How to make sure a gap year is a worthwhile career move

By Robert Half on 1 March 2017

Gap years are sometimes struck with the stigma of candidates backpacking aimlessly around the world, instead of applying their time and energy into advancing their professional lives.

The truth is, a gap year can actually provide life-long benefits for your career – if you’re strategic.

More than just a well-deserved break from study or work, a well-planned and carefully thought out gap year can provide clarity about future career directions, enhance your personal skills, and in a competitive job market, it could add the ‘wow’ factor to your CV.

If you’re thinking about embarking on a gap year, take a look at our three tips to let your sabbatical have a positive impact on your career.

1. Gain work experience in a relevant industry

One of the big challenges that job candidates face is selecting which qualification to work towards, and it is especially difficult if you have never actually worked in your preferred industry.

A gap year can fix this. Gaining work knowledge in a particular field offers a “try before you buy” experience. Industry experience acquired during a gap year can also give you a valuable head start over other candidates.

In fact, in a study by UK-based High Fliers Research, almost half the employers surveyed expressed a preference for candidates with some level of industry experience.

This being the case, look for internship opportunities or part-time or temporary roles within the industry you are thinking about entering. It may mean your gap year is more work than play, but chances are it’s a wise investment in your future.

2. Raise a hand to volunteer

Regardless of whether a gap year sees you globetrotting or staying in Hong Kong, volunteering is a smart way to enrich your CV.

Volunteer roles can span everything from nurturing endangering sea turtles in Costa Rica to lending a hand at a local nursing home. A common thread is the opportunity to learn new skills such as teamwork and problem solving, and grow a personal network.

Volunteering can also offer significant career pluses. Deloitte’s 2016 Impact Survey found 82% of hiring managers are more likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience. The same study confirmed eight out of ten business leaders felt volunteering helps to develop leadership traits such as communication skills, personal accountability and commitment.

Volunteering also confirms you care about the community, and this can highlight your potential fit with a company’s corporate social responsibility program.

With thousands of volunteering roles available, it can pay to choose a role related to your future career. Be sure to ask for a written reference at the end of any volunteer work to include in your CV.

Just finished your gap year? Send us your resume.

3. Learn a new skill during a gap year

Using a gap year to broaden your skill set can add key selling points to your CV, and it makes sense to focus on marketable skills relevant to your career.

Learning a second language such as French or Spanish during a gap year for example, can be a good investment for finance graduates hoping to work in international market opportunities.

Other skills can apply to a broad range of careers. A 2016 report by the FYA for example, confirmed a 110% increase in the number of jobs that call for presentation skills. Joining an organisation like Toastmasters during your gap year can offer a low cost way to hone your public speaking skills and give you a head start for roles that involve making presentations to clients or colleagues.

Make a plan and make it count

The key to ensuring that a gap year counts is to make a plan. While you should enjoy the break from formal study or work, it’s important to think about how to make the best use of this stage in your life, and being mindful of how it could benefit your career.

The time will fly past, but the skills and experiences you acquire could provide lasting career benefits.

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