Marketing your international experience

Marketing your international experience

You learned so much during the two years you spent in Singapore. This might seem obvious to you but upon repatriation, you’re not the one you need to convince. You will no doubt find yourself discussing your international experience with an employer. Having been abroad is all very well but be prepared to demonstrate the use and value of your cross-cultural competence. Returnees often need to rethink or entirely rearrange their career plan. Identifying transferable skills and promoting your abroad experience, standing out without scaring off: get ready for these reentry challenges.

Highlighting the value of your expat experience

Whether you spend one or five years abroad, experiencing expatriation usually leads to personal growth. Once you head back home, you will of course expect to make the most of your global competency and turn your international experience into a true stringboard for your career. What are the skills and qualities you improved or gained abroad? Various reasons and circumstances might have led you towards expatriation: build an adapted set of talking points.

You worked abroad

You might have been sent to Mexico on assignment for a year and a half but this doesn’t mean you will be promoted as soon as you get back. Many returnees actually find the value of their international experience to be somewhat neglected or not fully acknowledged by their employer or colleagues. Feeling of lack of career advancement can cause strong turnover of returning assignees. Repatriation is a good time for negotiation. Before you do so, list the skills you developed during your time abroad. You must be able to explain why you are “worth more” than you were before your assignment.

Repatriation sometimes leads to almost immediate job seeking. For instance: your company seems to shut down all career enhancement opportunities, you worked abroad under a local contract and headed home jobless or you simply want to do something new. Before you begin the interviews, find relevant ways to present your abroad experience as part of a clear career plan: you didn’t just blindly set off on some daring adventure. Prepare to articulate your international competency. Did you become bilingual? Did you set up a project on your own in a country you had never set foot in? This is information you want to share with a prospective employer.

You followed your spouse abroad

An expat classic: your spouse is sent to Bangkok, you leave your job to follow him… Him, because the trailing spouse usually is the woman. While one career thrives, the other comes to a standstill or takes a new direction. You might have volunteered in an organization, taken part in an online training course, organized the family’s entire life abroad, from planning the international move down to taking out expatriate insurance. To find your way back into the workplace upon repatriation, you will need to translate your experience abroad into job skills. You spent five years learning a language, adapting to many new situations, committing yourself to a worthwhile humanitarian project… Show you didn’t just live through expatriation but capitalized on the experience.

You studied abroad or set off on a Working Holiday

One year in Madrid as an Erasmus student, a long stay in Canada under the Working Holiday Programme: you are partly relying on your international experience to successfully enter the workforce. So what should you be putting emphasis on? Expatriation turned you into a resourceful and highly independent future employee: you organized a long stay abroad, sought for accommodation and landed a job…You certainly also learned one or several foreign languages, adapted to unfamiliar cultural perspectives: this just goes to show how flexible and ready to work in multicultural environments you are.

Proving your newly gained skills

Upon repatriation, putting words on your experience might be tricky. After a long stay abroad, you might no longer know exactly where you stand professionally or might be struggling to make your international experience understandable for an employer. Taking part in a repatriation training course might be a useful first step towards untangling career goals and expectations when heading home. What other moves can you make?

Using Europass

Did you work or study in Europe? Europass documents allow you to present your skills and qualifications in Europe. The CV and Language Passport may be used by any European citizen. The idea is to be able to build an international resume and self-assess language skills. Three additional documents can be issued by education and training authorities: they record knowledge and skills gained in Europe during an internship or training as well as through a higher education curriculum. Using Europass might be a relevant way to make your abroad experience readable for yourself and for an employer.

Assessing foreign language skills

Now that you have spent two years in Mexico, speaking Spanish has become so easy for you. Do you want a score to prove your proficiency in a foreign language? Take an international language test! Many tests (IELTS, TOEIC, BULATS, ELYTE…) can assess your ability to use a specific language in a business context. Don’t just say you can speak Spanish, prove it.

Addressing misconceptions about returnees

The value of international experience and cross-cultural knowledge might seem quite obvious to you. Nevertheless, you might meet some prospective employers who have some negative beliefs about returning expatriates. What are the most frequent misconceptions?

  • Returnees have gotten used to exotic environments and constant holidays.
  • Returnees don’t stay: they are eager to leave the country once again.
  • Returnees have re-adjustement problems.
  • Work experience abroad is unverifiable.

Don’t let yourself be startled by hasty assumptions and get employers to relax by showing you have completely settled back into your home country and have a clear career plan. Let them know that being independent doesn’t mean you can't fit into a team. Expatriation has taught you adaptability!

To find out more about how to market international experience:

Take a look at the five Europass documents.

Date of publication Dec 11 2012

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