How to Use Travel to Boost Your Resume & Your Career

Resumes, cover letters, interviews, oh my! The career search is the last thing on your mind when you’re escaping to a foreign country, whether to study, work, or just have some time for yourself. But traveling and studying abroad are experiences that naturally enhance your skill set—the key is to translate those skills to resume fodder. So while you may think your semester abroad was just a party or the mission trip to Mexico you’re planning is trivial, think again. Read on for tips on how to use travel to benefit your career search and build your resume.


Before you go…

Choose your travels wisely.
Spontaneity is exciting, but it’s better suited to magic tricks and celebrity marriages than a semester of your life. In fact, careful planning will make your abroad experience a sure success, so figure out where you want to go and how that aligns with your career trajectory. “I’m an aspiring broadcast journalist, so depending which field I want to specialize in, travel is an important aspect of my future career,” says Rosanna Pound-Woods from the University of Leeds, whose internship in Australia has helped her land work. “The opportunity to report from around the world would be absolutely fantastic, and to understand the news and what is happening in the world, an appreciation of culture and differences in political systems in different locations is vital. What better way to properly increase your knowledge about these places than through travel?”

Have an objective.
Take a hint from Tupac—make your ambitions clear before you set off on your journey. Hillary Coombs from Bryant University had two distinct goals before setting foot on foreign soil: “I traveled to China this past winter with my dad to shadow him on a business trip and get a joint venture I had been working on signed,” she says. But she was conscious of the additional benefits of traveling to that specific destination, too: “While I was lucky enough to be part of the business side, traveling to China in general is a great resume builder for anyone going into business—every industry works with China.” Identify your goals ahead of time in order to maximize the quality of your trip.

Do your homework.
Once you’ve committed to a destination, search for diamonds in the rough—opportunities that may not seem immediately obvious. Michelle Murray, director of sales and marketing at Contiki Tours, the leading travel company for 18-35-year-olds, describes the variety of options available to any college student: “We have over 200 trips to choose from so there is one for everyone,” she says. “Pick a place that interests you and learn about the people, the culture, the history and what it’s like to travel and see the world differently.”

Darci Miller from the University of Miami sought to take advantage of an opportunity that comes only once in every four years: “When I went to London, I went with the intention of getting involved with the London 2012 Olympics,” she says. “I was able to volunteer with the casting department of London 2012 Ceremonies and it was by far the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I gained work experience, fulfilled a dream that I’ve had since I was a little girl, networked, met the most amazing group of people, and just had the time of my life.” Even if you’re not trekking to the next Olympic Games, explore opportunities unique to your location: “My friend, who’s studying drama, stumbled across the opportunity to take a stage combat class at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and that was her favorite part of the study abroad experience,” adds Darci.

While you’re there…


Work.
Finding employment abroad is a surefire way to make travel a resume-boosting experience. “I didn’t know exactly what career path I wanted before I went abroad, but I did know it had to involve international travel,” says Makena Sage, a graduate of Bryant University who spent a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I ended up working for an international au pair agency, which places live-in childcare providers from other countries with host families in the U.S. and Australia for 12 to 24-month childcare/cultural exchange programs.” Not only did employment enhance her semester abroad, but it also guaranteed her employment after graduation. “My company has offices in California, Germany and Sydney,” adds Makena, who now works for the International Au Pair Exchange in New York City. “I work virtually, so in addition to going between these offices and my home base in New York City on a regular basis, I also get to travel whenever and wherever else I want!” If you’re interested in working abroad, be sure to read up on the visa application process prior to your departure to make sure trivial matters like paperwork stay out of your way.

Intern.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that internships are only useful in the summertime, nor that you have to be interested in international relations or business to intern abroad. Murray reports that at Contiki, she sees “a broad array of career paths [among our patrons]—we get all kinds! I have yet to see a pattern.” This demonstrates the wide variety of career ambitions among those who choose to travel. Hillary, for instance, decided to plan an internship for her time in Spain with the Chamber of Commerce, maintaining that it’s “a great way to make your study abroad [experience] look more like an educational opportunity than a semester of partying.”

Volunteer.
Community service is always a valuable use of time—even when you’re outside your community. Volunteer a skill only you can offer, like your fluency in English, for example. “If you’re in a program where you’re required to speak another language, I would definitely recommend volunteering to teach English,” says Michelle Lewis, a graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who spent a semester in France. “Some of my students weren’t exactly well-behaved, but there was nothing more rewarding than seeing them learn and care about what they learned—not to mention I learned a ton of French!”

