When I returned home after a year of volunteering and travelling abroad, my bank account began to look frighteningly like a Minnesotan temperature gauge in December as it steadily declined toward negative numbers. It was time for a job.
Applying for jobs used to be a dreaded experience, but this time was different. I'm convinced my year abroad deserves most of the credit. The truth is, a gap in employment does not need to be a hindrance. How you present a transformative personal experience is more important than your absence from the workforce.
Regardless of where you go or how long you’re gone, volunteering abroad is an opportunity to foster skills and gain experiences that will fuel your ambitions and boost your employability long after the trip ends. Here are the top 6 ways that volunteering abroad can transform your resume.
1. Volunteering abroad is the embodiment of using relevant and transferable skills.
"Relevant and transferable skills" is one of my favourite ways to say, "I haven't done that, but I've done this, so I can figure that out."
With volunteer turnover, you might become the "expert" on a task after just a few days. There also isn't always someone available to guide you through a process. The temporary nature of volunteering abroad means you need to be a quick and efficient learner. These are invaluable traits in any new employee.
2. Volunteering abroad conveys commitment and leadership.
It takes resolve to decide to step outside your comfort zone, go to a foreign country and offer your time for free. This demonstrates the ability to take the lead and achieve a goal when you set your mind to it. An employer will be able to expect someone with this quality to embrace a new job opportunity with a similar level of commitment.
3. Volunteering abroad demonstrates teamwork and effective communication.
Volunteering abroad includes a variety of interactions not unlike at home, but with the added challenge of more prominent language barriers and cultural differences. If you can effectively communicate and work with people from other parts of the world, you are likely to excel on a team of coworkers. Strong interpersonal skills separate top candidates from the rest of the pool.
4. Volunteering abroad fosters a global perspective.
Volunteering abroad has a way of demonstrating how our similarities outweigh our differences while also illuminating the diversity of the human experience. A place that was previously only a name on a map or in the news becomes a location you are attached to through a personal experience with people who live there. In an increasingly globalized world, fostering empathy and understanding in our personal and professional lives is as important as ever.
In an increasingly globalized world, fostering empathy and understanding in our personal and professional lives is as important as ever.
5. Volunteering abroad is an opportunity to hone your computer skills.
Whether you document your journey for your own memory or a larger audience, it’s a perfect time to expand your computer skills through positive online engagement. Blogging, website building and social media management are a few ways to reflect on your experience and share it in a professional way. What better time to learn how to use WordPress than when you have a new experience to share? This is an ideal addition to a cover letter or resume, because it allows a potential employer to quickly visualize your adventure and displays your computer skills.
6. Volunteering abroad can inspire your entrepreneurial spirit.
Another exciting possibility is that volunteering abroad might inspire you to ditch the resume altogether. There are many inspirational stories of people becoming their own bosses after an experience called them to address a specific need. For example, a dog sanctuary in Thailand, a permaculture food forest in India, or a mindfulness retreat centre in France. Even if entrepreneurship isn’t in your future, volunteering abroad can transform you and your resume.
My high school cross-country running coach often shared a Henry Ford quote with us before our races: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Your perception of your competency is powerful. Take time to reflect on your experience and be confident in your ability to articulate it to a future employer. If you think that your time volunteering abroad was a transformational experience, others will think so too, and your resume will stand out in a crowd.Add this article to your reading list