What Employers Look For

Surveys of employers repeatedly show that what they most seek are graduates with transferable skills that they can demonstrate.

Students who study abroad for at least a semester, in a "high-impact" program in another language, acquire/increase these core skills and, what's more, can prove it.

I still list my internship on my resume, 6 years post-graduation, because it affirms my ability to live and work abroad and collaborate in multilingual environments.

Seth. Political Science, Religion


But employers tend not to be satisfied by a line on a curriculum vitae. When surveyed, they say they want to hear a candidate who can show how their experience abroad helped then hone specific skills. How then can students prepare themselves?

First of all, there is general consensus on what are considered “high impact” educational practices. Chief among them are undergraduate research, internships, service learning and meaningful study abroad. IFE's Field Study and Internship programs make use of all of these practices in constructing each student's semester program.

There is also consensus on principles and guidelines for experiential education and internships in particular. The National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE), a pioneer in this field, and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Education (CAS) agree; the use of internships for educational purposes must include:

  • individual mentoring

  • monitoring of student progress

  • student reflection on the “doing” part of “learning by doing”

  • close ties with academic goals.

At IFE program design adheres closely to this methodology. Furthermore, the Principles for worthwhile internship programs, as set out by the NSEE and the CSA, are reflected in the goals and outcomes of IFE's Field Study and Internship programs. These principles include knowledge acquisition and application; increased cognitive complexity; personal development; interpersonal skills; work habits; and civic engagement.

In adhering to these standards and principles IFE's programs naturally provide students with abundant examples of personal growth, skill acquisition and knowledge application, which are demonstrable to employers.

Specifically, the skills employers consistently rate the highest are:

  • Teamwork

  • Ability to work successfully in inter-cultural and diverse settings

  • Initiative and ability to carry forward a project

  • Inter-personal skills

  • Written and oral communication.

N.B. These are considered much more important than what undergraduate major a student completed. (Headline in the daily newspaper Inside Higher Ed: “New data suggest that STEM majors are not the only route to success”.)



Furthermore, some surveys have looked at employer expectation compared to graduates' self-appraisal, and the discrepancies that consistently show up are instructive; employers find that students are not as prepared or skilled as they think they are in several of these key skill areas, and especially those related to openness to difference, teamwork in a diverse setting, and communication skills.

The advantage of a “high-impact” program such as IFE offers is that students accomplish work and complete experiences that they can cite and show to substantiate skill claims in these key areas.

One last consideration: language study abroad and the skills it teaches are far more than aids to landing a first job. International experience, multi-lingualism and inter-cultural skills and perspectives are invaluable attributes that follow graduates well beyond their entry into the world of work. As seen above, standards setters and employers agree: high impact experiential education abroad (IFE in a nutshell) is good life preparation and good training for a fulfilling career.


  • Development and Validation of the NACE Career Readiness Competencies, National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.naceweb.org/center/)
  • How College Contributes to Workforce Success: Employer views on what matters most, an AAC&U publication, American Assocation of Colleges & Universities (www.aacu.org)
  • Career Integration: Reviewing the impact of experience abroad on employment, a publication of CAPA International Education and The University of Minnesota (umabroad.umn.edu/resources/career-integration/resources/publications)
  • Internationalization and Employability in Higher Education, Robert Coelen (Ed.) and Cate Gribble (Ed.) Routledge
  • Overconfident Students, Dubious Employers. A new study identifies the gaps between graduates' views of their skills and the views of those who hire them. Inside Higher Ed, February 22, 2018
  • The Impact of Study Abroad on Student Academic Achievement, Global Perspectives and the Job Market: Evidence from U.S. undergraduate students. Doctoral thesis by Ji Ling, Columbia University  ( www.academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/D85X28ZH)