How Cross-Cultural Learning Can Benefit Your Job Search

Center for International and Cultural Education

You immersed yourself in a different cultural context: great! But just saying that you did so is not enough. You need to be able to describe the skills, knowledge, and experiences you gained in terms that speak to prospective employers. Here's some help to get you started.

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Why intercultural/global competence matters

There are a number of career-readiness competencies that employers around the world are commonly seeking. Among those most mentioned are:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Oral/Written Communications (justify/persuade)
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Digital Technology
  • Leadership
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic
  • Career Management
  • Global/Intercultural Competence

Given that so many employers place a high value on intercultural competence, it makes sense to highlight your readiness in this area and how your international or domestic study away experience (or your experience as an international student in the U.S.) has allowed you to gain some of this competence.

What is intercultural/global competence?

It's not just about being able to 'get through' an interaction with someone from another culture. Intercultural competence is about developing genuine understanding of another person’s viewpoint and perspective. It’s about people feeling like they’re really heard, respected, and included. That’s good for business, for nonprofit environments, for schools – everywhere. Employers, graduate schools, and fellowship programs are all looking for candidates who can demonstrate that they have developed interculural competence.

For the resume

Where does your cross-cultural experience go? There are many places on the resume that you may want to include your cross-cultural experience. You most likely will not need to use all of them, so you will need to decide where it makes the most sense to feature it.

  • Education section: list your study away/abroad or international degree experience
  • Experience section: did you complete a volunteer or paid position while immersed in your study away experience?
  • Scholarship/Academic section: if this is an academic CV, think about how to present any research or other learning projects completed during your time immersed in cross-cultural study
  • International experience: You may actually get to add this section to highlight your experiences!

How do you best represent your cross-cultural experience on your resume? There is no one formula for representing what you learned by studying away/abroad or completing your degree abroad.

  • If you are aiming for business positions, you may want to focus on technical aspects (e.g., your knowledge of how to market products differently in different cultures).
  • If you are applying for work in education or in socila services, you may want to mention personal experiences with inclusion and exclusion, or knowledg of best practices for inclsuive approaches to the work.

What words to use? Again, this is context-dependent.

  • If you opportunity limits you to a one-page resume, perhaps just the course/program name (e.g., Health Care in Tanzania).
  • In some cases, listing what you studied, rather the course or program name, might be wiser (e.g., "Studied economics of developing countries while an international student in the U.S.").
  • Or the focus might be in the specific activities (e.g., took university-level courses in Spanish language; engaged in home stay and in-country travel, completed research project)
For the cover letter

So what? X 3. You studied in an international or interculural setting. So what? One of the best exercises in helping you think about how to communicate the value of that experience is to follow this three-step "So what?" progression. Remember, you have to be able to articulate step 3 well in order to speak the employer's language (i.e., how you will be able to contribuet as part of their team). It helps, though, to go through the steps, as most of us get stuck on step one.

  1. Report. What happened? when? where? the details
  2. Why does it matter? What was learned through this experience? What is the value of that learning?
  3. What are the outcomes? How will what you learned influence what you are able to do as a future employee? What are some specific examples of how you can use what you learned?

Example: Using something as simple as the fact that everyone in large cities in India honks their car horns incessantly. Here's the So what X3 on that:

  1. "I realized that people were using their horns in order to announce their location and avoid collisions in incredibly crowded streets."
  2. "I learned to see a behavior that I at first found inherently offensive as one that made a lot of sense in the context."
  3. "I demonstrated the ability to use observation in order to learn quickly how things work in the local cultural context."

Giving the #2 information here is not the worst thing you could do, but being able to articulate #3 – both in the cover letter and in your interview – puts you in the position of saying something very important to the prospective employer, helping them to see what value you might bring to their organization.

STARR. Another way to think of it is to use the STARR method:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result
  • Relate (sometimes also called Reflection)

STARR narratives (stories using this method) can help you build the case that you have gained the global competence that your future employer needs. Consider this pre-STARR/STARR example:

Pre-STARR version: "I lived in Spain for a year and worked in a department with primarily Spanish colleagues. We often completed projects together. I noticed that people sometimes talked with each other before getting to work, so I started doing this. It was fun, and I realized that I was able to get along better with my Spanish colleagues."

Now consider the STARR version of the same story: "While living in Malaga, Spain, I worked in a department with primarily Spanish colleagues. We often worked collaboratively on projects. Rather than getting right down to business at the start of our meetings, my colleagues had coffee with one another and socialized as a precursor to starting the project. Observing this difference between task- and relationship-oriented work styles, I learned to be flexible and adapt my behavior to fit the group’s cultural norms, resulting in enhanced team synergy. This ability to be observant and flexible in the workplace allows for effective collaboration on culturally diverse teams and is essential for building trust with new and diverse clientele."

In particular, the final sentence here does the work of the final R (Relate). It relates what you learned from your experience in Spain to the work context of the employer's organization. This method can help set you apart from other applicants who only mention their experiences without helping the hiring manager or committee to see why those experiences will be valuable to them.

You can find a lot more information about the STARR method and more examples by searching it online.

Ask us for help!

If you would like help with your resume and cover letter, your best first stop is the Gustavus Career Development office. You can also ask CICE team members for help, but you should certainly see Career Development team members first, as this is exactly why they are here!

Additional outside resources