12 Nov Soft Skills: Travel Your Way to a Better Resume
Ah, the wonderful world of college. In these hallowed halls, students toil endlessly to develop hard skills, or measurable abilities such as language proficiency, knowledge of computer programs, or job-specific certifications. We all know that technical skills are important, but they are not enough in today's workplace. To land your dream job, you must prove to the employer that you have a range of soft skills as well. Soft skills describe an individual’s ability to interact with other people and succeed in a particular environment.
The best way to grow and develop soft skills is to step outside of your comfort zone and explore the unknown. Take a risk. Try something new. Expose yourself to new and challenging situations. And good news - you can do all of this by, you guessed it, studying abroad!
There’s research to prove it:
According to a study by IES Abroad, 90% of study-abroad alumni landed a job within six months. This means they were more than twice as likely to land a job compared to their non-traveling peers.
There you have it, folks. So, pack that suitcase and grab your passport - studying abroad gives future employers five great reasons to hire you!
How Studying Abroad Develops Five Essential Soft Skills
When considering applicants, employers want specific examples that illustrate strengths and abilities. Studying abroad will provide the stories you needed to set yourself apart from the competition. Crush the interview by discussing your traveling experiences in relation to these soft skills:
Studying abroad in itself proves initiative. It proves that you are prepared to take risks, to challenge yourself, and to rise to the occasion – all qualities of a desirable employee. Furthermore, your experience will provide ample opportunities to practice perseverance on your way towards self-improvement.
Pro tip: If you want to nail the interview upon your return, set SMART goals. It may be, while in another country, you want to reach a certain level of language expertise. Or you may want to increase your writing portfolio by posting a certain number of blogs or gain internship experience in a certain field. Most businesses use SMART goals or another form of measurable objectives. If you present your experience in this format, you will, without a doubt, impress your interviewer by highlighting your intrinsic motivation.
2. Problem Solving
Maybe you spent hours researching local culture before your flight. Maybe you have a laminated map of the subway, back up chargers for days, and the U.S. embassy on speed dial. But my friend, life is messy. No matter how thoroughly you prepare, plans will (from time to time) devolve into chaos. In the moment these complications will seem frustrating. Tears may be shed. But remember, you will find a creative solution to the missed train, stolen cell phone, rude neighbor, or whatever it may be.
In the end, your tale of woe will become an interesting story that showcases your independence and resourcefulness. Companies want employees that are calm, collected and in control when chaotic situations arise. So take a deep breath and prove you are up to the challenge.
3. Patience & Cultural Awareness
You may assume that certain cultural values, behaviors, and expectations within the U.S. are ‘normal’ or universal. But once you move overseas, all of a sudden you become hyper-aware of subtle differences in personal space and hygiene, body language, public transportation, restaurant protocol, manners, etcetera. The experience is eye-opening and an important step in developing cultural awareness in an ever-increasing global community.
When living in another country, patience is a necessary virtue. Take Spain, for example. If the Spanish bureaucracy were an animal, it would most likely be a tortoise. But definitely not the slow-and-steady variety that beat the hare. Expatriates and foreign students alike often post frustrations on Facebook groups complaining about the Spanish system. For example, packages disappearing at customs, businesses never responding to emails, banks closing by 2 P.M., paychecks delayed by two weeks to two months. But, deep breaths. You will learn to relax. You will learn that other countries are neither better nor worse than the U.S.– they just function with a different set of norms.
Sometimes things are out of your hands and you have to wait for a solution. Employers want to hire people who are able to take a step back from the issue and suppress negative reactions to make a thoughtful decision about how to proceed. Furthermore, they want to hire people who are culturally sensitive and approach diversity with patience and objectivity.
4. Empathy & Adaptation
At first, you may feel uncomfortable in the foreign country. That is good. Remember that feeling – the confusions, frustrations, the surprises, when you return to the U.S. and meet someone speaking in broken English. Nothing helps to create empathy for immigrants than having first-hand experience as a foreigner.
Expect mix-ups. You will blush as you attempt to communicate with native speakers, stumbling over a Google Translate sentence until you end up waving your hands around like an idiot to explain what you mean. People will laugh at you when you say, “I am so pregnant” (embarazada in Spanish) instead of "I am so embarrassed". Or they’ll stare at you on the metro because something about the way you dress exposes your ‘other-ness.’ And how were you supposed to know that it is not acceptable to walk around your piso with bare feet? But, don’t worry, sooner or later, you will begin to understand the cultural norms and routines and feel relaxed in your second home.
Ultimately, exposure to rich human diversity will help you become a more modest, open-minded, and welcoming individual. Employers want people who can acclimate to a new work environment by adapting to their style of communication with clients and coworkers. Your strange, new experiences will become perfect examples to illustrate your ability to do just that!
College life exists in a bubble. You grow accustomed to the comfort and support of your close-knit group of friends and you rarely venture outside of routine. After graduation, ‘real life’ really smacks you in the face. You will find yourself alone in the world of #postgradproblems: adapting to a new city, networking with strangers, and learning confusing protocols at work. Thankfully, studying abroad is a great way to build your interpersonal skills and your confidence, preparing you for future life adventures.
Going abroad will change you, guaranteed. You will become a stronger, wiser, more independent adult. Whether it is finding your way around the winding streets of Barcelona, learning a language, cooking delicious dinners, making friends with strangers, or traveling solo - you will realize they you are capable of much more than you initially thought! When the experience ends, you will carry your newly-discovered confidence into the next stage of your life as you set off to make the world a better place.
Make Your Move
News flash – real life is right around the corner, and soon you will be competing with thousands of recent graduates for a single, entry-level position. Now is the time to set yourself apart from the masses. Now is the time to GO ABROAD, develop your SOFT SKILLS and help your future-self land your future-dream job!
-Contributed by Kaitlyn Schmit
Kaitlyn graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A.T. in secondary education. After teaching high school for four years in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C., she relocated to Madrid with hopes of improving her Spanish and satisfying her wanderlust.