Reports from the Field

How to use your meaningful travel experience to actually get hired

meaningful travel


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 01 Dec 2016

Continued from Part 1: Why meaningful travel is a must-have-skill on tomorrow’s job market

I recently went to a New York City event for university alumni of an Asia-based study abroad program we all did about seven years ago, and I was blown away by the obvious difference the early international experience made in our careers.

One alumna had become a lawyer at an international capital markets firm and was staffed on numerous Asia deals that actively drew on his previous experience in the region. Another, who had spent several years teaching English in rural China after graduation, now runs the marketing department of a major university’s campus in China. Both utilise their Mandarin language skills on a personal and professional basis. Then there’s me, who’s spent the last two years working in an international sales and government relations role with a focus on emerging markets, including Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

This kind of event also opened my eyes to another benefit of my various international experiences that I’ve only begun to reap: my personal network. I realise now that I know a lot of people all over the world in almost every industry through one or two degrees of separation! It’s a huge asset in my personal life, but it’s also a big bonus for who I work for, and I’ve actually gotten several interviews in part because of the leaders, investors, and governmental officials I have relationships with. I simply had to learn to make that overlooked aspect of my experience come across as valuable as it really is.

Communicating your experience to employers

One of the biggest challenges for travellers is explaining the value of what they did in a way that makes sense to an employer. Many employers actually pick up on this difficulty and note that candidates with global experience often sell themselves — and their experience — short because they haven’t put the time into practising how to communicate about it.

Ideally, you want to be mindful of this challenge before you even leave for an extended time overseas. Keeping track of your experiences, reflecting on how you’re changing, and making notes of important challenges and lessons learned while you’re on the road in not only useful for personal development, but it’s also an experience database to pull from when you return home.

If you’ve already returned home from time abroad, it’s useful to spend significant time reflecting on the most stand-out experiences and what they taught you about yourself and how that could be tied into your path forward. For example, the time I spent studying meditation in India taught me how to bring mindfulness, presence, and patience to all parts of my life, including the workplace, making me a better leader and overall team player. Trekking alone for two weeks in Nepal taught me to sharpen and trust my gut instincts and make autonomous decisions in a high-stress environment.

Putting travel experience on a resume

Did you know that recruiters spend a mere six seconds evaluating a resume?

That’s not long to provide a compelling overview of your history, skills, and ambition that tells the person reading it exactly what you’ll excel at in their organisation. It’s the first front in the battle to land your dream job, and it needs to be tended to very deliberately.

Many travellers wonder whether or not to include their experience on their resume at all, or where to include it. If you volunteered, worked, or interned overseas for at least a month, a summary of that experience should go under your work history. Like any other part of your resume, it should emphasise your contribution to the organisation, not the work of the organisation itself.

You should also make sure to include some form of quantification — numbers make your story more objective and show exactly the kind of value you bring to the table. Did you teach a class of 25, collaborate with 4 local organisations, lead a workshop for 100 women, make 10 presentations to potential donors, or raise the productivity of a non-profit organisation by 15%? This is a critical component in translating experiences from one vastly different industry and environment to another.

If you didn’t volunteer or work abroad, but travelled independently or executed a personal project abroad, this can still be displayed on your resume, but it should go under “other experience” after education and professional work history has been discussed. If the time off exceeds a few months, it’s also an important opportunity to confidently address the gap in employment.

On your resume, this kind of time abroad might be described as, “Independently travelled through 8 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa while producing a documentary about financial technology in the region. Simultaneously managed an international development blog that received 25,000 hits per month.”

Alternatively, my resume reads “Travelled through 19 countries in 14 months while pursuing a freelance writing career that resulted in numerous publications on Huffington Post, Fast Company, Business Insider, and Fortune.com. Additionally, launched an independently-run consulting business that coaches dozens of young professionals through international career transitions.”

Yours could also simply state, “Independently travelled through Southeast Asia for 4 months between October 2015 and February 2016. Activities included volunteering at a hospital in Cambodia, jungle trekking for a week in Thailand, and motorbiking the entire length of Vietnam.” This example is much less professionally-minded, but it’s still expressing what you did with confidence and makes you interesting enough to interview.

Lastly, remember to always be honest and realistic about the skills and experience you developed. Don’t write that you became fluent in Portuguese if you couldn’t answer an email or an interview question in the language.

Talking about travel experience in an interview

If you’ve travelled abroad, you’ve probably had some experience in picking up a new language, even a few words. The interview is a similar exercise in talking about the work you’ve done in one industry or one part of the world using a tone and vocabulary that makes sense to the new organisation you’re targeting.

In prepping for an interview, you’ll extensively research the company and role you’re applying for, and in doing so, you’ll begin to pick up on how the organisation speaks about itself. Adopt that tone and vocabulary when you reflect on your overseas work. If you’re interested in consulting, for example, you might talk about value-add, analysis, stakeholders, and deliverables. Tell your story in their lingo and the importance of what you did is less likely to slip past them.

