The Purposeful Connection of an Internship to Student Career Development

These are my notes from my webinar presentation conducted by the Sub-Committee on Work, Internships and Volunteering Abroad of NAFSA, Nov. 15, 2011 “Integrating the Internship Experience Into Long-Term Career Development”


  • Given the impact of globalization in the workplace, and in light of the new skills in demand by businesses, nonprofits and government, it’s to a student’s advantage to consider the career implications of what may be a once-in-a –lifetime educational experience.  Today’s global marketplace demands increased adaptability, cross-cultural sensitivity, political awareness and intellectual flexibility.
  • Globalization’s impact on workers and the workplace has leaped across national borders and transcends cultures.
  • Businesses are taking a more active interest than ever before in the outcomes of education abroad experiences as they struggle to build a sophisticated and informed workforce
  • Employers, especially those doing business internationally, are interested in whether or not a job applicant demonstrates that as a result of their  internship – or other international experience- they have developed the requisite skills and sensitivity that makes them stand out as the strongest candidate for a particular job.
  • The challenge facing students is to successfully translate what they learned abroad into accomplishment statements on their resumes, and to effectively articulate and clearly describe these skills during their job interviews. 


It’s important that students not only discuss their interest in an international internship with an advisor in the Study Abroad office, but, also review their decision in terms of their overall career plans – so speaking with an advisor in the Career Services office will be useful.  Even if a student has not yet settled on a clear career path and feel it’s too early, there is much to be gained in having a conversation with a career advisor about plans to study abroad.  Think it through at each stage:

  •  When you are deciding: build opportunities to see connections between study abroad &  your career goals
  • When you are abroad: build opportunities to describe & analyze impacts of new intercultural competencies that you are developing
  • When you return to campus: build opportunities to re-frame and articulate what you have learned

WILL EMPLOYERS VALUE AN INTERNATIONAL INTERNSHIP? Yes, but not the experience itself; they value what is learned, how the student gained new skills such as language competency, increased cross-cultural knowledge and sensitivities, and critical thinking and analytic skills.

How International Education Impacts a Global Career

Do Employers Value Education Abroad Experience?

At first glance, the answer seems quite self-evident. How could they not? In a domestic economy which grows more linked to overseas markets and investors each year, companies must be on the cutting edge of new technological developments; always looking for opportunities in emerging markets in the developing world; constantly assessing their workforce requirements to insure that managers and workers understand the inter-related economic forces which impact their performance and the firms’ bottom line. Globalization is the most powerful economic factor influencing the job market in all regions of the world. Can we imagine the look of our global economy in 2025 and the skills and experience students will need, and employers will expect? What will the geo-political landscape look like? Will students be interning and working in North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Cuba? Can we predict the industries and workforce needs which will emerge from the current political chaos in these regions?

Employers Do Value Education Abroad

In a report prepared by J. Walter Thompson Education for the Institute of International Education (IIE), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Australian Education Office, the company sought to determine employer acceptability and market value of an international degree among U.S. audiences – specifically students and employers. Its findings showed that “…employers most important selection criteria in recruiting a candidate are interpersonal skills, and when questioned employers believe that these skills are likely to be strong in a candidate who has had an overseas education experience. The challenge really is to more effectively link and promote this connection…[emphasis added]” (Thompson 2002)

In addition, the study reported that employers also found that candidates with international study experience possessed a wide range of skills desirable in their employees: these included, among others, cross-cultural communication skills, leadership, maturity, independence and cultural awareness. While this finding would likely warm the heart of any international educator, one of the ironies of the research is that only 3% of students surveyed stated that they expressly chose to study overseas because they believed that employers see those with some sort of overseas experience as more employable!

This finding points to a key issue, if not a vexing conflict, for international educators: Should students be encouraged to go abroad for altruistic reasons – i.e. to widen their world view and experience another culture (a goal cited by 60% of students in the Thompson study)? Or should their decision to participate in an education abroad experience(s) be linked more directly to future career goals and professional aspirations? Are these two points of view fundamentally incompatible, or are there opportunities before students depart, during their period of study abroad, and after they return to campus, to integrate their international experiences with both their career goals and the hiring criteria of employers? More on this in later posts.

Martin Tillman, President

Global Career Compass

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