It is estimated that graduate unemployment in South Africa is at about 7%. That means that close to 600,000 graduates are unable to get a job—despite having a university qualification. Having a CV that stands out from the crowd can be tricky—unless, it seems, you have some international experience to show.
According to the QS Global Employer Survey Report, more than 80% of 10,000 employers in 116 countries on five continents look for graduates who have studied overseas. Six out of 10 companies also give extra credit for an international student experience.
The industries where international experience is most helpful are energy, hospitality, electronics, and technology, as well as finance and management.
Student opportunities are increasing
The good news is that in line with employer interest in international mobility, graduate schools are taking steps to ensure that their students have access to international opportunities. Exchange programmes are common in most good business schools. Some have even formed themselves into associations that are dedicated to this purpose.
The Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) is a network of 32 global business schools, that was founded on the premise that enterprises need leaders who understand how markets and organisations work in increasingly diverse and complex contexts.
Each year, GNAM organises Global Network Weeks, which give students at network schools the opportunity to travel to another school for a one-week intensive mini-course that takes advantage of localised expertise.
This March, more than 700 students travelled to attend one of these weeks at 18 schools, including the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB) in South Africa, Seoul National University Graduate School of Business in South Korea, EGADE Business School in Santa Fe, Mexico, and Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.
According to an article published in University World News in March, while Canada, the UK, and the US are still the most preferred study destinations, students are increasingly seeking out opportunities in emerging market countries in Africa, Latin America and the East.
Fast growing emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East are increasing the capacity of higher education systems to attract international students, encourage student exchange, and boost economic growth.
People with international experience are easy to employ
It is much easier to employ someone who already has intercultural skills and international experience.
According to the IIE (Institute of International Education), overseas study is a top skill for employers who are interested in people with a diverse, global background. Candidates with this background come armed with qualities like adaptability, practical knowledge, and experiences that enhance their professional skills and improve their career productivity.
“Now, more than ever, companies are no longer just looking for technical skills, they are also putting a greater focus on an employee’s ability to speak another language, demonstrate respect for others, and cope with cultural differences,” explains Eric Friedman, CEO of eSkill Corporation.
An international workforce is good for business
The value of having employers who are culturally sensitive and attuned is obvious—particularly for multinational corporations working across various borders.
While digital solutions can help to bridge the gap—with Skype meetings and the ease of communicating through WhatsApp and Facebook—technology cannot replace a human presence when building relationships. Getting to know a foreign culture and forging the kinds of partnerships that especially joint ventures need to survive is born out of face-to-face meetings.
HR specialist and author, Frank Horwitz, says between 30-and-70% of joint ventures fail due to cultural differences, as a result of poor communication, a lack of sensitivity and awareness, labor tensions, and operational stresses.
Putting in place policies around international mobility is complex and is thus a key challenge facing the HR industry today. Companies know that the ability to offer compelling global opportunities is likely to attract the top talent, and top talent will allow them to close skills gaps and fuel business growth around the world.
However, international assignments impose immense cost on the organisation, and increased stringency on labor laws in many countries do not make the task of sending assignees abroad easy.
If you get an international opportunity – grab it
Living abroad builds personal mastery, develops resilience, and broadens perspectives—all key leadership qualities that employers, especially multinationals, look for in their top executives.
International experience impacts on attitude and behavior, shapes awareness and sensitivity to other cultures and diversity, and improves vital communication and relationship-building skills.
So, if there is one thing you can do to improve your chances of getting your dream job, it is to demonstrate that you are internationally savvy. Make sure you take advantage of study abroad opportunities, or even perhaps learn a foreign language. These markers can be used as leverage to advance your career and job search.
Amena Hayat is the career services manager at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business