I recently wrote a post about my time working abroad and the importance of having international experience on your CV. I was overwhelmed by the response – so many people weighed in with their own experiences. One recurring theme was that some people didn’t feel that their international experience got them the recognition it should when they returned, and they actually found it difficult to get a job once they were back home.
I was surprised and it got me thinking about the possible reasons why.
The perceived value of international experience can depend on the field that you’re in and whether the local market you’re entering considers the overseas market you’ve come from as being advanced in that particular field.
Having the experience is just the first step. The way you position your experience is what will give you the edge – showing that the skills you developed are transferable and that your resilient and adaptable personality will see you thrive in different environments is what will make you stand out.
Here’s a few ideas to make sure you get the most out of working abroad when looking for your next role.
When you return from your overseas stint, no matter how much people tell you that nothing’s changed, there will be things you missed that you need to catch up on. While looking for your new role, absorb the news, understand what is happening in the economy and in local politics so that you can start to get a feel for the challenges that the companies or industry you’re targeting are facing and where you might add value. What emerging trends did you see or have experience with that local companies might find interesting? My advice is to read and talk to people. Even grabbing a quick coffee with your old work colleagues will help bring these ideas and observations to the surface.
Plan your next move
Returning to a market after working overseas can be daunting. All of a sudden you’re faced with endless possibilities and you really need to think about what you want to do next and which companies can help you grow. Now that you’ve had the opportunity of gaining a global perspective, take the time to think about what kind of company you want to work for and ask what is going to keep you stimulated after the experience you just had?
I got some good advice on my return that I think is worth passing on. He warned me that when I returned contacts would reach out and approach me with all kinds of interesting opportunities. It’s very easy to be flattered when you have good options on the table but stick to your plan as it’s worth holding out to find the right role for you.
If you don’t have the luxury of time (aka you spent all your cash trotting the globe on the way home!) take a contract role until you figure it out.
Think about the story you want to tell
People love stories and you’ve just been on an adventure! Spend time to reflect on what you learned and why it will be of value to your future employer. How did you develop as a person and as a professional? Make sure you have something interesting and relevant to say if someone asks you: so what was the best experience and why did you come back?
Here are some examples of what you can bring up in an interview or a conversation of what you’ve taken away from your time overseas:
Technical – What are they doing in the market you’ve just been to that is advanced and that could be applied to your new role?
“When I was in London, traditional PR really began taking on the role of developing content themselves and negotiating paid partnerships to reach new audiences across a growing number of non traditional media platforms attracting huge audiences. I think we’d been on the edge of this for a while but it really took off while I was there. For the first time there was a real acceptance that paid and earned media were both equally important parts of the PR’s toolkit and we could do it all ourselves from developing the story and the content that went with it to executing – all under the one roof.”
Cultural – What did you learn from a work culture perspective? Did you have to adjust your communications style, were there professional etiquettes you had to familiarise yourself with? These stories will help demonstrate your agility and self-awareness, as well as a willingness to fit into new and diverse teams.
“I didn’t expect that the cultural differences between London and Australia would be so pronounced but I had to make a few adjustments. Aussies can be seen as quite direct in London so a slight softening of tone was a quick adjustment I had to make.”
Life – How did the experience change you? Did you uncover any hidden passions or interests? These stories help you talk about you as a person and the fresh outlook you bring to your work.
“Working and living in an unfamiliar place reawakened my inquisitive side and thirst for knowledge. I was driven by a need to learn in the first instance but the more I got back to reading (everything – news, fiction, non fiction) the more interested I became to learn about the world around me. I have brought that passion for discovery back with me from London.”
Make your experience relevant
You need to do the hard work and join the dots between your experience and suitability for what you want in the role you’re going for. International experience gives you a broader range of experiences to draw on but it’s up to you to explain why that makes you a great candidate. Don’t miss a trick by thinking too literally about how your experience applies or doesn’t apply to a role you’re going for.
Get out of the weeds and take it up a level. What is the company going through at a macro level that may be similar to what a company you worked for overseas went through? If you’re staying in the same sector, external pressures are likely to be consistent no matter which market you’re working in.
You’ve had the guts to pick up and take your career overseas and now you have what it takes to take on that next challenge.
If you have any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.
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Photography by Breeana Dunbar.