Defining Global Skills and How They Translate to the Workplace

Guest blogger, Ms. Pamela Ruiz

I’m thrilled that today’s post is written by a dear colleague and friend, Ms. Pamela Ruiz.  Should you want to reach out to her directly, please find her bio below.

Why study, work, or volunteer abroad? For a student, the answers to this are many: to learn another language; to confirm one’s identity; to see another part of the world. An ever increasing reason to go abroad is to give the student a leg up over his or her peers upon graduation and into a career. How can the global skills attained while abroad translate into career skills? What are “global skills” anyway?

Some define global skills specifically as having to do with international, cultural or linguistic knowledge. While that may be true, global skills can mean so much more than that. When an individual spends time abroad and immerses his or herself into another culture, that person is not only learning the language and culture, but also about his or herself. One learns to adapt and be flexible in new situations. One learns that the best results come from listening and trying to understand before acting. One learns that communication goes beyond the spoken word. Perhaps the most useful lesson is that the new way to do something may not be better or worse, just different.

“Global skills” are not just for those going into the international/intercultural fields anymore, on the contrary; global skills are a requirement for all job seekers. More often that not, an individual will work with someone with a different background, even if they are both from the same country. No two people are alike, therefore in the workplace those that have confidence, flexibility, adaptation skills and the ability to work with all types of people are the ones who prove to be most successful. All of the above could also be used to describe a leader.

Confidence is gained as a student is continuously put in new and unfamiliar situations. Don’t know the language? “No problem, as long as I give it my best shot. My peers study/work/function differently than I do, and I am learning to study and work with them.” Immersing oneself in a new culture allows a student to study or work with others within a team – others that may have grown up with different socio-economic, religious, familial, or educational values. The problem-solving and adaptation skills required to succeed overseas are just the skills that hiring manager and savvy corporations require of new graduates.

Acquisition of global skills are not limited to those that have the wherewithal to travel abroad. As universities around the globe grasp the importance of campus internationalization, students are given many opportunities to enhance their skills without ever leaving their home country. International exchange students or international interns introduce host students to the world beyond just by their presence in their classrooms, dorms, and study groups, and the different ways of doing things.

There are challenges to the translation of global skills to career skills. First, students must embrace available international and intercultural opportunities, whether abroad or on their own campuses. Next, students, guided by career centers, professors, and parents, must process and understand how they have changed and have the confidence and skills to communicate what they have learned and can accomplish in the future. Finally, more hiring managers must see the value in international experience and how it equals what they are seeking in new hires. Students can ensure that their resumes are on top of the pile not only by stating that they studied or worked abroad, but by giving specific examples in a well-written cover letter of flexibility, leadership and confidence to step outside of their comfort zones.

Additional resources and information:

ISEP Handbook

University of Michigan

IAESTE United States

New England Study Abroad Re-entry Conference

About the Author:

Pamela Ruiz is the Director of Membership and US Member Relations at ISEP: International Student Exchange Programs. Previously, Pamela has worked with an international internship company as the Director of Operations, and prior to that as the Director and National Secretary of IAESTE United States, a program of the Association for International Practical Training, where she oversaw the exchange of international internships for technical students. Her career has also included work in translation and international relocation. 

Ms. Ruiz has lived, studied and worked in Italy, and has traveled through Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa. Pamela is in the field of international education because she truly believes in the value of international experiences for the individual and for the world as a whole. She can be reached at : or via her LinkedIn profile.