Selling your international experience


It’s probably not long until graduation will be on your horizons and quite soon most of you will be looking for work or further study.  The graduate job market is competitive; a degree alone is not enough and you need to think about what might set you apart from the competition. Selling yourself is something that you will have to do in applications and interviews for employment or postgraduate study. This is something that many people find difficult but your time away from university is something that could help you to set yourself apart from the competition. The activity below is designed to help you to think about how you can sell your time abroad to others, whether that’s employers or admissions tutors for postgraduate courses.

Elevator pitch activity

Try putting together a two minute “elevator pitch”, or sales pitch, based on your experience away from the University. This can help you to really clarify your thinking about what you got out of your time abroad; something that will be really useful to you when you come to writing applications for jobs or postgraduate study.

An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define you; the name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride; approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. In developing an elevator pitch to describe your time abroad think about what you learned, what challenges you faced, your own specific achievements and what differentiates you from a student who hasn’t spent time abroad. It’s also important to make sure use positive language when selling your experience. Take a look at the example elevator pitch and tips for creating your elevator pitch below to get you started.

Example elevator pitch:

“I’m a final year Economics student at the University of Edinburgh and I spent my third year abroad on exchange in Spain. During the year I developed my communication and Spanish language skills and overcame many challenges including settling in to a new culture and education system, which developed my resilience, problem solving and organisational skills. When I arrived in Spain I quickly had to get to grips with living in a new culture and going about my day to day life using Spanish and studying at a new university where I didn’t know anyone at first. I quickly got to know other students on my course and although taking classes entirely in Spanish was a huge challenge it helped me to develop my language skills to a much higher level. I believe that this international experience along with my academic and work experience sets me apart from other applicants in the graduate job market. I’m now focused on applying for graduate analyst roles in multinational organisations where I hope to utilise my communication, language and cultural skills.”

Tips for developing your elevator pitch

  • Know yourself – what are your key strengths and skills? What adjectives can you use to describe these?
  • What are the key things about your time abroad that you would like others to know about you? This could be specific skills you have developed, experiences you had during your time abroad or challenges you have overcome
  • Can you provide an example? Think of something memorable from your time abroad that backs up what you’ve said about your skills and would help people to remember you
  • How has your experience changed you? Think about how your international experience has changed you; this might be in terms of the skills you’ve developed, how your ideas have changed or new things you have learned about yourself
  • Think about your next steps – what things do you now need to do next to make progress? How has your experience impacted on your ideas about your future?


Tips for fine-tuning:

  • Write down all the things about your time abroad that come to your mind including skills you’ve developed and experiences you’ve had
  • Cut down on the details, jargon and unnecessary words – construct short concise sentences
  • Connect phrases to each other so that your elevator pitch flows smoothly
  • Think about the key question for your listener – what’s in it for me?

Download example and worksheet for developing your elevator pitch

You can also create different versions of your elevator pitch for different purposes, for example one for a potential employer and one for a university tutor if you’re applying for postgraduate courses.

Preparing for applications and interviews

Now you’ve cracked your elevator pitch it’s also worth thinking about how you sell your international experience in a more structured way as part of the recruitment process as it’s likely that you’ll soon be working on applications for graduate jobs or postgraduate study. Many graduate recruiters ask candidates to describe how they have developed specific skills by using competency based questions on application forms and at interviews.

Competency questions require you to provide a specific example from your experience to illustrate how you have developed a particular skill or competency that the employer is looking for. Some examples of competency questions are provided below:

  • Describe a situation in which you were a member of team. What did you do to positively contribute to it?
  • Give us an example of a situation where you worked under pressure.
  • When have you risen to a challenge? Describe your role and any outcomes.

You’ll notice that each of the questions starts with a phrase such as ‘Give me an example’; these questions require you to provide a specific example from your experience that demonstrates how you have developed a particular skill, rather than to talk about your skills in a generalised way.

There is a framework that you can use for answering competency questions that can be useful to follow to ensure that you answer the question in a concise way, the STAR framework:

  • S – Situation – what was the context? Set the scene for the employer e.g. During my year abroad in Spain…
  • T – Task – what was the specific task that you had to do?
  • A – Action – what actions did you take? What things did you do to complete the task? If you were working as part of a team then what were you responsible for within the team? How did you handle any challenges that you faced in trying to complete your task?
  • R – Result – what was the result or outcome of your efforts? Were you successful? Did you learn anything as a result? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

It can be useful to think about your international experience in these terms if you’re going to apply for graduate jobs as competency questions are used very widely by graduate employers. When it comes to the application process you’ll then have a bank of examples that you can draw from to answer this type of question. Below is an activity to help you with this.

Competency question activity

Choose a competency question from the list below and think of an example from your international experience that you could use to answer the question and then write an answer to the question in the STAR framework by downloading and completing the worksheet below. You can then repeat the exercise for the other questions if you wish to.

Example competency questions

  • Explain how you managed to resolve a difficult problem. What solution did you reach?
  • Describe how your personal planning and organisation resulted in the successful achievement of a personal or group task.
  • Describe a situation where you had to work effectively as a member of a team and outline your contribution to the team.
  • When have you risen to a challenge? Describe your role and any outcomes.
  • Describe a situation where you had to use an innovative way to solve a problem.
  • Describe where you have had to show flexibility to rearrange your plans to cope with a change in circumstances.
  • Describe a situation when you have had to make a difficult decision. How did you go about this?
  • Give up an example of when you developed effective working relationships with people from differing backgrounds, or having differing views, to accomplish an important result.
  • Describe a situation where you have had to complete a challenging task to a tight deadline.

Worksheet on competency questions

Of course when you’re completing an application form or going for an interview it’s important that you use examples from different contexts in your life and not just from your international experience but completing this activity will give you a good range of examples to draw on. You might also wish to identify examples for these questions for different areas of your life including your academic studies, work experience and any extra-curricular activities you’re involved with.

The questions you might have to tackle as part of the recruitment process will depend on the job and employer that you’re applying to but the principle of using the STAR framework for answering this type of question will be the same.

You can find more information and advice about applications and interviews on the Careers Service website.

“Your international experience is valuable if you are able to realise how it helped you grow as a person. My time abroad changed me immensely by simply giving me the chance to experience a whole new world and to be able to get the most out of it. I learned a lot during this time and was able to reflect back on it which has always been helpful for applications/interviews. The most important thing is to show what you’ve learned and how it was beneficial for your development as a person. Be concise, give examples and take pride in your experiences.”         – Undergraduate student, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences