Connection Between International Experiences and Employability

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Written by Kristin Greene

Most MBA programs teach that you find room for opportunity when there are gaps between markets or inefficiencies in markets.  Usually they are referring to products, services, or the delivery of products and services.  However, in the past 20 years, a new gap has risen that has been coined “the war for talent”.

This term suggests there is a finite amount of potential staff in the market as well as a finite amount of staff with the right skills.  This vision of recruitment leads to high recruitment costs, continuous hiring cycles, and partnerships that are not necessarily made for sound business reasons.  On the flipside, beyond automation and building efficiencies, there are ways that industries can broaden their understanding of skills and value-add and hence their access to talent.

A specific example is the Japan-IMF Scholarship Program for Advanced Studies.  With financial support from the Japanese government, IIE in partnership with the IMF administers the Japan-IMF Scholarship Program for Advanced Studies. The goal of the program is to train Japanese nationals as applied economists to work either at the IMF or in their home administrations through a study abroad program at a leading university outside of Japan. The students are able to connect with peers in their field and learn different and global perspectives. Through this scholarship program, the IMF gains access to an additional pool of talent, which the Japanese government gains employees with international economic perspectives.

In a 2015 survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, more than half of employers place the greatest priority on demonstrated proficiency of the following skills in hiring decisions:

  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Work effectively in teams
  • Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and good decision-making skills
  • Solve complex problems and apply knowledge to real-world settings
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Solve problems with people from different background and cultures

It is counterintuitive then that in the same survey only 13% of employers indicated that they were more likely to hire a recent college graduate who had participated in a study abroad program.

In a study just released this month by IIE, “Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills and Prospects”, the connection between study abroad and employment outcomes are revealed.  The survey indicated that a study abroad experience has a very positive impact on 21st century job skills like intercultural skills, interpersonal skills, adaptability, problem-solving, confidence, language skills, curiosity, communication skills, and self-awareness.  These are the same types of competencies that employers look for when evaluating a candidate.

The survey also revealed that many employers don’t systematically ask about study abroad experiences during interviews, unless they also had a study abroad experience or have an interest in the country. Rather, it is up to the interviewee to broach the topic.

There is a clear disconnect between the skills students gain on a study abroad experience and how employers view those experiences.  This presents an opportunity to look at talent management in a new way and potentially address some of the talent gap.

Universities should take measures to help students better understand and verbalize how their experience dovetails with their career aspirations.  At the same time, industries just beginning to invest to address the international growth of the sector have the opportunity to broaden their recruiting pool.

The Financial Services sector, for example, is going through a growth spurt with the advent of Fintech and a booming middle class in Asia.   PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that by 2020 “we expect many U.S. financial Institutions will have a fully functional Asia hub….” Even accountants are being asked to think more globally as they work on cross border operations as CFOs are pushed into a more strategic role.  Harvard Business Review indicates that members of the C-Suite are now required to have international experience.  The value of international skills should appreciate as the Financial Sector gains traction in the global markets.  Those who add international competencies in their recruitment profile may just win the war for talent.

About the author: Kristin Greene is Head of Consulting at the Institute of International Education (IIE).