Foreign internships help jobless enhance resumes
By Julie Wernau
CHICAGO — After JPMorgan Chase laid off Adi Clerman as a recruiter in August 2008, the 26-year-old Chicagoan couldn't find a job — any job.
"I was looking and looking for work, and interviewing and interviewing, and nothing was coming," she said.
So Clerman decided to go abroad. She grabbed a five-month internship in Tel Aviv, Israel, at an American marketing firm through MASA Israel's Career Israel program, a partnership with the Israeli government that sends young people to the country for work experiences. It filled a huge gap on her resume.
"When people asked me, 'You got laid off in August 2008; what have you done since then?' I had a really great answer," she said.
One month after returning to the United States, she landed a job as an admissions representative at Harrington College of Design in Chicago.
With available jobs at record lows in the United States, and a business world that is increasingly global, more Americans are seeking overseas internships and other resume builders than ever before, experts say.
The number of people traveling abroad for internships from 2000 through 2008 doubled, from 6,950 to 13,658, based on a survey of about 1,500 educational institutions, according to the Institute of International Education.
Officials at schools and other organizations that help arrange such work experiences say they continued to see increases through 2009, partly fueled by those who cannot find a job. Despite a lifting recession, nearly 10 percent of Americans remain unemployed, and the rate is more than double that for young adults.
"Everybody knows, of course, that the U.S economy is not doing well," said Robert Trumble, director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Most people will look for full-time jobs here, and when that doesn't work out, they'll look for internships anywhere."
Lauren Krause, 21, a senior majoring in journalism at Loyola University Chicago, is counting on her summer internship at a communications company in London to help set her apart in an increasingly competitive field. She snagged an internship last semester at Fox Chicago and scored an interview with ABC7, where she'll intern this semester.
"There's thousands of journalism students in Chicago alone looking for jobs right now," she said.
Victor C. Johnson, senior public policy adviser for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, believes an overseas experience soon will no longer be an option in lining up a good job.
"This is the next digital divide," Johnson said. "The kids who graduate from school who have international experience are going to have a leg up in gaining successful lives."
Employers are looking to hire people who understand the economies and cultures of the world, he added.
"We just hear CEO after CEO saying that the work force of the future, really, the work force of the present, has to be a cross-culturally competent work force. Work forces are cross-cultural; businesses are global," he said.
The Association for International Practical Training, a Maryland nonprofit that places about 2,500 people in internships abroad each year in 24 time zones, saw a 20 percent increase in 2009 compared with a 3 percent increase the previous year. About a third of their participants are young professionals.
"It used to be that speaking English meant you could work anywhere in the world, but it's not the case anymore. Companies are selecting candidates who are multilingual," said Craig Brown, executive vice president at the association.
Cadee Oakleaf, 22, a senior at Colorado State University, has studied abroad, volunteered in more countries than she can count, including South Africa and Costa Rica, speaks Spanish and has taken classes in French and Italian. She hopes her experiences will show global civil engineering firms in the U.S. that she would be a good candidate for one of their foreign offices.
"I would love to go anywhere," said Oakleaf, who graduates in December.
Still, some people with overseas experience say having that background doesn't guarantee a job offer.
When Jay Johnson, 30, of New York was laid off from his first job as a fashion stylist at Macy's flagship store after just three months, he filed for unemployment and focused on getting additional unpaid experience, including working on an ad campaign for Napket, a high-end coffee shop in London.
Now unemployed for more than a year, Johnson said his experience abroad hasn't paid off, although some recent callbacks have made him hopeful about his job prospects.
"I was expecting way more," he said. "I thought it would make my portfolio look like gold. What else can I do? I've done everything under the sun in order to become gainfully employed again."