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Why Should You Work During Your Gap Year?

Volunteer in Peru

Taking a gap year between high school and university, or between university and the “real world” certainly has a lot of appeal. Imagine backpacking through Europe from hostel to hostel. Tiki drinks on the beach in Thailand. Late nights and attractive new friends with funny new accents in Australia and New Zealand. Sounds wonderful and full of free-spirited adventures, right?

By working abroad during your gap year, you can develop useful new skills to stand out in a competitive job market, AND have a life changing travel experience at the same time.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. A year of extended travel absolutely should be a time of adventure, self-discovery, and most importantly, fun. Why not? Who knows when the next time you’ll be able to visit Argentina or Belize will be?

But what we DON’T usually think about, is taking advantage of a gap year to create useful, marketable experience. And really, there is no reason why you can’t do both. By working abroad during your gap year, you can develop useful new skills to stand out in a competitive job market, AND have a life changing travel experience at the same time. Working abroad doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy yourself too, so you might as well use your time constructively!

With that in mind, here a few reasons why people considering a gap year abroad should also think about working during that time:

1. You'll Build Your Resume

Distribution Work

Let’s face it; the job market is pretty tough right now throughout most of the world. A four-year degree at a reputable school no longer guarantees you a steady job with a good salary like it might have for your parents. In this modern economy, you need to stand out from the crowd if you hope to have a rewarding career, and thankfully, international experience is a great way to distinguish yourself on your resume.

At the same time, even with career standards shifting, employers tend to not look at a gap in your resume as a super positive thing. Sure, you'll be able to put your gap year on your resume and explain the skills you picked up while traveling, but getting a job while gap yearing will help potential employers understand that gap wasn't just a prolonged vacation.

If you can find a way to gain some professional work experience while traveling abroad (like with teaching English or through an internship abroad), then that’s great! But even if it’s just a service job to pay the bills, a bartending job in Spain or a stint as an au pair in Paris is going to look a whole lot more interesting and impressive on your resume than babysitting for your next-door neighbor at home.

International experience on your resume shows employers that you are a versatile, confident person, and if nothing else, working abroad puts you in a minority of applicants. That alone will likely be enough to get you in the room for an interview.

2. You'll Be Able to Set Yourself Apart in Job Interviews

Once you’re in for an interview, the process of selling yourself really begins. And this is where having an interesting story to tell will really pay dividends. Especially for entry-level positions, hiring managers often want to pull their hair out after talking to 20 different applicants, all with similar backgrounds, education and work experience. Having something to talk about that makes you stick out in their mind can often be the difference between getting called back or not.

Hiring managers often want to pull their hair out after talking to 20 different applicants, all with similar backgrounds, education and work experience... Working abroad presents a very unique set of challenges.

Did you learn that you’re a better leader than you thought you were while teaching English in Cambodia? During your internship in Prague did you realize how important precise communication is?

Working abroad presents a very unique set of challenges, and as long as you’re comfortable talking about it, the person conducting the interview will be interested to hear about what you’ve experienced – both the positives and negatives.

3. To Build Professional Relationships and Network

Working with Elephants

We’ve all heard the clichés, but it’s true: building personal relationships is the most important thing you can do to bolster your career. And you never know where your most valuable relationships will come from. Interning, or even volunteering, abroad just might lead to your dream job, whether it’s now or twenty years down the road.

For example, I recently heard of one LanguageCorps teacher who started out teaching English in Barcelona, which led to teaching English in Cambodia, which in turn led to managing a local Yoga studio.

I don’t think this particular teacher could have possibly imagined the sequence of events that brought her where she is, but working during her gap year turned into her ideal job in an exciting part of the world. Make professional contacts in as many different places as possible, and you never know when you’ll be able to call upon them for friendly advice or a helpful foot in the door.

Likewise, you'll never know who you'll meet through a job abroad or the path those connections may put you on. Who knows? It could set you off on the right path for an international career beyond a gap year job...

4. It'll Make You Internationally Minded

Working during your gap year is especially important if you are hoping to enter any sort of international field in the future. In this age of rapid globalization, international career opportunities are only going to continue growing, and if you hope to compete in this market, gaining work experience abroad early and often is pretty much a necessity.

Working during your gap year is especially important if you are hoping to enter any sort of international field in the future...Gaining work experience abroad early and often is pretty much a necessity.

Many hiring managers for globally themed careers (study abroad advisors, travel marketing, international business, etc) won’t even look at a resume if there is no international experience listed! And even if you're not looking at staying in an internationally focused career, it's still a strong asset to have, and shows that you're comfortable working in new environments, not scared to take on a challenge, and are adaptable as an employee. Who wouldn't want to hire that?

5. For The Irreplaceable Memories

Whether or not working during your gap year helps your career in the long run, it will make your experience abroad more worthwhile, and ultimately, that’s the most important part.

Even if finances aren’t a factor for you, there is no better way to get to know a local culture than by working in it. You’ll interact with coworkers and customers or clients on a daily basis in a way that you never would otherwise, and many people make their best friends at work. Holding down a job is a great way to avoid a cycle where you hang out exclusively with expats, and you’ll have a better sense of what life is really like in your new home as a result.

Suggested Resources for Finding a Gap Year Job

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Don’t get me wrong, working abroad is definitely a challenge, but you’ll be a better person for it. It’s certainly easier to spend your gap year avoiding responsibility, rather than embracing it, but ultimately, learning as much as you possibly can during your time abroad will leave you with a much more satisfying experience. Dealing with situations at work like a language barrier, unfamiliar customs, traditions and regulations can make your job hectic and a certainly a bit stressful at first. But you’ll emerge a more confident person, ready to handle whatever life decides to throw your way, whether home or abroad.

Photo Credits: Gina Rogari and Global Volunteer Network.

Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.