Network.
You’ve heard that networking is invaluable, and by now your skills are as refined as those of a gentleman and a scholar. Why not put them to use wherever you go? “During my time with London 2012 Ceremonies, I made sure to chat with some staff members I was working with to see how they got to where they are,” says Darci. “One woman had worked on the Olympics when they were in her home city of Turin, Italy in 2006, and got her job in London because of her connections and people she knows.” This anecdote illustrates that networking proved useful already, but her new contact can also pass on the advantage: “She told me that very few people do casting for big events like she does and that everyone kind of knows everyone in that field. I feel very fortunate to have formed a great relationship with her, as this could really help me out in the future!” Make sure to read up on the business etiquette of your destination’s culture so that a thumbs-up translates as “way to go” and not an atrocious insult to your interviewer’s mother.


Learn the language.
Jealous of Darci’s London experience? Remind yourself that we won the war and look beyond the English. “Living in a homestay with a wonderful madre who could not understand a word of English drastically helped to improve my Spanish-speaking skills because I was forced to speak to her and practice even when I didn’t want to,” says Rachel Lytle, a Pennsylvania State University graduate who studied in Alicante, Spain. “I have no doubt that understanding Spanish will help to advance my career someday in one way or another (the way I see it, the more people you can communicate with, the better). Studying abroad also helped me to gain confidence in a way unlike before. If I can get lost in a foreign country and ask a random stranger a question in a second, yet still non-fluent language in order to find my way home, I started to feel like I could do anything; solve any problem, find any solution.” In fact, the New York Times reports that bilingualism is linked to higher intellectual capacity in some areas and lower susceptibility to dementia. Michelle Lewis agrees that learning a language transcends its intrinsic value, saying, “Learning how to communicate with people in a different language makes you a more effective communicator even when you’re speaking English.” ¿Entienden, chicas?

Expect the unexpected.
Leave some wiggle room outside of your commitments—both to have fun and because the experiences you’ll come across could be equally beneficial to your career and employment prospects. Darci recalls one experience in which a vacation turned into a valuable lesson: “My friends and I planned a three-week backpacking trip across Europe, and when we were trying to get from Paris to Venice, there were no seats available on any trains. We had to resort to flying. Somehow, the airline we chose changed our reservation without us knowing, so we ended up stuck in the airport with no flight until the following day.” Darci and her friends ultimately managed to cram onto an earlier flight, but she’s more grateful for the lesson learned: “It showed us that no matter how well prepared you think you are, things can always go wrong.”

After the fact…

Frame your resume well.
How exactly do you convey the value of your experience in just a few lines? “[Travel] can be bulleted under the degree or structured as part of ‘Professional Experience.’ I advise using that title instead of ‘Employment History,’ since it allows you to incorporate unpaid experiences that utilize one’s professional skill sets,” says Tom Dezell, a professional career advisor and author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker. Dezell gave Her Campus the following example of how a student might present, for instance, a semester abroad in New Zealand:

B.S. Marine Biology (School Name)
• Studied Marine Biology at (Name) in New Zealand during second semester of Junior year.

Study abroad experiences are intuitive because you already have an education section on your resume. Less structured travel experiences should be left out, right? Not necessarily, says Dezell: “Several years ago a gentleman in our program took a year out of his career to sail from California to Australia. He presented this on his resume in format consistent with all other jobs and used bullets to detail the amount of work this involved. The feedback he received was very positive.” Dezell suggests a slightly different format for nonacademic travel, though:

International Travel (Dates)
[Provide a 2 to 3-line outline of where you went. Then use bullets to describe career-related activities.]

Talk up your achievements.
Your don’t have to be Gulliver or Carmen Sandiego to touch on your travels during interviews and in cover letters. Focusing on such experiences will make the conversation more interesting and might provide common ground with future employers.

“I discussed my time abroad in an interview for an internship with my local TV station, as they were interested to hear about my time at the community station in Australia, and also about where I had traveled to afterwards,” says Rosanna. “They seemed quite impressed that I had travelled alone and they must have liked the fact I’d done my internship out there too, as they told me it was the main reason I was successful in getting the placement with them!”

