How to Get International Experience as a Student? [+Why Is It Important?]

2017 October 9
5 min read

The Importance of International Experience for Students and How to Get It

It’s no secret: potential employers receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for positions. And among that swath of candidates, chances are there are plenty of other people with the same (or higher) qualifications as you. This is especially true for recent graduates seeking entry-level roles. 

So how do you get the job that so many others covet? Even with a flawless résumé, you still need an edge, something that will make you stand out from the pack.

This is where international experience proves so valuable. As employers review applications, they are not only looking at your education, your skill set, and your work history; they are looking at what makes you unique. 

There is tremendous value in having an internship, work placement or even freelance project conducted abroad to put on your résumé because. Their uniqueness makes them attention-grabbing to recruiters. 

Novelty aside, working in a foreign country requires the ability to adapt to a new environment, which may include a different language and work culture. And if you are working and studying at the same time, there is the added complexity of managing your time efficiently between school and work. Any employer would like to have employees that embody adaptability and organization. International experience helps develop both.

So it’s clear there is an excellent value for students to gain international work experience. The question is how do you get it?

Things to Consider Before You Start Searching

Before you scan any job sites, there are a few practicalities you need to take care of.

First, take a hard look at how a job will fit into your schedule. Depending on your situation, you may be studying abroad and have only a few classes to attend each week. Or you may have even decided to do a formal international work placement as part of your academic program. In these cases, work won’t interfere with your studies too much, if at all. 

However, if you have a full plate of courses, it’s time think hard about how many hours you can commit to a potential job. After all, living abroad offers countless possibilities for encountering new places and people, something you don’t want to miss out on.

If you decide that a job is a good fit, your next step is to become familiar with the local labor rules of the country where you will be studying and working. There’s no sense getting deep into your job search or even the application process only to find out that you aren’t legally allowed to work.

Check the foreign country’s national government website for information on visas and documentation you might need in order legally work.

Finding the Right Fit

Once you know that you can work, it’s time to narrow your sights on what kinds of student work you will take on. Here it depends on your goal for finding a job. If you are just looking to make money to support your lifestyle or cover expenses, then you may not be picky about the type of work you do.

Service industry jobs are quite popular among students looking to earn some extra cash, and demand for people for these roles usually is high.

An alternative approach is to look for work that is aligned to your career interests or program of study. The advantage of securing this type of position is that you will get practical, hands-on experience that is relevant to your future goals. The downside is that these types of jobs are scarce, with plenty of students vying for a limited number of roles.

In this case, even finding a job to apply for can be tough. A tip of advice: don’t expect to find a perfect fit. You are looking for a student job, not a dream job.

In exchange for gaining some experience in the field, you may need to make some sacrifices. Be ready to take on some mundane admin work, and don’t expect to be paid a fortune – if it all. Recognize the long-term value of this work. Think career progression

Searching for Work While Abroad

The truth is, there is no right way to search for work abroad. A Google search for “student finance jobs in London” might lead you straight to an opening at an investment bank.

But as mentioned earlier, specific student jobs are subject to stiff competition, so getting an interview by responding to an online posting is no sure bet. Instead, look for networking opportunities that might lead you to prospective employers. Here are just a few avenues to pursue:

  • Student clubs - These groups often have relationships with hiring managers at local organizations; they also organize events for members where you can meet other students interested in your field of choice who may know of job opportunities.
  • Groups from your own country - Sharing the same national identity is a powerful bond, which is why people with the same country of origin living abroad tend to find one another. National community groups form in cities all over the world, so they are a good starting place for building connections. Many of these groups organize themselves online (especially Facebook), but they also have their spaces for members to meet in person.
  • LinkedIn - You can search for both available positions and contacts at companies where you might like to work. Directly asking for a job through LinkedIn is a long shot, especially as an international student. Instead, apply a softer approach: try to arrange an informational interview. Explain who you are and tell your contact that you’d like to learn more about his/her company over a cup of coffee. That conversation could lead to something bigger.

The Application Process

Whether you are applying for jobs online or in-person, your goal is to persuade. A well-written professional cover letter and perfectly designed resume will impress recruiters regardless of what country you are in. 

As an international student, give extra attention to the language requirements at the company and then highlight your proficiency on your application. Also, be aware of differences in business culture, such as whether the company is asking for a CV versus a resume, or even variations in language, such as the differences between American and British English.

Just remember that all the effort you put into finding and securing a student position abroad will continue to pay dividends into the future. International experience is a way to differentiate yourself from your competition once you return home.