How Does International Experience Impact Future Career Opportunities?

Work Abroad Impact Career

We’ve heard it time and time again; employers value international experience in a candidate – But where are the facts to back it up?

Nearly every study, intern, and work abroad website informs the reader that experience abroad is great for both personal and professional development, yet these articles rarely cite facts. No numbers on students who studied abroad and found jobs or figures around employers hiring candidates with international experience.

Instead, they use qualitative data, focusing on the writer’s personal experience and what he/she has seen or heard from acquaintances who they met on the road. “I met person xyz who found the greatest job ever after teaching English in Vietnam!” It’s hard to find reliable information.

We were curious to see if there was any legitimacy to the claim “job seekers with international experience have better career trajectories”, so we set out on a mini research binge to find out.

We searched for this information, but weren’t surprised to find out that there was little data around the career trajectories of people working abroad. We found some vague numbers around English teachers and global expats, but no concrete figures on transitions home after a work stint in another country.

What we did find however, were some really interesting numbers around how studying and interning abroad impacted the career trajectories of students. Turns out, there are some numbers to back up the backpacker swagger.

Personal Growth

We believe that experiences abroad lead to “Growth in Dog Years”, where you learn and grow at an accelerated pace. This growth can happen physically, mentally, and professionally, but how can we quantify this growth in a meaningful manner?

Well, the folks at IES Abroad had some interesting findings. Back in 2012, IES Abroad (1) surveyed over 14,000 of their former study and intern abroad alumni about their experiences overseas. Of the total number of completed surveys, over 95% of alumni reported that their experience abroad increased their confidence (96%), their maturity (97%), and positively improved their view of the world (95%). Talk about some things to put on a resume!

So let’s get this straight. After studying abroad, 95% of students said that they were more confident with themselves and their choices, felt older and more mature, and became more optimistic about the world in general. How many people can say that they felt the same way after spending their summer behind a desk at a large corporate for a summer internship? Probably not many…

Improvement in Education

Though personal growth is important, it doesn’t directly equate to improved education and professional growth. I’ve met plenty of people who have traveled or worked abroad and their experiences have had little effect on the outcome of their future…. other than making them want to get abroad again.

So, how does studying or interning abroad affect the individual’s education prospects moving forward?

According to the same IES’ survey, over 80% of respondents believed that international experience at school enhanced their interest in academic study. This idea is further backed up by figures from the US Census Bureau (2) that showed that over 50% of respondents with international experience had achieved post-graduate degrees, compared with the US national average of 9%. On top of that, 90% were admitted into their first or second choice graduate school.

Although grad school isn’t on everyone’s list moving forward in their careers, higher education provides certain career benefits over a bachelor’s degree. Firstly, Master’s degree holders were earning, on average, $25,000/year more than their bachelor level counterparts (3).

In the same report, alumni with post grad degrees have a 3-5% lower unemployment. If a student is able to complete higher education, there’s also a greater chance that they’ll experience better job satisfaction. In her recent book, Jennifer Robison (4) identified that, in terms of job satisfaction, postgraduates rated their satisfaction at 92%. compared to undergraduates whose satisfaction rating was 88%.

In summary, there is a strong link between living abroad during university and a postgraduate education, which in turn leads to higher wages, lower unemployment and increased job satisfaction.

Improvements in the Job Hunt

In the 12 months between April 2013 and March 2014, unemployment for graduates was at 8.4% (5) and that’s not to mention underemployment of recent graduates. In the same report, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that roughly 44% of recent graduates, meaning those ages 22 to 27 with a B.A. or higher, were in a position that did not require the skills earned while completing their degree.

Let those figures sink in for a hot second. Recent graduates are landing themselves, on average, $30,000 (6) in the red after a 4 year degree, and all this to land a position that’s unlikely to tax and pay them sufficiently to make that debt worth it. Underemployed and over indebted.

So, how does study/interning abroad help recent graduates out of this spiral of unfulfillment and debt?

Does it improve the chance of getting the recent graduate a job? Yes. Nearly 90% (7) of study abroad alumni secured a job within the first 6 months after graduation and 97% securing a job after one year (compared to 49% in graduate population).

As well as this, over 80% believed that spending time abroad helped them acquire their first position due to valuable workplace related skills developed overseas such as language knowledge, cultural training, tolerance for ambiguity, communication and more.

This experience didn’t just lead to an increased success rate in job procurement. The average starting salaries of internationally experienced graduates were, on average, $7,000/year more than the recent U.S college graduates (8).

According to a study by NACE, the average starting salary for a 2014 graduate was $45,478, meaning that study/intern abroad students made approximately 15% more than their counterparts (9). Not bad for having the time of your life in a foreign country!

How Many Young Professionals Get International Exposure?

One major worry with certain trends is that the job market can become saturated job seekers who have similar skills and experiences. However, one of the main takeaways from The Global Engagement Directorate (10) held at the White House last December was the lack of US students getting international exposure during their time in higher education. In 2014 only 1.5% (289,408) of students in higher education in the USA studied or worked abroad (11).

Though this shows a steady rise of around 2% year-on-year over the past 10 years, it’s still nowhere near the level that’s needed in the future. Research shows that E7 countries’ (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey) market GDP will overtake that of the G7 countries by as much as 50% in 2050 (12). The US needs professionals with intercultural experience and knowledge of foreign markets!

What do the Employers Say?

Data certainly suggests that time abroad is beneficial to the job seeker, but so far we’ve only focused on the benefits to the seeker and not from the employer’s point of view.

A comprehensive study by AIM (13) found that 61% of employers believed that a study abroad experience was looked at favorably on a candidate’s resume. Not only this, but in the workplace 79% of employers believed them to take initiative (compared to 67% of non-study abroad graduates) and 81% believed post-study abroad employees to be more adaptable when it came to new tasks (compares to 67%).

Further evidence of this was found by Trooboff et al (2012, 14) whose research showed that the longer a student spent abroad and the more relevant the experience was to their career, the more favorably higher management and HR departments viewed the time abroad.

This evidence suggests that it’s not only the job seekers attitudes that change after time abroad, increasing drive and desire to continue forward in their careers, but exposure abroad significantly increases the chances that a future employer will take a second look at their resume.


Evidence, in not only the form of qualitative data, but also in a number of empirical studies across thousands of participants, shows a very strong link between experience abroad and gaining an all important advantage at the start of your career.

On top of that, career relative experience gives you the best chance of securing your first position. Therefore, career relevant work experience abroad should provide the best launchpad for a successful career regardless of what country your future lies in.

The problem in the current job market right now is the lack of meaningful, career relevant, long term international positions. This is where we, BrainGain, believe true growth lies.

Come join us!

Interested in getting started in your hunt? Check out Questions to Ask Before You Begin Working Abroad.
2. Taken from U.S. Census Bureau, Educational Attainment in the United States: March 2002, detailed tables (PPL-169)
4.Does Higher Learning = Higher Job Satisfaction? – Jennifer Robison

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