International Students: do career assessments help you? Here’s my opinion…


Newly arrived international graduate business students may find it interesting how much career services loves assessments. Clarifying your values, interests, personal traits, and perceived abilities, in theory, may help you become more self-aware and hopefully be more competitive when job seeking. Recruiters like candidates who know themselves. You’ve heard that before.

This notion sounds good. It makes sense. However, there’s a huge problem with this premise: traditional career assessments were never designed to take into account the complex career development needs of international students so I’d evaluate its results with a HUGE grain of salt. Much like popular career development models that exist today, career assessments were created by Americans with the needs of American students in mind. The needs of international students were never taken into account.

If faced with the question below on an assessment, how would you answer it as an international student?

Are you a leader or a follower?

A U.S student may not second-guess what this question means, but an international student may have all sorts of doubts. Your international mind might be thinking:

  • In my country, I was a proven leader per the local definition of being a leader, so I will go ahead and pick “I’m a leader” as the answer to this question, even though I’m not sure if I will be considered a leader in the U.S
  • I think being a leader means that you manage people and I have never managed anyone nor do I intend to, so I will say that “I am a follower”
  • Though I exhibited leadership skills in my country, now that I am in the U.S, unsure about my English language skills, I believe I will be more a follower, so that’s the answer I will choose
  • I’m a leader, period, no matter if I’m in China, in the U.S or in India. It does not matter if the term is interpreted in the context of my home country or in the U.S context

What answer do you choose? There could be other possible scenarios to consider. So how do you answer these types of questions? Assessments can greatly confuse international students but they can still be helpful tools if international students treat them for what they are and never take their results too literally. Perhaps an interesting way to explore career assessments is to view them as rich sources of information that might help international students get a feel what might be in the hearts and minds of Americans. Why the question “are you a leader or a follower?


Marcelo Barros is the author of the The International Advantage Get Noticed. Get Hired! He travels across the United States, partnering with career services, to help international students achieve their job search goals.

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