Significant experience preferred: unpacking hidden meanings in job postings
“Does listing long-term experience abroad as ‘preferred’ in a job description result in the self-rejection or weeding out of otherwise qualified applicants?”
Tiera Greene, secretary of the Higher Education Student Association and internship/co-op coordinator at Batten College of Engineering and Technology, writes about how asking for ‘significant experience abroad’ can be a barrier to students who don’t have the chance or the means to spend long periods overseas.
Increasing numbers of international education job descriptions boast the phrase “Significant experience abroad preferred” or similar wording. While most don’t explicitly distinguish between short-term and long-term programs, the word ‘significant’ seems to imply a preference for the more “traditional,” longer-term study abroad.
This is understandable from a hiring standpoint. Obviously, more time abroad should be equal to more valuable experience. But is that always the case? Does listing long-term experience abroad as “preferred” in a job description result in the self-rejection or weeding out of otherwise qualified applicants?
“Obviously, more time abroad should be equal to more valuable experience. But is that always the case?”
Considering that study abroad participants are overwhelmingly white and affluent, does this preferred qualification reinforce this demographic trend in hiring practices within international education?
The ability to study abroad multiple times, in various locations, on long-term programs, or any other combination that would meet the “significant” experience requirement, is often highly dependent on not only the ability to travel, but also the ability to be away from campus and out of work for months at a time. It requires the financial means to cover a longer program, the degree progress to absorb a possible drift away from prescribed course requirements, and an affinity for household organizing that is further complicated for students who work and/or have children.
Students who can study abroad long-term are often different than those who choose shorter-term programs instead. Usually, they are single, full-time undergraduates. They, or their families, possess the disposable income to cover the costs of the trip itself, as well as any income lost when the student isn’t working for the semester (or year), and the cost of making up for any academic drifting.
Underrepresented and nontraditional students often do not have those luxuries. For these students, short-term programs offer the opportunity to gain valuable experience abroad at a manageable cost and on a flexible schedule that works with the diverse demands on their time. Short-term programs are offered over Spring Break, Winter Break, January term, or during the summer, and make study abroad possible for those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot commit to the “traditional” semester or year-long program.
“Giving preference to long-term study abroad participants feels, somehow, inadvertently discriminatory. It essentially boils down to a reinforcement of socioeconomic status”
For underrepresented professionals trying to break into the field of international education, it can be incredibly discouraging to repeatedly read that employers are looking for applicants with experiences that are typically only accessible to more privileged students. My dream was to study abroad for a semester, or ideally, a year, but because I worked as an RA out of financial necessity, my only options were summer programs. I was fortunate enough to be able to organize the funds for two summer study abroad trips. And while I’ve been told that it’s the quality of my experiences abroad that matter, not the length or the quantity, the job descriptions I’m looking at tell a different story.
Giving preference to long-term study abroad participants feels, somehow, inadvertently discriminatory. It essentially boils down to a reinforcement of socioeconomic status. Those who have more money have increased access to more experience of a higher quality, and therefore are more desirable to employers.
I think it’s important to consider how even seemingly harmless phrases like “Significant experience abroad required” reflect more problematic underlying assumptions, like “Unless you had the ability to have long-term experience abroad, you’re unqualified.”
These assumptions fail to recognize the vast diversity of experiences and do nothing to promote diversity in study abroad, or among international education professionals. It’s unwise to discount the experiences of those who have only participated in short-term programs in favor of those fortunate enough to spend extensive time abroad. The focus, then, should be on recruiting professionals with high-quality study abroad experience and demonstrable skills developed as a result–not on the length or quantity of their trips.