As elite universities such as Harvard are encouraging their students to take a gap year building up their CV and work experience, we look at how you can use your gap year to the best of your advantage.
The experience gaps years offer can certainly be beneficial - according to a survey by gapyear.com 85% of HR executives feel that relevant work experience is more valuable to a job seeker than a non-vocational degree, while 65% believe that a year spent volunteering and/or gaining work experience overseas makes a job application stand out.
Almost half surveyed were more likely to hire a graduate with gap year experience involving independent travel, working or volunteering than without one, while over half thought that young people taking constructive gaps years tended to get better value out of subsequent education.
However, the survey also emphasises that constructive gap years are important - you need to have a focus and a goal when taking a gap year to get the most out of it for both yourself and when talking prospective employers.
When being constructive, think about the skills you’ve gained from your experiences and how you can use these examples when it comes to interviews. Here are a few ideas:
Planning and organisation
You will have had to book flights, arrange hostels and work placements, and getting from A to B involves the ability to make a plan and see it through. If you ran into difficulties which you had to deal with, such as a flight getting in late meaning that you missed a connection, it could be a useful anecdote to use if you’re ever ask in an interview whether you’ve ever had to ‘solve a problem’ or ‘think on your feet.’
Self-reliance, a go-getter and a positive attitude
It takes a lot of courage to go away by yourself or do something different from the norm by staying at home and getting some work experience under your belt. It’s often difficult to go against the grain and stand up for your career path and what you want out of life, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can show that you are a determined individual.
If you went travelling or worked abroad during your gap year can show employers that you have an understanding of other cultures beyond the UK which will especially be useful in the future.
If you live and work abroad you may have gained some invaluable language skills, important to employers, which may also increase your chances of working abroad in the future. Even if employers don’t specifically ask for language skills they show that you are willing to take the time and effort to immerse yourself into a culture which you’ll also do in a work environment.
If you worked for a charity you’ll have met people from different walks of life and different ways of viewing the world. This perspective can be useful when you enter the workplace, showing employers that you are able to work with individuals with different backgrounds from yourself.
Depending on your experiences on your gap year you may have gained some valuable leadership experiences. For example, if you taught English abroad you will have had to negotiate a class of students, keeping them all focused and concentrating.
Whether you stay at home or ventured abroad, it’s likely that you would have had to work with other people along the way. In interviews and on your CV you can talk about the type of people you worked with, how you solved any issues you faced between you, and what role you often took within the team.
If you undertook a project as part of your work experience either in the UK or abroad remember how you accomplished tasks, set goals, worked with others to achieve tasks and how you felt at the end.
Initiative, drive and determination
If you spent time prior to your gap year saving up for your experience or out and about fundraising, you can show that you are dedicated to your cause. You might have also thought of some novel ways to fundraise and mentioning these will show employers that you are creative.