After you thoroughly understand the company and the position, you need to deeply reflect on your work and personal history. Here are some questions to help you get mentally prepared for an ad-hoc discussion of your travel experiences:

  • What is the recruiter probably looking for besides a certain academic and professional background? What personal traits would be beneficial in this role?
  • How have I developed those traits while travelling overseas?
  • How can those traits help me perform in the unpredictable circumstances likely to arise on this job?
  • Can I tell a story about my skills that show I can win over an important stakeholder, or adapt quickly to a changing work environment?
  • How has travel helped me handle stress, teamwork, and ambiguity?
  • How has my time abroad inspired and accelerated my next career move?
  • What am I passionate about and how did my experiences overseas enhance that?
  • What have I experienced that’s likely to be unique from anyone else applying for this job?
  • How did I demonstrate initiative and entrepreneurial qualities while travelling?

After this reflection period, the last step is to inventory and study your experience to help you be ready to clearly illustrate the skills and traits you summarised on your resume. I recommend making a list of 15-20 most common interview questions and brainstorming 2 examples from your experience that correspond to each question. Many will be repeated and able to be reused across different contexts, but the goal should be to have at least 10 strong stories and examples from your past that could be used to respond to a variety of common questions.

Land the dream job

There’s no doubt your time overseas will result in a reservoir of experience that translates into compelling resumes, interview-worthy stories, and concrete capabilities that lead to tremendous long-term success in the workplace. Whether you want to join a travel agency, start a franchise (like you can do with Explorer Travel), or explore the travel and leisure industry in some other way, your time overseas will prove valuable.

As long as you communicate the depth of your own contribution with confidence and bridge the gap between what you’ve done in the past, including travel, and what you want to do next through a well-researched and enthusiastic articulation of your skill set, you’ll be able to successfully move into that exciting new opportunity you’ve got your eye on.

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Elaina Giolando

Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 01 Dec 2016

Why meaningful travel is a must-have skill on tomorrow’s job market

meaningful travel


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 24 Nov 2016

I’ll never forget one particular contract negotiation in Addis Ababa about two years ago. I had just finished pitching the CEO and vice-president of a large hotel, and they turned to each other to discuss the offer in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.

At the time, I wasn’t any old tourist in Ethiopia. I had been working there for several months, engaging with government leaders up to the level of Deputy Prime Minister, making a circle of Ethiopian friends, and studying the local language, as well.

So when I politely entered their conversation to adjust my offer and say (in Amharic) that we were perfectly open to negotiation, their reaction was priceless. It was also one of the moments where I’ve come closest to being able to essentially quantify the value of travelling conscientiously, slowly, and meaningfully — in the form of a contract. It was living proof that I had earned someone’s trust in a foreign place. I had achieved real results on a professional level, which benefited both sides of the transaction, but I was also able to experience the personal joy of deepened relationships and a sharpened sense of self-confidence in my ability to know when and how to use my acquired local knowledge.

This is what employers look for when they’re hiring someone with international experience for an assignment. They want to know: were you a tourist, simply on a vacation that went on your resume as “study abroad” or “internship abroad,” or did you sink your teeth into the new environment and culture and come out with experiences that have fundamentally changed how you’ll work for the rest of your life, whether at home or abroad?

When I was interviewing for a job in management consulting, being able to tell stories of working with a team of a dozen Egyptians in the Cairo office of a global non-profit during my summer internship went way further than any generalisation about how travelling to a foreign country opened my eyes or changed my perspective. I had firsthand stories that no one else could tell. I had stories that had real context, that were rooted in direct experience that went past a surface-level assessment of a place. I’ve even worked my time volunteering on an organic farm in southern India while I was on an 8-month backpacking trip through Asia into a job interview. The farm had an incredibly disorganised labour system on it, and I worked with the Tamil owner to develop a better process for using volunteers and measuring their contribution.

Those kinds of experiences are what we mean when we talk about using time to travel meaningfully to build life-long insights that will benefit you both personally and in the job market.

How can I travel meaningfully?

Many fresh college graduates or professionals in their first job or two out of school worry that taking time off could be a career setback, but taking time off that is purposeful and well-planned can actually help clarify personal and professional goals and facilitate a successful transition into new employment or educational opportunities.

If it turns out that deliberate travel experiences can help accelerate your career and set you apart in the job market, you might be inclined to ask, how can I make sure I’m travelling purposefully?

Start by thinking about how you can tie your interests or previous academic or professional life into a stand-out international experience. Have you always wanted to learn a new language? Write a book? Learn some new skill? Land an international internship? Volunteer? Make a documentary? Dedicate time to an old hobby? Tying your interests directly into a mission-driven travel experience is not only more impressive and translatable into subsequent professional pursuits, but it’s far more rewarding.

You can also approach travel with more of an investment perspective. If you’re interested in doing business in Latin America and already speak Spanish, spend a few months learning Portuguese in Brazil. If you’re studying international development, find an internship at a non-profit organisation. If you want to work in the field of education, volunteer at a school or a think-tank in a country with real educational challenges. This type of travelling is an investment in your personal and professional skill sets and will help your resume stand out in a competitive job pool.

