The truth is coming out about gap years: they aren’t a way of avoiding your life; they’re a way of living it.
There was a time, not too long ago, when people believed that a gap year was only for the flighty, the rich, or Australians and Brits who wanted to see the world. The reality? A gap year is for anyone and everyone, at any point in life, with a wide range of budgets. A gap year can actually be a conduit to achieving your future goals, not a roadblock.
But here’s the trick – you need to know how to spin your gap year in a way that makes you shine. You want your resume to reflect the gutsy, confident, adventurous soul you are. Your gap year should enhance your credentials, not diminish them. Yes, maybe you drank too much beer, got sunburned, and spent more money than you expected. But there’s no reason to focus on that on a resume. Instead, you want to draw attention to the global perspective you gained, along with any new talents or special skills. Don’t worry; putting together a stellar resume isn’t as complicated as you think.
Before You Go
First of all, follow your instincts and your interests. Going somewhere because it’s popular or inexpensive is no good to you if you don’t have an inherent desire to go there. Remember, this is your gap year. Not your mom’s, not your friend’s, and not your brother’s. You call the shots. Chances are, pursuing your interests now will pay off later, as you’ll be able to apply your experiences to your career goals.
If you plan to work or volunteer abroad, reach out to companies that reflect what you’d like to do in the future. Although it’s always easier to find work opportunities once you’re on the ground, it won’t hurt to look for vacancies or e-mail your resume before you leave. If you can arrange a job, internship, or volunteer position in your field of interest, it will look good on your resume later.
One key way to make sure you won't waste time on your gap year is to let others organize the logistics. That way, you can worry less about planning and more about soaking up the culture and learning as much as you can at an internship or volunteer placement or language class. There are many programs to choose from, but here's a head-start. These programs are highly reviewed by past participants on Go Overseas!
Suggested Gap Year Programs
Want to have a year worth bragging about? Don't waste your time abroad (or your potential, for that matter). Travel with purpose, and check out one of these suggested programs for your gap year.
While You’re There
Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to improve your skills, like language courses or TEFL certificates. If you undergo any training for a job, make a note of it for later so you can include that detail on your resume. This is the time for you to be proactive with your choices. More and more people take gap years these days; how are you going to stand out? Seek out local groups and organizations and get involved. Help where you can. Give back to the community instead of simply traveling through it. If you took courses or interned, here are more specific tips for using your study abroad and internship abroad experiences to improve your resume.
Gap years should be fun. Don’t take on extra responsibilities if they don’t appeal to you, but if something piques your interest, explore it. Interested in medicine? Volunteer at a Zimbabwean hospital. Drooling over tapas? Go to Spain and learn how to cook them yourself. Curious about the Australian outback? Get out there and work on a farm.
Include these experiences on your resume and pull out the skills that you can apply to future jobs: initiative: finding your own placement in Australia, communication: navigating Spain despite language barriers, or resilience: witnessing difficult situations in the hospital but focusing on providing help. The choices you make now can and will affect your future, but you’ve still got to live in the moment. Take note of any events that are character building or show how you exhibited a certain desirable skill. These are the details that you might want to add to your resume or reference in an interview after your gap year.
Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to improve your skills, like language courses or TEFL certificates. If you undergo any training for a job, make a note of it for later so you can include that detail on your resume. This is the time for you to be proactive with your choices.
After Your Gap Year
Converting your gap year into words and channeling them into your resume can be difficult. How can you summarize a life-altering experience into a few tidy paragraphs? Start by thinking about achievements and details. It doesn’t matter if you worked at an international firm or waited tables at a coffee shop; list a few highlights. Did you make any positive changes that improved working conditions or revenue? Did you supervise any other employees? Employers want to know why they should hire you over anyone else. What can you bring to the workplace that no one else can?
If you did any courses or developed any special skills while you were abroad, include them on your resume. This doesn’t refer to the time you won that beer-chugging competition; best to leave that one off. Focus on specific examples that show your communication, problem-solving, or leadership skills. If the example isn’t job-related, include it in ‘other experience.’ Remember that if it’s not relevant, don’t include it. This isn’t the time for a “What I did on my gap year” tell-all.
