Crafting Your Edge On Co-op Abroad
By Liz Pereguda
May 7, 2020
A research study by IIE Center for Academic Mobility, Research and Impact “Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects in the United States” investigates the connection between study abroad programs and the development of 15 soft and hard skills considered to be most desired by 21st-century employers.
The report concludes that in the context of today’s global economy, most college graduates will work for or do business with international companies, including work with diverse colleagues. Hence the professional skills acquired through international programs abroad can be powerful tools for career success.
According to the report, students that experience living abroad develop highly sought-after professional skills: “adaptability, communication, self-awareness, confidence that not only make them more hirable but also launch their careers.”
Exactly a year ago, as a fourth-year student at Northeastern University, I had already completed two 6-month marketing co-ops. The first one was at a corporate company in Boston. The second one was at a startup in San Francisco, where I later stayed for a semester of the entrepreneurship program, which helped me decide to launch my career in tech in the Bay Area after I graduate. However, I still had one semester left before graduation that I could use to capitalize on my post-graduation employability. Being aware of all the benefits an internship abroad can bring to my personal, social, and professional capital, I started looking for co-ops outside of the United States.
The number of options abroad for international students was significantly lower than in America. Given that it was my third co-op, and I was more experienced than other student applicants, I still ended up with two offers, one in China and the other in the UK. Due to the visa issues, China wasn’t a feasible option. I accepted the offer for a sales and digital marketing co-op in England, in a town that is just a 30-min train ride outside of London.
After the first several days of the ‘induction’ training led by the company’s CEO, I was very excited to bring my experience, passion, and skills into the new role. However, when I shared my ideas and internship expectations at the first meeting with my direct manager, who was the company’s managing director, he was very straightforward and let me know that my role at the company was limited to processing sales quotes in Microsoft Access. He was a little worried that the company ‘oversold’ the role to me after realizing I had a year and a half of professional experience while other interns had their first-ever full-time job.
At first, I was upset and thought I shouldn’t ‘waste’ my time working a job that I am overqualified for. But then I persevered and started to persuade myself that even though I would have “to stay within boundaries of a narrow scope of actions for a narrow scope of projects” at work, I could still earn the personal and social capital I wanted by living in a new country, interacting with a new culture, and traveling around Europe on weekends. (It was mostly about traveling in Europe though). I was just fooling myself because as a millennial, the one-dimensional role at a traditional British company was my worst nightmare. So I decided to pursue a personal strategy for boutique employability that built-in in my passions and capabilities.
Unfortunately, it was impossible to find my ideal employer in the UK, as my visa was linked to a particular company. But I could still change the scope of my role at my existing internship to suit my multidimensional personal needs.
- Step 1: Elucidate your multi-dimensional CORE
I am a data-driven, passionate marketer and storyteller with experience working in marketing teams of corporations and startups in the U.S. and Russia. I prefer using digital marketing over traditional marketing as it lets you reach a large audience cost-effectively and measurably. Digital marketing allows interacting with consumers in an intimate way that creates brand loyalty.
- Step 2: Develop TRUST and connect with the desired employer by telling a company story
I talked with my manager and pitched him some of my digital marketing ideas to implement, promising that I would still be focusing mainly on the sales support function. Although it took him several weeks to allow me to get involved with marketing projects, my initiative, well-pitched, multi-dimensional core helped me to develop the trust he needed to tell the company’s story through digital marketing channels that no one previously used.
- Step 3: Generate VALUE, capitalizing on your multi-dimensional core
I collaborated with cross-functional teams to develop and launch a regional marketing campaign that included email marketing, landing page development, and even snail-mail marketing. As a result, the campaign enabled the company to convert 90 prospects, which was a monthly sales target of several business development managers.
- Step 4: Excite the industry with your edge, which is cemented with the core, trust, and added value
I made myself in charge of my own internship and it felt good! Although I was supposed to be in a repetitive administrative role, I was able to prove myself and make a difference in the area that I deeply care about – digital marketing. The company was happy to innovate and enter the uncharted waters of online marketing, and I left with new skills in my personal, social, and professional capital.
About the Author
Liz Pereguda is a recent graduate of Northeastern University, where she double-majored in business administration and journalism.
During her time at the university, she interned in Russia, the UK, and both coasts of the U.S.
She is currently searching for marketing opportunities in the Bay Area.