Cover letters are also prime real estate for elaborating on your travel experiences: “In a few cover letters, I wrote about the weekend I spent visiting Morocco, Africa as it connected to the late Marie Colvin, a renowned journalist who spent her life reporting from various dangerous places around the world,” says Rachel. Connecting your travel experiences to your resume is a punchy way to start a cover letter and pique the interest of your employer. “World perspective is so important especially in today’s world with everything being global,” adds Murray. “Travel says you’re an achiever, confident and broad-minded – all qualities a potential employer would want.”

Understand your audience.
You wouldn’t belt out a song on Survivor or eat a squirrel on American Idol, would you? Use the same principle (a.k.a. common sense) to structure your resume and job search. Dezell advises gearing your travel experience toward the specific employment prospect at hand—and vice versa, choosing employers based on your qualifications, including those you gained internationally. “Find ways to show an employer how the experience adds value to you as a candidate. Target companies to apply to that do business in a country you spent time in, for example.”

If international employment isn’t your fancy, have no fear. Your experiences abroad can still add substance to your resume and demonstrate your capabilities. “The key is to describe one’s activities in a way that shows ways the travel added or improved one’s skill sets,” says Dezell. “Be prepared—there will be skeptical employers who may think that listing travel is just fluff or padding the resume. If the student truly finds the experience very beneficial, however, [she should] not only convey this on the resume, but work in anecdotes of this into interviews as well.”


Know what to leave out.
You know not to behave like Snooki in the U.S., so don’t act like Snooki in Italy, either. As one career-conscious collegiette puts it, “I learned more than I ever thought I would while abroad, but employers don’t need to know I learned some of those lessons half drunk.” The same rules that apply to constructing your resume also apply to other arenas of self-presentation: “If you have any stories from your time abroad that don’t show you in the most intelligent or favorable light, it’s best to save them for your friends,” says Elizabeth Tompkins, a graduate from College of William and Mary who participated in a Semester at Sea. “Even if you think they’ll make your interviewer laugh, just be aware that they’ll also form the basis of his/her opinion of you.” Makena also reminds us to be web-conscious, which can be easy to forget in a totally new environment, but is important to remember no matter where you are: “Try to avoid putting up a bunch of pictures with alcohol, tweeting about your all-nighters, etc. Some pictures dancing or something is fine (everyone goes out sometimes) but be very aware of the image you’re putting out online.”

Remember miscellany.
Aside from structured commitments like classes, internships, jobs, and community service hours, don’t forget to take credit for all the valuable experiences you picked up on your journey. If you’re struggling with an iffy experience, visit your campus career center for tips or workshops on how to translate your experiences abroad into resume fodder: “Something that really helped was a one-day seminar I took at my college about translating your study abroad experience into a resume-builder and transferable skills,” says Elizabeth. The same can be said for nonacademic travels: “On Contiki trips, travelers meet and interact with people from all over the world,” notes Murray. “This builds social skills and enhances a person’s ability to relate to people with different viewpoints. Traveling pushes people outside their comfort zones in ways that build courage, confidence and independence.” Not sure which skills to include? Collegiettes we polled said they listed one or more of the following travel experiences on their resumes—check these out for both classic and creative ideas to add to your own:

  • Language and communication skills
  • Study abroad/international scholarships
  • Adaptability to difficult circumstances
  • Cultural sensitivity/awareness
  • Planning, budgeting and organization
  • Integration of field work with knowledge gained from the classroom
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Composure under pressure
  • Determination and strong work ethic
  • Experience in a team setting
  • Receptiveness to unfamiliar situations and environments

Allow for new possibilities.
Whether you planned them like Hermione or went abroad on a whim, your travels may be more relevant to your future than you originally thought: “Travel isn’t necessarily related to my career path,” admits Michelle. “I want to be a journalist, and I always thought it would be cool to be a foreign correspondent, but I never thought it would actually happen. Now that I’ve lived in France for five months, I feel like if I wanted to, I could do it!”

Rachel shares a similar experience: “When I first left to go abroad, the only way traveling to Spain was related to my career path was my minor Spanish.” Since returning, however, Rachel expresses interest in communications work involving travel, writing for a travel magazine, and using her Spanish in everyday interactions with clients and customers in any career field. But, she says, “all of these things never even crossed my mind before leaving for Spain.” Just like Michelle and Rachel, the magic of traveling abroad can influence your career path—and make you a more attractive candidate for whichever path that is.

 

No matter how your time abroad fits on your resume, you’ll return a more interesting person and job candidate. Take your experience with you wherever you go—whether as close to home as Kansas or as far away as Oz—and you’ll be sure to find success along the way.