Volunteering or interning abroad is sure to benefit your professional career, as it provides experience in unique fields, project management skills, and allows you to develop cross-cultural competencies. LinkedIn even includes a section specifically devoted to volunteer work on users' profile pages, and hiring managers report that local community service projects can have just as much influence as paid work when it comes to moving you forward in the selection process. However, volunteering or interning abroad is slightly different than traditional work experience, and it needs to be handled separately from local community service as far as your resume is concerned.
Before adding your FSD internship to your resume, ask yourself the following: Did the projects I worked on clearly impact my professional development? Can I easily communicate this on my resume?
You need to ensure that you can effectively and succinctly outline your volunteer experience as it relates to the job you're looking for. Why? Because professional job recruiters only glance at your resume for a few seconds and you need to make those seconds count! If you led trainings with local nurses and doctors in Kenya on how to use the computers to log patient care, clearly state how this project directly relates to your potential new job.
The second question you should ask yourself is: Was the project you worked on not as successful as you hoped it would be? Did you run into any challenges that you had not prepared for?
This can be a sticky area, and whether to include a potentially difficult project or situation on your resume is a judgment call. Some career advisors recommend leaving certain types of volunteer projects off of your resume. Although, even if your project wasn't as successful as you had hoped it would be, that doesn't mean you shouldn't include it on your resume. There are lessons learned and valuable skills gained through struggles and failures.
It should also be noted that volunteering abroad, sometimes referred to as voluntourism, has become an increasingly volatile subject. While an FSD experience is far from voluntourism, the hiring manager may not be as well-versed in the subject as you are. Often, their only exposure to the concept of volunteer travel is from news outlets that sensationalize stories rather than have a real familiarity with this type of work.
The best way to avoid this potential issue is to bring up the ethical aspects of the program when including your volunteer abroad experience on your resume or discussing it in the job interview. Make it a point to mention the ethical features of the program you selected, including the due diligence you conducted in order to find a volunteer program that has a positive impact on the host community.
Identifying Your Accomplishments
Beyond articulating what you did on your internship, it also helps to define what you gained from your internship. This process of reflection can be difficult for some, so we have given you an easy method to begin to understand and digest some of the changes and accomplishments that you have achieved in the past months.
Begin by reading over your journal, blog, notes, or even just emails that you have written to friends and family during your internship. This process is meant to refresh you on some of the project work that you did in-country and some of your experiences. As you read through these materials try to:
Make a list of what you would consider your accomplishments during your internship. It sometimes helps to not limit yourself to the tangible, like the results of your project; allow for intangible experiences like challenges that you encountered in the field and how you dealt with them. This may not seem like a huge accomplishment, but the ability to overcome problems you face is something that employers look for and something of which you should definitely be proud. Try and narrow them down to what you consider the three which you are most proud.
Make a list of what you consider some changes in perspective, understanding of international events, values, your future plans, or even (if you have been back for some time) changes in your life.
Contemplate some of the interpersonal skills you may have developed during your time working in a cross-cultural environment. The ability to work alongside people who are different than you is something many recruiters are looking for when they scan resumes.
Once you have a list of your accomplishments, draw a table with three columns, this will help you fully understand what each of these accomplishments entails and how you will be able to use them both on your resume and in an interview.
In column 1 list up to three accomplishments that you have selected, being sure to note the inherent challenge that you overcame.
In column 2 you will be listing the skills you developed or applied to achieve this accomplishment. These will be tangible skills that aided you or that you picked up by dealing with your project or challenge. For example, if you created a database then the skills you used or picked up may have been knowledge of a certain software or information gathering techniques.
In column 3 you will be listing some personal qualities that you demonstrated (this is where it is often helpful to consider some of the changes that you have gone through or the interpersonal skills you have developed).
To better understand exactly what is meant by this we have provided an example below.
Created a program to address the issue of rampant diabetes in Masaya.
Completed a needs assessment to assess how best to implement project, developed sustainable and economic materials for distribution, gained increased comfort in presenting information in a foreign language, learned grant writing skills which I used to fund my project.
Organization of materials and events, clear written and oral communication skills, creativity, persistence in applying for funding, ability to work in multicultural groups, improved Spanish skills and confidence in language, public speaking.
Writing About Your Experience
Once you have completed the chart, it is time to consider how you will work these accomplishments, skills, and qualities into your resume and cover letters. Depending on the style of both your cover letter and resume, how and where you choose to discuss these accomplishments will vary.
A good rule of thumb is to read over the job listing and consider what skills the employer is looking for, then adapt your cover letter and resume so that it speaks directly to these skills and how your experience reflects them. Additionally, consider how you are going to explain these accomplishments and skills to employers. It’s helpful to always have a short story ready about what you accomplished and how it will be relevant to the job for which you are applying. An example of how to utilize the example accomplishments, skills, and qualities into a resume bullet point may be: Successfully engaged multicultural groups in workshops aimed at addressing the diabetes health crisis in Nicaragua.
Good luck with your job hunt!