Study Abroad Alumnus – How Study Abroad Can Get You the Job!

Alex Jell graduated from The University of Exeter Business School in 2011 after completing a MSc in International Management. Before that, in 2010 he completed an undergraduate level degree in BA Business Management with European Study, where he spent a year abroad at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, Spain. He says that the year abroad was key to helping him gain interviews for graduate jobs: however that alone wasn’t enough to get him the job! Now working for PwC, one of the world’s largest professional services firms, here he tells us that it was being able to draw on the experiences from the year abroad that allowed him to get the job he wanted. Stressing the skills acquired that set him apart from other graduates who didn’t study abroad gave him the confidence to be a successful global graduate in a competitive business environment. 

 

What skills would you say that the year abroad gave you?

PwC riverside offices in London

Having a year abroad is a massive boost to your employability, this is not only in terms of the knowledge gained but additionally the intrinsic value of the experiences you will have and the subsequent impact they have on your outlook and soft skills. I would say that there are four skills ‘areas’ which are developed and enhanced by your year abroad, which greatly improve your ability to attain an interview and fundamentally a job when you apply. The first area is the ability to deal with uncertainty; on arrival to a foreign country you are immediately faced with a new culture, new environment, new course, new colleagues and often a new language. Whilst initially this combination of factors is daunting, by the end of your study these differences will have been overcome if not embraced by yourself. This is because throughout the course of the year you will have developed the ability to deal with uncertainty and juggle unfamiliar situations. In modern business having staff with ability to be dynamic, flexible and deal with rapid changes is highly sought after and often hard to find. Yet it is a basic underpinning of any study abroad period. The second area is stakeholder management;  during the study abroad you will deal with people from different cultural backgrounds, different countries and harbouring different motivations. On a daily basis you will interact and take account of these alternative perspectives; you will react to them and make decisions based on them. Joining clubs and society’s are perfect examples of this but even arranging a night out in a foreign country requires considerable stakeholder management skills… and guess what? That’s also on the skills wish list for companies today. The third area is more subtle than the previous two, it is ‘3rd level listening’ or linguistic appreciation. Now I should state this is

UPF – modern meets traditional

different but linked to the ability to speak a foreign language. Whilst the ability to speak a foreign language is a great asset ‘3rd level listening’ is developed by any one on a study abroad and is just as useful but often overlooked. On a year abroad you spend a year communicating with people who speak differently to yourself, use foreign languages or indeed simply are hard to understand. Over the course of this year you will develop often subconsciously, the ability to derive the meaning from a persons speech even if you haven’t necessarily understood the words. Now whilst in Spain for example this will help you ‘get the gist’ of the conversation, on returning to the UK those same skills will enable to truly understand what an English speaker is saying to you. The funny thing is we often don’t say what we mean or represent what we feel in the words we say. The skills that enabled you to understand the ‘gist’ in Spain will now enable you to have a much deeper understanding or linguistic appreciation of what messages are really being conveyed on a daily basis. This is a fantastic skill as not only does it augment your communication but it means you will notice or pick up on signals that others will not even know were there. And yes that is valued by employers too! The final area is in my view the most important, it influences everything we do, the way we talk, think, behave and even move. It is our self confidence or inner trust, now you may well be sitting there saying confidence is all very well but how will that help in a job situation. Well very simply the trust one has in ones own decisions or ‘gut’ reactions is an exceptionally powerful tool. The ‘gut’ reaction has now been shown to be one of the most effective decision making tools in existence, it can be faster and more accurate than a super computer… The ‘gut’ feel is the output of every schema, every thought, decision and conclusion you have drawn in the past. Every experience influences it, tailors it and makes it more accurate.  You will have just spent a year experiencing a massive array of new situations, developing new skills and therefore drawing conclusions from them. This means you ‘gut’ reactions are going to be very accurate compared to your competition and the added bonus of the confidence is that it enables you to follow up with a decisions even in challenging situations. So lets just bring those four skills together: after a year abroad you will have the ability to deal with uncertainty, manage stakeholders, understand the deeper meaning of conversations and then calibrate all this information into a positive output in the form of a decision. On their own those skills are valuable, together they make for an exceptional advantage and one that companies are desperate for.

How did a year abroad help when applying for graduate jobs? and how did it help at interviews?

Having a year abroad enables you to stand out in a highly competitive market. Most student have work experience, society membership and examples of leadership that they can draw on, (not to mention the grades!), therefore having a year abroad is a real asset and something of huge value if demonstrated clearly. Leading on from that, at interview it gives you something to talk about, lets face it if you were an assessor what would you rather hear about: running the volley ball team socials or studying in Vienna? I suspect and no disrespect is intended to volleyball aficionados that you would choose the latter… especially if the person just before had been talking about the rugby team… Joking aside it also gives you massive scope to paint a picture and deliver a story that demonstrates STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) clearly and in an entertaining manner.

How does it help you now it your day to day role?

Many of if not all of the skills I highlighted in the first (skills) question are required every day at work. Obviously that will vary by degrees depending on the sector or industry you choose to work in but the foundation that the year abroad gives you is very powerful and shouldn’t be disregarded by anyone.

Barcelona is a capital of business and culture

Can you see the advantages of a year abroad as opposed to a work placement?

Definitely! Having a work placement is a definite bonus to the CV no bones about it, but by the stage that you are applying most people will have work experience of one kind or another. Indeed what most companies are looking for is the range of experiences not a depth of experience in one area… otherwise they wouldn’t be looking to hire graduates they’d take an experienced hire. So unless you are aiming to take a work placement in a specific industry that you know for certain you want to work for go for the year abroad. Besides you only live once and opportunities like this do not come around often… What is more likely to make you a balanced, rounded and ultimately fulfilled individual? Working for a year before you actually had to? or spending a year in a completely different country broadening your horizons as a person? ”Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.”

Tops Tips/Advice
  • Make it easy for an assessor, reflect on the things you have done and then the skills that were required and then how they could be relevant to work.
  • If you have gotten to the interview stage you have shown you have the knowledge and intelligence to work there, now just support that with evidence… it’s not a test..
  • Make sure you make the most of any experiences you get offered and so long as you are not doing you or anyone else harm by taking those opportunities your probably doing quite the opposite.

For more information about studying abroad, please contact the International Development Team via Business-School-Exchanges@exeter.ac.uk.

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