Your gap year is over and you need to think about getting a job after all your travelling . Don’t panic, help is at hand!
As a HR Manager in my non-travel blogging life (and author of a book about finding and keeping a job you love), I’ve seen thousands of CVs over the years so thought I’d put together some handy tips on the best way to handle a gap in your employment from travelling.
Way back in the early 1990s I took some time out to go and work in Italy – I was a fairly recent graduate and was only going to be out of the job market for a few months (it was a summer spent in Italy as an au pair) so, to me, it wasn’t a big deal. It was a boom time for jobs on the Isle of Man so I knew I’d easily walk into a new job on my return. In fact, there was only a cursory question at my first interview as to whether I planned to take off again any time soon.
A few years later and, as it happened, I did have itchy feet again so, armed with my Australian working holiday visa, a one way ticket to New Zealand, and no plans beyond that, I set off on a gap year that eventually became three years on the road.
I returned home at the end of 1997, the job market was still buoyant on the Isle of Man, and I found a great job where I eventually stayed for the next eight years. Even with a gap of three years on my CV I was able to demonstrate at interview that I hadn’t wasted that time, and it wasn’t difficult to convince my future employer that I intended to stay put for the foreseeable future and was ready to focus on my career.
Things are obviously a lot different now and it’s highly unlikely that, after so long out of the workforce, anyone would be able to walk into a job quite so easily. Recruiting the right member of staff is a costly business and employers don’t want to spend time and money investing in someone they think will hit the road again.
The one thing I would say is don’t be tempted to leave your travelling gap off your CV. Employers tend to be suspicious of any breaks in your career history and having an unexplained gap on your CV isn’t likely to get you an interview.
If you were on a working holiday or you did some volunteer work overseas you’ll be able to easily (and positively) highlight the skills you gained but, even if you spent the bulk of your time basking on a beach in Bali, many employers will view the fact that you’ve been travelling in a positive light – it shows that you have a sense of independence and are culturally aware if nothing else.
If you were on a working holiday this makes it easier especially if the work you did on your travels was relevant to the type of job you’re applying for.
When I started my job search after three years on the road, none of the jobs I’d had in Australia or New Zealand had any bearing on my past or future career plans (data entry for a biscuit manufacturer, waitressing, and working on a vineyard). However, I’d picked up plenty of transferable skills along the way and chances are you will have too. More on those later.
I’m always impressed when I see a CV from someone who’s spent time volunteering even if it isn’t something as interesting as building a school in Kenya or teaching in Vietnam – it shows commitment for one thing to get up every day and do a job for no financial reward.
Although I didn’t volunteer on my travels I have volunteered for various charities in recent years and always include this on my CV.
Blogging wasn’t a thing when I was backpacking. In fact, the internet wasn’t really a thing either and I don’t think my future employer would have been too interested to read on my CV that I kept comprehensive travel diaries during my time away. However, if you’ve used your time on the road to keep a blog then it’s 100% worth adding this to your CV.
In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that, if you have a blog that isn’t your full-time job, put it on your CV anyway. Just think of all the knowledge you’ve gained since you started blogging – effective communication, IT skills, sales, marketing, and social media management to name but a few.
Even if you didn’t work or volunteer on your travels I’m confident that you’ll have picked up some transferable ‘soft’ skills along the way. These are just some of the key soft skills that employers are looking for and that you’re likely to have picked up along the way. Depending on your circumstances there’ll probably be many more transferable skills that you can add to your CV.
Even before you left home you will have had to use your planning skills to decide where to go, how to get there, how to get around when you arrived, and where to stay.
Unless you won the lottery it’s more than likely that you had to save for your travels and when you were on the road you’d have had to keep an eye on your budget to make sure that you didn’t run out of money.
Good communication skills are one of the most sought after by employers so if you travelled to any country where English isn’t the first language then you’ll know all about how important your communication skills are when trying to get by. If you learnt another language on your travels even better and that’s something you need to highlight on your CV.
It might not seem relevant at the time but, if you’ve spent any time in a foreign market and managed to successfully haggle your way to a bargain, you’ve mastered the art of negotiation. In all my years in the workplace I’ve never had to negotiate quite as hard as when I saw a rug I wanted in an Egyptian market!
No matter how well you planned your trip, it’s almost certain that, at some point, you’ll have had to change your plans – how well you handled those changes will demonstrate how adaptable you are.
When it comes to job interviews recruiters are keen on asking competency based questions to assess how well you handle certain situations so, even if you’ve been out of the job market for a while and can’t relate back to any recent employment history, you can use these soft skills in your answers.
You might be asked to give an example of a challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it. Even if you’re up against applicants who can relate their answers to business situations you’ll certainly be remembered for your response about how you successfully dealt with the fall out when your train from Chiang Mai was delayed leading you to miss your flight from Bangkok to Sydney which, in turn, meant you missed your planned bus trip up the east coast of Australia. Disclaimer: This didn’t happen to me (thankfully!).
When it comes down to it you’ll most likely be competing with a lot of other applicants for a job, including many who will have more recent experience than you. Don’t let that put you off. Your time on the road – whether it was for a month, a year, or longer – will make you stand out if you handle it correctly.
If you want to know more about where and how to look for work, how to write a CV, or how to prepare for interviews (including the best way to answer competency-based questions) my book, ‘You’re Hired! How to Find a Job You Love – and Keep it!’ has all the answers. After working in a voluntary capacity with school leavers I decided to write a book to share my years of HR and recruitment knowledge and give them, and others new to the world of work, an edge in the competitive job market.