It may be a cliché…

(Scroll down to find Top Tips for Selling Your Year Abroad in an Interview) 

After spending 12 months in France under the pretext of ‘University course requirements’, coming back to England was an enormous shock. Not only because I kept bumping into people at service stations on the way home and mumbling “Pardon…”, but also because I was thrown back into my final year at University, which accounts for 80% of my degree. No pressure.

Worse still, I had also forgotten that the end of uni was imminent, meaning one thing:
(un) employment.

Deciding what you want to do/where you want to go in life is obviously a personal decision depending on multiple factors. Whilst I won’t bore you with my thought process, I will quickly mention that my long-term goal is to live and work in France, permanently, after loving every minute of the past 12 months.  (On a side note: I will be back in Lyon in 2 weeks for a visit and again over the Summer – watch out for more posts.) For now, I decided I wanted to consolidate my arts degree by finding a place on a graduate scheme.

Everyone knows that the graduate job market is hard. There is a certain cliché that has echoed around my University’s lecture theatres for my past 4 years, and was even drilled into me on the very first Open Day I attended, way back in 2007.

“A year abroad will make you more employable.”

I’ve heard various forms of the same phrase but they all amount to this. And whilst you can nod along whilst munching on your free biscuit and think that it all sounds like quite a nice idea, I’m not sure that I totally believed it. Surely everyone thinks that 12 months abroad on your CV is nothing more than extended holiday?

Wishful thinking...

I have had my fair share of job rejections. Okay, LOADS. But eventually you learn to refine your applications and find jobs you are ACTUALLY interested in, lol, and you progress a little further. Then it’s telephone interviews and assessment centres, sat with a bunch of other slightly worried-looking graduates.

I remember one particular assessment centre, feeling ridiculously out of my depth. My peers studied management, marketing, maths – one was doing a Masters in Business and another a PhD in Economics. Merde. How does someone studying a BA compete? I just about kept my head above water in group tasks discussing profit margins and investment, but it was short lived, and I was stood blinking silently when assessors quizzed us on certain areas of our presentation with terms that I didn’t understand and areas I’d overlooked. Awkward.

All assessment centres also include an individual interview. For competency questions, I found that my year abroad acted as a library full of responses. Examples of the weirdest, funniest, most problematic and fantastic moments of 12 months in France, neatly reconstructed in to several lines of ‘This is how I problem solve/lead a group/adapt to change/motivate myself.’

And finally after 4 difficult exercises that day, there was one left: an individual presentation, to be prepared 15 minutes in advance and to present to 2 assessors. The title was handed out to each candidate and the clock began.

“Describe the biggest challenge in your life so far.”

To this day I am amazed that my head did not explode at that moment. I was grinning so much, that I’m pretty sure everyone else in the room (most of whom who would later admit to having struggled) absolutely hated me. To be honest, even I hated me. I was ridiculously and uncontrollably smug. I didn’t need notes, I wasn’t blagging, and I had all the time that massive, stupid smile, immovable on my face.

It may be a cliché, but spending time abroad does really help once you’ve got past the ‘upload your CV’ stage. Well, it did for me. (Incase you’re wondering, I got the job. Yippee!) I’m not saying you need to spend time abroad to get hired; what I am saying is this: language students, gap year veterans: have faith in yourselves. Graduate employers aren’t always looking for a PhD in Economics – sometimes they’re just looking for someone a little different from your average.

You could say they’re looking for that je ne sais quoi.

Click ‘Contine Reading’ (link just below) for Top Tips for Selling Your Year Abroad in an Interview:

Top Tips for Selling Your Year Abroad in an Interview:

1. Make the most of it!                                             2. Don’t overlook the obvious.
Make the most of your year abroad while                   Finding/starting a new job, opening a you’re still there! Try new things, meet                       bank  account, making friends, using
new people, look for opportunities to go                     public transport, getting to grips with
above and beyond! Not only will this help                  money, the locals, the food(!!)… Some
you to get the most out of your year                             of these are difficult in England! If
abroad, you will also develop skills (e.g                       you’ve mastered these abroad, you
confidence) that will speak for                                      demonstrate adaptability, organisation, themselves in an interview situation.                          problem solving, motivation….

3. Keep a diary/blog.                                              4. Turn problems into positives.  
Employers often ask you to recall precise                 Many of us face some tricky situations
situations where you had a problem/                         when abroad. Whether it be a language
showed teamwork etc. A diary acts as a                     blip (we’ve all been there!), culture
useful logbook of your more interesting                    clash, cancelled flight, or even home-
experiences (and is also a great souvenir!)                sickness, show your interviewer how
For example, I used my blog about taking                you overcame these problems and the
jelly into work with me (Read it here) as                   lessons that you learned in the process.
an example of creativity when planning                    For example, did you handle the error my lessons! Before your interview, check                 professionally? Did you show initiative
some example competency questions (you               in finding another way to get home?
could try Wikijobs – click here) and consider           Did you push yourself to meet friends
different elements of your year abroad that            to combat your homesickness?
you could adapt to each question. Don’t                   Employers don’t expect you to be
neglect other experiences from work exp,               perfect – they just want to see that you
uni and other things you’ve done in the UK.            can learn from difficult situations.

5. Curb Show your enthusiasm!                      6. And finally:  
Often employers will simply say ‘tell me a              The year abroad experience is a great little about your year abroad’ or, ‘how was              selling point when looking for a job,
your year abroad? This  isn’t a trick question         so make sure you use it! Languages are
so  don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm –         already recognised as a benefit to this will make you much more interesting                      businesses so don’t panic if you’re the
to an employer who has already conducted 5         only languague graduate in the room. interviews that day.  Just  make sure you don’t      Just don’t forget to do your homework
over-do it; maybe stop before your famous             on the company before you turn up!
‘naked sangria’ story…

Good luck!

This entry was posted in France, Graduate Jobs, Interviews, Languages, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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