- "I spent one year in low-income communities throughout South America providing pro bono work with hospitality businesses as an onsite staff member and marketing assistant."
- "I backpacked through South America hitching rides to the cheapest beach towns and volunteering at hostels where I can get free booze and a dorm bed."
Among the many reasons why people are hesitant to go overseas for a year, difficulty in finding a new job upon return is on the top of the list for most. While taking time off helps prevent burnout, inspire new ideas, and keep us learning and growing, post-travel blues are met with fear of a dreaded "resume gap."
No need to fear -- there is hope! People take sabbaticals and return to work all the time, it is just a matter of learning to effectively fill your resume gap after traveling. Here are five ways to upgrade your resume content and professionally share your travel story without seeming like a flight risk.
1. Update Your Resume’s Layout
I have a career gap -- a three-year one, actually. Despite this, I get job offers (even from corporate companies) and hiring professionals pass around my resume often. They all know I travel but do not see my travel as a negative resume gap… because I don’t let them. There are many ways you can upgrade your resume to list your time away from work without being dishonest. Here are two:
a. Functional vs. Chronological Resume
In the United States we use resumes, but elsewhere a skills-based resume would be considered a Functional CV. This type of resume basically removes the date-based employment listing and places more emphasis on your skills and related work experience. Because I do a lot of contract work (as it helps me travel more) I have too many “jobs” to list on a resume and my captions can easily become redundant.
Instead, I use a combination of functional and chronological layouts to categorize my work by related experience. This helps me list my clients together, with one achievement-based description under each category, keep my resume at one page, and distract the eye from dates.
My second trick is to make sure to show my work as a consultant. Whenever traveling, I provide freelance writing, and manage blogs and social media accounts for small businesses. My resume would be all over the place if I listed it all individually, so I keep my international work in one category and establish myself as a consultant.
After all, that’s what consultants do: offer their time and expertise to help improve a number of client businesses. Now my resume gap is filled with international consultant work and I can share valuable business practices and insight with future employers from my well-rounded experience.
2. Be Honest and Proud About Your Resume Gap
There are plenty of reasons why you should be honest about your gap year on your resume: some of your experiences might truly help you get one step closer to the job you want. Beyond that though, your prospective employer might find out anyway -- and that could make you look bad if you chose to pad your employment dates or fib about your time off.
Even if your gap year was simply a burn out sabbatical and you are unable to identify a skill set that would best apply to your future gig, the hiring manager really wants to know: if hired, will that burnout (or personal situation) affect your productivity in your new workplace?
To fill the gap, briefly insert your time away as a career note in your resume and cover letter. In your interview, use the face time to focus on your work and achievements before that time off. The more time you spend justifying the gap, the more time you take away from discussing what you offer the organization.
Instead, praise the metric-based success you achieved at your last job (before your gap year) and make them feel as if you were just there last week.
3. Use Resume Language Strategically
There are words in the "gap" section of your resume that may be hurting your chances of finding a job. While you may already know to include action-oriented descriptions that provide value and metrics, you might be overlooking language opportunities that’ll boost your resume.
When filling a gap in your resume, you want to connect your experiences to the career you want as much as possible. You want to sound professional and forward thinking. Your volunteering history, backpacking destinations, and experiences should be seen as strategically planned -- not happenstance.
Replace words like “volunteer” with “pro bono”; “hostel” with “accommodation”; and “teaching English” with “language instruction”. Familiarize yourself with terms used in your prospective workplace and weave those keywords into your resume.
If you want to get a job at a school or within the education sector, then emphasizing your work in Hong Kong as an English teacher is great. But if you want to work in the financial industry, highlighting your work with school and personal budget coordination is better.
4. "Brag" About Your Travel Gap Year
I am afraid of bragging. Most of us are. When people hear I’ve been traveling the world, they approach with interest, excited to hear what it was like. I initially found it difficult to share my story and its many highlights and would stick to “I traveled for a while -- it was really awesome, you should try it!”
Then a former colleague who follows my travel blog heard me downplay my experience, and warned if I couldn’t illustrate how impactful my time from work had been, I would just seem like a beach bum who ran away from life.
Whether that is true or not is irrelevant.
Modesty is certainly a good trait, but being too modest can land you in resume gap limbo. Instead, practice your story, your "gap year elevator pitch." In less than one minute, verbally demonstrate your achievements while inviting the listener to take part in a story that is engaging and inspiring.
For example, these two sentences share the same story but illustrate very different degrees of professionalism:
Which one sounds more reliable? It's obvious, right? You can find a way to honestly but professionally demonstrate that your "gap" year was a good thing for you -- and your future employer.
5. Use Your "Wild Card" to Make Up for Your Resume Gap
The fact is: depending on what industry you are looking for a job in, reentering the workforce will be more difficult for some than others. Finding a job at an outdoor gear store or yoga studio with a resume gap might be a lot easier than going back to a law firm.
Regardless of how well you fill your resume gap after traveling, some managers will be more cautious when considering whether to hire you. You have to convince them there’s nothing to worry about. You have to show them your skills and expertise outweigh their concern and you are not just looking for a job to re-save money and leave.
Whether you actually are hoping to travel again is irrelevant.
So, how can you convince a job prospect that you are worth hiring? By weaning yourself in.
Instead of clamming up when you hear their concerns about your resume gap, offer an alternative. While you may want a full-time job, let them know you are happy to come on board for three months and circle back for review. Even offering a one-month test run might be appealing.
In fact, when I nailed my first job after the recession and a one year employment dry spell, I applied for an internship in response to the lack of available jobs. During my interview we discussed doing a 30-day test run in consideration for a paid position and after a successful one-day trial, I had a full-time job.
I knew they were concerned about my resume. I knew they were on a tight budget. But I also knew I would do great if given the chance so was willing to agree to a test run -- and it offered me the opportunity to impress my employer.
Save this wild card for emergencies though; you don’t want to offer a trial if you don’t need to!