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How to Enhance Your College Resume by Working Abroad

Where to Go and What to Do

Work abroad doing archeology discovering carvings in a cave.
Work abroad in archeology discovering carvings in a cave.

Many students coming out of college right now — or even recently — have seen high-paying work opportunities diminish. With a slow recovery continuting to impact the United States as well as other countries in an increasingly global economy, companies in many fields are looking to lay off employees rather than hire new ones, often as part of the automation process or by squeezing existing employees for "greater productivity." For a graduate with little to no work experience this is not always an ideal environment in which to start building a career.

But there is a silver lining to this dark career cloud; one that young adventurous people fresh out of school — the very people who are having difficulty finding jobs in light of the slow economic recovery — are in a perfect position to take advantage of: the world of travel, and working abroad. In fact, you may even find that your resume will gain the kick start it needs by virtue of your travels.

Who Are You and What Are You Doing With Your Life?

Have you felt a need to have this question fully answered before receiving your diploma or degree? Do you feel pressure to make largely uneducated decisions about your own life? Have you been groomed to know exactly how the rest of your life is supposed to play out, before you even feel like you have had a chance to see the starting gate? Do you sense that a few pieces are missing from the grander puzzle of life? Do you even know how to manage your own finances yet?

Graduation from school often does not prepare you to answer such key existential and practical questions relating to your future life and ability to adapt to day-to-day realities.

Travel Builds Life Skills

There are a number of holes or flaws in the curriculum of nearly every school. Certain topics are omitted because the powers that be who construct educational syllabi believe there are some things that should be taught by parents (or other out-of-class coaches) and not school teachers. Critical capabilities, such as interpersonal and communication skills, managing finances, and problem solving are touched upon in school, but frequently not in a comprehensive or applicable way. These are examples of true life skills — those that are acquired and applied with experience.

Such skills will not necessarily find their way onto your resume, but they will speak volumes during an interview. Some of the skills that an astute employer will pick up on when they see from your resume may well derive from time spent traveling and working abroad.

“I look at [work abroad] as a positive. I believe that it takes a lot of courage to just pick up and leave for a year. They are forced to network and make new friends along the way which would develop their personal skills which is the most important attribute in any career. It will help with life skills, not just work.”

— Ermos Erotocritou, hiring manager, Investors Group

When Conditions to Travel and Work Abroad Are Perfect

Most college (or high school) graduates are in an obliviously optimal position for travel and work abroad. You are young. You are likely fit and unafraid of some hard work (like picking fruit or other physical seasonal jobs) that a more career-battered person might balk at.

You do not have a mortgage to pay. In fact, you probably do not have much in the way of the expensive or extensive belongings or bills that can tie you down as they do for so many of your elders. If you do not have family or friends with a garage to store your belongings in your absence, selling them all off should not be traumatic; you have likely not had enough time to acquire the kind of precious heirlooms or expensive items that would break your heart to part with.

You do not have kids. Although travel with children is far from impossible, it is often much easier when all you have to worry about is yourself as you set out to discover the world at large.

You do not have a career you are entrenched in. Whether or not you love or abhor your job, once you have a few years under your belt and are climbing up the pay scale ladder, taking on more responsibilities, and creating professional relationships, it often proves much more difficult to leave.

Travel Does Not Have to Cost a Fortune

Although you would be well served to save up a few dollars before embarking on your trip abroad, some prudent spending coupled with your income from working abroad should result in a positive balance in your bank account upon your return and not a load of travel-induced debt. Even if you have to pay off school loans while traveling and working abroad, this can be arranged in advance of your trip with some savings and a little planning.

People Will Understand

When I decided to start traveling full-time, I was very nervous to break the news to my family and friends. I was afraid that they would not understand why I wanted to leave home for so long to only to travel, and I feared that they would think that I was being irresponsible. But I was in for a pleasant surprise when just about everybody supported my decision — even expressing envy and wishing that they had the courage to do so themselves.

“I definitely believe travel abroad, and especially work abroad, broaden a person's horizons. I can't imagine anyone thinking that taking time off between graduation and work is a bad thing. You just have to be ready to explain it. Bad explanation: I couldn't get a job so I went traveling. Good explanation: I wasn't going to get this opportunity once I had a job and started developing commitments in life, so I thought post-college was the right time to do it. And boy am I glad I did.....

I know my own travels have always been a subject of discussion in job interviews. It provides one more thing you can potentially use to bond with an interviewer. It's why you put personal interests and the like into a resume.”

— Sanjay Singhal, founder, Simply Audiobooks, Graboid, Pricist, and tbd.

From the Traveler’s Mouth…

“I believe traveling absolutely helped my career and sent me down a path I probably never would have walked down otherwise. Traveling helps people because it builds curiosity and confidence... not to mention a network of friends that spans across the globe,” says Grant Lingel, who decided to travel after college.

“I watched friend after friend take the imminent plunge into the workforce, applying for jobs they had no interest in working. I knew immediately there was something better out there.”

In his travels, Grant worked and volunteered his way through Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala for one year. The year shaped his life and career, and he has even written a book on the topic.

What Do You Do Abroad? How Do You Find Work?

It is relatively easy for people under the age of 30 to gain working visas in a number of countries, from Australia and New Zealand, to Canada, the U.K., and many others. Once you have a working visa, you will have a variety of employment opportunities at your fingertips. Since some countries may be under less economic duress than the United States right now, a more prosperous country will have more job opportunities available for you to jump on. You might choose to start building your career in your area of expertise during time spent abroad.

You may also like the idea of teaching English. In countries where it is harder to qualify for a working visa and find a standard job, you can teach English and have your expenses covered in addition to receiving a stipend. In many cases, with a college degree under your belt, even the cost of training will be covered.

Then again, maybe you just want to see the world at large and work at a series of seasonal or temporary jobs. There is nothing wrong with picking fruit in tropical north Australia, working at a world-famous ski resort in Canada or Switzerland, caretaking in Belize, leading adventure tours in Costa Rica, and bartending in a pub in the U.K. (Editor's note: see precisely such accounts on our short-term jobs section of the website). These jobs will help you build a repertoire of experiences that will not only create amazing memories, but will also help you to determine what you want (and do not want) in your career.

And in defining what you want in your career, you will also be defining a little bit of who you are, such as how you like to spend your time, the kind of people you like to be with, and where you want your life to go. Taking time to work abroad is far from irresponsible; in fact it may render you far richer in the long run than you ever imagined you could be.

For More Information

Most working visas for young people are for 1-year terms, with options for extensions in some countries. These visas are also widely known as “working holiday visas.”

Transitions Abroad also has some useful Gap Year Abroad resources, working abroad advice, as well as first-hand accounts by many of have worked in Jobs Abroad after graduation. is an excellent general site offering general information for working holiday and other travel visas abroad.

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