other professionals in the field and work
Be a Master Connector
One of the quickest ways to launch and grow your career is to help others advance their own. Be thoughtful in your interactions with others. Pay attention to what they say, their goals, their passions and take stock of that information. Your job is to then connect those people with interesting opportunities that help them on their own professional journey. It could just be an interesting article or an introduction to a person with similar interests. Show your colleagues and peers that you care about their success and not just yourself. When you do this it will help you stand out. It shows that 1) you are a nice person, 2) you pay attention, and 3) you’re looking out for not just your success but the success of others as well.
- Think of someone you’ve met professionally in the last six months.
- Send that person an article relevant to their work, passions, or hobbies.
Standing out in a crowded job market takes some work.
- Understand the value of study abroad (and start by taking stock of your own experiences).
- Figure out your personal values and beliefs (and identify organizations that align with that).
- Determine your unique value proposition (these can be special skills, personality traits, and experiences)
- Look the part (make sure that you come across as a professional in all the ways that you can be discovered in the world - on and offline)
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You have unique talents, gifts, and ideas that the international education world needs.There’s a hiring manager out there looking for someone just like you. It’s up to you to make sure that you’re showing the world who you really are. Don’t get lost in a world of sameys.