Depending on the kind of industry you hope to work in, it might be helpful to have multiple resumes. The type of job you apply for may determine what you want to include on your resume. Highlight only the aspects of your gap year that are relevant to the position, and be sure to draw connections in your cover letter. It may be time-consuming initially, but once you’ve got a few resumes ready to go, it will make the application process that much easier.
You need to know how to spin your gap year in a way that makes you shine. You want your resume to reflect the gutsy, confident, adventurous soul you are. Your gap year should enhance your credentials, not diminish them.
Practical TipsUnderstanding how to pitch your gap year is one thing; sitting down to type your actual resume is another. Remember to keep it simple and professional. Here are some tips to get you from staring at the flashing cursor on a blank screen to turning in a snazzy resume and landing a job.
Do include any volunteering experience or overseas language study. It’s up to you where you list these on your resume. Volunteering could fit under work experience, while language studies would probably be better under a header of ‘education’ or ‘other experience.’
Don’t leave a gap in your resume. Even if your gap year experience doesn’t fit under work experience, it needs to be accounted for somewhere. That could be a simple entry stating the dates of your gap year, along with the countries or continents you visited.
Do give yourself credit for your achievements. If you ran a travel blog, it’s likely that you picked up some SEO or social media marketing skills. Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, those skills can be very applicable and belong on your resume.
Don’t be generic. “I have excellent communication skills” is exactly the kind of phrase that makes recruiters groan. Illustrate your skills by giving examples - we’ll go into this more in the sample resume below.
Do write a kick-ass cover letter. It can flesh out your resume and gives you the opportunity to show more personality. Address the situation of your recent return from a gap year and your current intention of pursuing a professional career.
Don’t rush through your resume. Invest time from the outset to craft a couple of well-written resumes, and it will make your job search much easier.
Do prepare real-life examples for the interview. You can’t (and shouldn’t) cram every detail onto your resume; it’s an overview, not an autobiography. But when you go into an interview, be ready to give a clear anecdote that illustrates exactly how you developed crazy-sharp negotiation skills - in another language! - by doing your weekly shop at the local market.
Don’t forget to make it clear that you are ready to commit to the company. You and I both know that travel has made you a better person, and chances are, you’re going to want to do it again. But that could be an employer’s biggest concern about your resume - are you going to pack up and leave a few months down the road? You need to ease their mind and clearly state that you’re in it for the long haul. (Hint: Use your cover letter to do this.
Sample Resume Selections
Let’s look at some examples from a real traveler’s resume. Megan had a brief stint as a volunteer in South Africa and taught English in Thailand for six months. She chose to list both experiences under the general heading of ‘experience,’ but you may choose differently.
Bangkok High School Bangkok, Thailand; 10/12-04/13
English Teacher/English Program Coordinator
- Created curriculum for all students in grade 8 and 9 English program, as well as kindergarten and preschool units
- Taught grammar, vocabulary, computer, and conversational skills to 180+ students per day
- Founded the after-school sports program for students ages 4-7
South African Community Medical Center Johannesburg, South Africa; 05/12-07/12
Notice how Megan used action verbs to describe her responsibilities, as well as including bullet points of her achievements. Details such as the number of students she taught and the amount of money she raised as a volunteer are great additions.
Megan uses action verbs to describe her responsibilities and achievements. Words like ‘created,’ ‘taught,’ and ‘founded’ are more effective than saying “I worked as a teacher.”
Be succinct in your descriptions but choose your words carefully. You want to convey a rich picture of yourself in a limited space.
Show, don’t tell
Demonstrate your skills and abilities through examples. Instead of saying, “Developed organizational skills,” Megan shows that fact by describing exactly how her organizational skills helped the South African Community Medical Center.
Highlight only important details
Include details to give your potential employer a concrete picture of what you’re capable of. Megan didn’t just teach high schoolers; she taught over 180 students each day. She didn’t just raise money for a charity; she helped raise a specific amount - over $2,000. She also mentions how she helped raise the money, by involving the community, which alludes to her skills with people, culture, and communication.
Go get 'em!
When you finish up your gap year, go into any new situations with the same attitude you did about setting off on your time abroad. Show that you’re excited, you’re committed, and you’re ready to make a positive change. Employers will pick up on this, just as they’ll recognize if your heart isn’t in the job and you’re not happy about being back. After all, life continues after a gap year – it’s up to you to keep the momentum going and make it the life you want to live!Photo Credits: Global Volunteer Network.