Taking a Gap Year for the Future
How a gap year can improve your career prospects
With eighteen years of education stocked up on my CV, I'm now itching to see beyond the grey skies and gloomy job boards. But can I really justify taking a year or so away from career building just to see the world?
Of course my first priority will be to have the time of my life, but I also want to keep my head screwed on for that inevitable flight home. The "gap" in my employment experience will need to be explained one way or another, and while it's highly unlikely I will need convincing, I'm not sure my next employer will count "making it through the Full Moon Party alive" as a worthwhile life skill...
"A gap year well spent is good value, however, a gap year where you cannot fully justify and show how you spent it can act against you."
Niklas Vaittinen, marketing executive at Graduate Recruitment Bureau, sums it up in one sentence: "A gap year well spent is good value, however, a gap year where you cannot fully justify and show how you spent it can act against you." Currently working at a graduate recruitment company, my general career direction is leaning towards publicity, writing and marketing. This is experience I'm fairly confident I can pick up while on the move, and I definitely think delaying my gap year until after university has set me in a much better frame of mind to make the most of it this way. Building up my career portfolio now sparks an element of excitement in me which I don't think would have been so prominent before university.
I personally wouldn't see it as a chore to keep my eye out for opportunities along the way, and now I can appreciate their incredible value abroad, I know I'd happily stop off somewhere a little longer if the right one came along. I mean, let's face it, if you're going to have to sit through a 9-5 unpaid internship, wouldn't you prefer to do it somewhere slightly more exotic? There will be far more exciting weekends to look forward to than a wet weekend at home for starters!
For this reason I began to view each of my destinations with a different purpose: Australia with a working visa, Fiji for a voluntary journalism placement, New Zealand to hop onto the Kiwi bus, and Indonesia to revel in the culture. As both a first time and a solo traveller, I'm perfectly happy to stick to mainstream places before tackling more rural places of the world. Of course, I'm told endlessly that meeting people will become second nature, but it will still be reassuring that this way I will automatically have access to like-minded people as soon as I arrive.
"It invigorates your senses for a new challenge. You find yourself at a need to understand different cultures and the way people operate."
Not only this, but I still think taking the time to actually live within a culture will be far more beneficial than briefly passing through. Laurence Chandler, a fellow marketing assistant at GRB, spent two years in Colombia before being hired during his MSc Marketing degree: "It invigorates your senses for a new challenge. You find yourself at a need to understand different cultures and the way people operate. For example, the Spanish are very relaxed and say they will complete things tomorrow, however, the English want to complete it now and the Chinese expect it done yesterday. You don't learn that from a 9-5 office job in London. The life experience is second to none!"
The most obvious skill to pick up, especially in places more off the beaten track, is language. Charlotte Renders, a specialist consultant at GRB, states: "This is ALWAYS something that comes in amazingly handy on any CV, especially if you have used it full-time for a year and can confidently say you are fluent." Having picked up Spanish fluency in his time away, Laurence entirely agrees: "So few British people can speak a second language properly so organisations now look to foreign students as they are renowned for speaking a second language as well as English." You are at your most open-minded and adventurous while on the road, so what better time to use the most accessible and efficient learning resources possible outside of a stuffy classroom - other cultures.
Teaching English is another common path and still one I'm considering. Although I'm not convinced it's entirely up my street, Charlotte sees it as a huge CV booster for those who have an interest in it. "As well as adapting to a new culture, you then have to work and thrive in it. Teaching always shows great leadership and many challenges, especially in a foreign language so it's also something I think is really great on a CV".
Finally, the most common skill shared by every single traveller is the zest to meet new people. In everything from travelling to employment, to friends and communities, communication is what makes the world go round and there is arguably no greater skill to acquire. Wherever you are in the world, an attitude to meet, communicate and share will set you forward. So, if you see travelling as nothing else then why not see it as networking. One of the key pieces of advice Laurence shared with me was this: "The contacts you make while travelling are priceless. You will meet fellow students but also directors of huge global organisations. You will be surprised how many don't travel first class..."
If you're interested in some of the different gap years you can take, then read Tom Corey's Q+A feature on taking a redundancy gap year.
Also, read our comprehensive article on getting a job after travelling - who knows, it just might make the difference!
And don't forget to jump onto the messageboards and ask your questions!
About the Author: Charlee Owen
Graduating from the University of Sussex 2012, I have now set my sights all over the world. Not only to fulfil my long-awaited ambitions to travel, but equally to build up some life experience that will inspire my career prospects to stay lively and successful. With work experience in publishing, journalism and publicity, I am currently working as a Marketing Assistant for the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, building up a rich writing portfolio along the way.
My ultimate aim in life, whatever the eventual outcome is to be happy, and with restless feet already, I know it would be impossible to settle half-heartedly into a career at this point with so many opportunities waiting on the horizon. Life is for living, not just for getting by and building a future does not have to be a chore. It should be exciting, fulfilling and dynamic and I plan to make it exactly that.
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