Before departing, ask yourself, “Is this probably going to have a long-term impact on me? Am I maximising my potential? Am I pushing my boundaries? Am I going to truly engage with a new community and culture? Can I readily translate this into my vision of my future professional life?”

Remember, it’s not about how far you go, how many countries you see, and how quickly you get there, but about the depth of your adventure.

What skills can I develop by travelling meaningfully?

Remember that interview with a management consulting firm I told you about where I was sharing stories of working in Egypt during a summer internship? I got the job, straight out of undergrad with a liberal arts degree and no corporate experience. So how on Earth did I manage that?

Looking back, I think it was in large part because I had highly differentiated — and highly international — experience. In addition to running the marketing initiatives for the Ashoka Foundation’s Middle Eastern office, I had spent other summers giving eye exams and selling low-cost eye glasses in high-altitude villages in Guatemala and studying economics in Singapore. I was able to translate the skills I developed overseas in these completely unrelated industries into the consulting world. I drew the connection between helping design a business plan for weaving collectives in Guatemala and doing the same for a Fortune 500 client. I made coordinating the logistics of a large non-profit conference in Cairo tie into communication and organisational abilities that would be useful for project management work at a huge multinational company.

To help you do the same, here are some of the key skills you can gain from international experience that I’ve found are most interesting to potential employers:

  • Sense of ownership over decision-making
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Strong cross-cultural communication
  • Foreign language skills (Possibly)
  • High tolerance for discomfort, uncertainty, and diversity
  • Confidence to navigate complex situations
  • Sense of humour and humility in the face of challenges or failures
  • Enhanced ability to build relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds
  • Enriched firsthand understanding of the world
  • Well-developed global consciousness
  • Increased maturity and self-awareness
  • Enhanced understanding of one’s potential
  • Courage to take risks and explore unconventional pathways
  • Confidence with negotiation and navigating bureaucracy
  • Access to a global network
  • High degree of independence

Employers know that most of these skills are unteachable in a classroom or office setting, and people who have travelled internationally usually have an accelerated track record of developing this kind of experience. Not to mention, prior professional experience overseas is almost always a requirement if you’re looking to launch a global career, so if you’ve been abroad at all, you’re already on the right track. You just need to make sure how you communicate what was meaningful about your travels comes across.

What do employers think?

Hiring managers know that international experience not only comes with the aforementioned skill sets, but these experiences often translate into an aptitude for building trust with important stakeholders, adapting to change, handling stress, and winning over clients. “When we talk to candidates, what’s important for us in global investments is people who have an understanding of different cultures, the different ways they communicate and do business,” said Ruth Ferguson, a senior vice president and human resources executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in an article for the Financial Times.

The managing director for the UK, North America, and the Middle East at search firm Michael Page told the Times, “Companies are operating over so many international boundaries, so the more languages and experience with different cultures you can bring to a company, the more you can help expand its global reach.”

Ben Snearls, a senior manager at Badenoch & Clark agrees. “If you have international work experience, you’re likely to be confident and have an outgoing personality, which helps you engage with stakeholders.”

Clearly, employers recognise the value of meaningful time spent overseas, and they have plenty of need for job candidates with these skill sets. Professional services firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers told the Financial Times that they predict their need for employees to tackle global assignments will increase by 50% over the next 10 years — and that’s just one company.

You’re going to stand out

If you make the leap to travel purposefully, the truth is, you’re certainly going to wind up with unique experiences that distinguish you from virtually all other candidates on the job market. The skills you develop are both widely recognised and in demand by employers, especially because ordinary job seekers haven’t made time or summoned the courage to seek out meaningful exploration and adventure.

Next week we continue with Part 2: How to use your meaningful travel experience to actually get hired! 

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Elaina Giolando

Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 24 Nov 2016

The World is More Full of Goodness Than We Think

positive news


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 07 Nov 2016

With environmental degradation, a dismaying American election, ISIS, mass shootings, police violence, Boko Haram, and a war in Syria blasting out over an estimated 8.6 billion devices all over the planet, it can be hard to avoid the feeling that things are just falling apart.

But is the world actually in the state of decline it’s perceived to be or are we really living in an era of unparalleled human prosperity? How does the next generation of Americans view the world? Could the unbridled optimism of our millennial generation overcome the omnipresent negative news blasts and approach the world with a perspective that’s more in line with reality?

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Elaina Giolando

Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 07 Nov 2016

Why You Should Do an Unpaid Internship

hospitality_internship Thailand


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 08 Aug 2016

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Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 08 Aug 2016

Why You Should Do a Gap Year — and How to Do It Right


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 04 Apr 2016

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Posted on: 04 Apr 2016

Why You Should Evaluate Study Abroad Opportunities Before University


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 16 Mar 2016

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Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 16 Mar 2016

How To Get a Real Job With Your International Internship Experience


By: Elaina Giolando | Posted on: 11 Feb 2016

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Elaina Giolando
Posted on: 11 Feb 2016