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Highlighting international experience

Highlighting international experience

International experience is valued by employers and provides you with a unique set of skills and knowledge that gives you a competitive advantage and will help you toward your career goals. Understanding the value of your international experience is the first step toward clearly stating this experience in your résumé, cover letter or during an interview.

In addition to any relevant field-specific expertise gained abroad, the following are some of the skills and qualities you may have developed through your international experience:

Transferable skills

Cultural awareness Cross-cultural communication
Language skills Learning quickly in a new environment
Ability to work independently Handling difficult situations with cultural sensitivity
Adaptability Stress management
Creative problem solving Working with a new workplace culture
Dealing with ambiguity and change Functioning with a global perspective
Achieving goals, overcoming obstacles Problem solving, crisis-management
Taking initiative/risks Building cross-cultural relationships

Personal Qualities

Self-reliance Self-confidence
Appreciation of diversity Resourcefulness
Perseverance Independence
Flexibility Inclusivity
Inquisitiveness Diplomacy

It is important to explicitly communicate the skills gained from your international experience so employers are aware of the unique skillset you will bring to the company. Use examples that clearly communicate how you have demonstrated or acquired these skills or qualities.


Summary of qualifications

Use the Summary of Qualifications to highlight information you gained from your international experience. The key is to include technical and transferable skills or knowledge that are relevant to the opportunity you are applying to and ensure that you provide specific examples. For example, instead of simply stating “cross-cultural communication skills”, include the context in which you gained or applied this skill.

Summary of Qualification Bullet Point Examples:

  • Experience teaching science to students in 3 countries proving exceptional cross-cultural communication skills
  • Proven cross-cultural communication skills, gained through work with diverse multi-cultural team of engineers, contractors and analysts

Include languages spoken in the Summary of Qualifications if they are relevant to the position, company, or location you are applying to or if used to articulate a transferable skill. Avoid reference to English as a language skill.

Work and volunteer experience

When you are listing your international experience (work, study, internship or volunteer), pay close attention to the title of the position. Conduct some occupational research or speak to a career advisor to confirm that the language you are using in your résumé is the same language used in your industry in Canada. If necessary, change your job title to make it more clear to domestic employers and choose one that does not misrepresent your position or responsibilities.

For example, if you had the job title of ‘secretary’ in another country and it involved a fairly high level of responsibility, consider changing it to ‘administrative assistant’ for a Canadian résumé. This will provide clarity for Canadian recruiters because in some countries, a secretary could refer to an entry-level position and in others, it could refer to an executive-level position.

Check the International experience references section to learn how to communicate title changes to your referee.

Remember, your international experience is valued by employers so make sure to always include the location of your experience. Keep in mind Canadian recruiters prefer to see the location of your international experience listed in a “city, country” format.


Administrative Assistant
ICICI Bank, Chennai India May 20xx - Sep. 20xx

For each international experience, include bullet points highlighting the skills, knowledge or experience gained during your time abroad, keeping in mind the international skills employers value, as noted above. Use the ‘what, how and why’ method explained in the Writing effective bullet points for a résumé section to create your bullet statements, each starting with an action verb.

Examples of Work and Volunteer Experience bullet statements:

• Presented business proposal to prospective clients in China using professional proficiency in Mandarin, resulting in 6 new contracts

• Mentored 24 new international employees by organizing monthly events to help them adjust to a fast-paced culturally diverse setting

• Collaborated with specialists in India and Turkey to create a global campaign to re-launch a series of products to the market

• Saved the company $4,000 CAD in monthly expenses by recommending strategic steps to improve the global purchasing system

Tip: If you have any bullet points that involve money, list them in USD or CAD as some of the other denominations may be hard for employers to grasp. Alternatively, you can provide values in percentages.


An international education experience could be from a study abroad experience, a completed degree from another country or cotutelle (joint/dual) degrees with an international university. Articulating your international education experience is important as it demonstrates that you have the adaptability and cultural intelligence to succeed in different educational environments.

List your education abroad in the “Education” section of your résumé. Indicate the name of the international university or the study abroad program/organization along with the city, country and dates. If you worked with a notable professor in your field while abroad, this can be included, if relevant.

Please see a career advisor if you have any questions about how to include international education on your résumé.

Dedicated sections for highlighting international experience

Drawing attention to certain international skills or country-specific experience is often beneficial, especially if this experience is required or highly relevant to the job. The following are some examples of how you could highlight this experience:

  1. ‘International Experience and Education’ section: This involves putting all your international experience in one section. Under this section, you can have your education or study abroad, foreign volunteer or work experience, international projects and cross-cultural skills.
  2. ‘International Experience’ section: As described above, all international experience would be in this section, excluding education, which would remain in the Education section.
  3. ‘Activities and Interests’ or ‘Additional Information’ section: This is where you can highlight your international travel experience, cultural interests, involvement in international clubs, and/or languages.
  4. Create a functional résumé section: Functional résumés highlight your skills and experience rather than your chronological work history. Consider which skills you would like to highlight and build each section with the relevant information. Potential titles for your sections could include:
    1. International Work Experience
    2. International Engineering Experience
    3. Cross-Cultural Skills Summary
    4. International Research Experience
    5. Global Volunteer Experience
    6. International Conferences

The key to successfully marketing your time abroad to a prospective employer in a cover letter or interview is to identify and develop high-impact career stories, stories that communicate how your time abroad has developed you into the ideal candidate for the job.

Below are a few tips on developing and communicating these stories:

  1. Promote your skills: Employers in North America expect you to promote yourself, they want you to communicate your skills and accomplishments. Prepare engaging stories that demonstrate the skills you have gained in an international context. Consider the following:
    1. Why were you successful during your international experience?
    2. What did you do to contribute to your success?
    3. What did your manager, supervisors or colleagues say about you?
    4. How did you develop professionally from this experience?
  2. Use appropriate terminology: Use terms relevant to your prospective employer and minimize the use of international jargon that they might find unfamiliar.
  3. Avoid detailed geographic descriptions: When sharing your stories, you can briefly mention the location but ensure the focus of the story remains on demonstrating the knowledge and skills relevant to the job
  4. Avoid negative or shocking stories: You may have encountered challenging situations on your travels. Keep the focus on the positive and how you overcame challenges and adapted to new environments. Always assess whether these stories are appropriate to share in a professional environment.
  5. Don’t downplay your experience: Be confident in communicating the value of your time abroad by showing your confidence and ability with statements such as “I spent 3 months in India as a medical volunteer working with an experienced clinical team to control the spread of infectious disease” or “I taught English to a class of 20 students in China using customized lesson plans which resulted in a 90% pass rate on their National English Examination” or “Over 5 years’ experience leading the engineering team on various design projects across Sub-Saharan Africa.” Avoid limiting statements such as “I have 5 years of engineering experience but it is in a different country”, “I lived abroad, but I was only teaching English,” or “I was abroad, but just volunteering.”

Always remember that your international knowledge and cross-cultural understanding offers new perspectives and contexts that many employers welcome!

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development