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Have you ever been sat in an interview and been asked for a specific example of when you have “thought outside of the box”?
Or maybe a prospective employer asked you for an example of when you had “worked with a team to overcome a challenge”?

Annoying as they are, these types of questions are extremely common, especially in ‘competency-based’ interviews, and unless you have a concise, polished example ready to reel-off, it can be very difficult to avoid descending into a mumbling spiral of incoherent clichés. Yes, employers do want to hear that you have fresh ideas and are a team player, but these buzz words mean nothing without concrete proof. So what is a young jobseeker to do? Well… if you have no experience, volunteering abroad can be a great way to get some! Here are my top 5 ‘transferable skills’ learnt during my time volunteering in Ecuador, that can be applied to almost any interview situation…

1. Leadership

This is a classic. From graduate recruiters to PGCE admissions officers, prospective employers love to look for evidence of ‘leadership’ in young applicants – after all you are the leaders of the future… So whether you are applying for a corporate, public or charity sector job, make sure you’ve got some ready-prepared examples of your excellent leadership skills. At moments like these, I find the example of me taking my very hyper Ecuadorian class of 6 year olds from knowing no English to being able to count, sing the alphabet and have simple conversations.

2. Problem-solving and adaptability

Another very common ‘transferable skill’ tested in interviews. Fortunately, my volunteering experience in Ecuador was very rich in examples of thinking on my feet to solve problems. As a teaching assistant, I used to help the school’s English teacher give lessons to all the 8 different age groups in the school. However, one day she didn’t turn up (it turned out she was ill) which meant I had about 2 minutes notice before taking all of her classes by myself. Some very creative lessons later (heavily featuring the likes of ‘The wheels on the bus’ and ‘Old MacDonald’), I had proven that I could take my own classes, and was allowed to go solo as a teacher from then on!

3. Time management

So you’ve got 20 English classes to give per week, plus lesson planning time, plus 12 hours of afternoon work helping staff in a local orphanage, plus salsa classes, plus travelling every weekend… with so much going on, your time management skills speak for themselves!

4. Communication

As a volunteer abroad, your communication skills will be in high demand. Whether you are teaching, working as an outdoor instructor or caring assistant, you will need to communicate effectively with your colleagues and students/residents to ensure that you carry out your role effectively. In a country where English is not widely spoken, your communication skills will be further tested on an everyday basis as you get to grips with the local lingo. My favourite example of successful communication from my volunteering experience abroad was negotiating in Spanish with an airline a new free flight after we arrived 7 minutes late for check-in. Not only did we get another flight, they gave us €250 in compensation!

5. Working as part of a team

It seems so simple, but working as part of a team can bring its own unique challenges. Throw in some cultural differences and such challenges can be heightened, to say the least. So volunteering abroad is a great opportunity to show that – not only can you adapt to living in a new place, thousands of miles from home – but you can also successfully work with people whose backgrounds could not be more dissimilar from your own.

So there you have it – proof that volunteering abroad is not only a life-enhancing experience in itself, but also a stepping stone to securing yourself a career when you get home!

Gap Year Guide