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Making the Most of Your TCK Experience When Applying for a Job

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It was my first job interview post-graduation. I walked in proud of my strong liberal arts education, my 3.9 GPA, my induction into my university’s honors society, my multiple college internships with reputable companies, and my four years of college work experience. I was sure I would wow them with my broad knowledge of humanities and my specialized knowledge of film. I sat down prepared for questions about my internship at National Geographic Films and my extensive research for my senior capstone project. Instead, my interviewer quickly scanned to the bottom of my resume and focused on the tiny footnote section I had entitled “Personal Experience.”

“Wow. You’ve lived in a lot of countries,” she said. “Which one was your favorite?”

I was never asked about my senior capstone project or how I had excelled at school. Instead, they were much more interested in how I had grown-up, how I relate to people, my favorite vacation spots in Asia, and how many languages I speak. I was asked about how my personal background informs who I am.

Companies look for employees who not only fit the job description, but also have life experience, strong communication skills, and an ability to adapt. Here are some unique characteristics that TCKs can highlight when applying and interviewing for a job.

A unique background attracts attention

The unique background of a TCK helps you stand out from other applicants. Kennedy Horton, a TCK who lived in the Middle East and Thailand, highlights the importance of a cross-cultural upbringing in his role as a financial analyst at FedEx Express. “My experience overseas came up often in interviews,” he said. “FedEx Express has a strong global presence and so I wanted to showcase my status as a TCK in order to show my ability to communicate cross-culturally and maintain a global perspective.”

Of course, each person’s story is different. Be sure to highlight how your background growing up in another country or countries has influenced your worldview and behavior.

Life experience is valuable in connecting with people in both work and social settings

Most TCKs have had the opportunity to travel the world, learn new languages and cultures, and be exposed to different worldviews in a way most of their monocultural peers have not. Growing up in this environment can make a TCK more comfortable engaging with a broad range of people.

“I think being a TCK has made me better able to get along with people of different generations and age groups,” said Elisabeth Lauesen, a TCK who grew up in the Middle East. “I’m not as used to simply sticking to people my own age, so am able to become friends more easily.”

Because TCKs have usually interacted with people from contexts very different from their own from a young age, they have learned how to find mutual interests and commonalities with others quickly.

“I have a greater breadth of cultural experience than most in my workplace,” Horton said. “I think this helps me connect more easily with people in conversation.”

Cross-cultural and multilingual communication skills are assets in the workplace

It’s easy to see how cross-cultural and multilingual communication expertise are beneficial to someone working in international business or with multinational companies, but what about other professions? In our increasingly globalized world, international experience is an asset to almost every profession. Victoria Wearden, an RN at a Southern California hospital, uses her background growing up in Central and Southeast Asia to give her patients more compassionate medical care.

“I feel that I am different from many of my coworkers because I am more in tune with the fact that our patients who are not originally American may have cultural health beliefs and practices that are different from ours,” she explained. “My patients have family practices which are part of their specific culture that are not valued in the same way in American culture.”

Appreciating a person’s cultural background, or even speaking in their mother language, makes that person feel respected and valued. TCKs are often very accomplished in multilingual and multicultural communications, a skill that is incredibly valuable in any workplace.

Being comfortable in new and unusual situations is increasingly valuable

TCKs’ ability to adapt to new situations is a highly valuable skill in the workplace.

“I have always been in situations where I have to learn new systems, ideas, traditions, and even terminology,” Wearden said. “This translates really well to my job because I am constantly being faced with new situations, protocol, and medical terminology. I keep an open mind about it all, absorb as much of it as possible, and try to master it as soon as I can.”

In our rapidly changing world, jobs are also evolving to new trends. According to Forbes.com, “flexibility” is one of the top four traits CEOs look for in employees.

Since that first post-college interview five years ago, I’ve had many more interviews with roughly the same encounter each time. I’ve stopped preparing speeches on my educational achievements and work experience, and instead focus on how my life experience makes me a great fit for the job. It’s not that potential employers don’t value my successes and work history, but I think it is easy for them see that I have similar job history as every other hardworking college graduate four to five years out of college. What helps me stand out from the other job applicants is my unique TCK background and life experience.

Homepage photo credit: photologue_mp on Flickr

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