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Make the most of your Gap Year

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Gap year options are vast and greatly varied but their value depends on what you are hoping to get out of it. Read on to find out how to make the most of your year out.

Travelling abroad

Picture yourself in an interview room. You are wide awake, anticipating the questions you’ve prepared for, ready to show off your academic magnificence, and the interviewers open their mouth. ‘So,’ says one, glancing at your CV; at the dates you finished school and sixth form and the dates you started university. ‘Am I correct in assuming that you took a gap year?’ You nod. ‘Aha,’ replies the interviewer, nodding. ‘Tell me about that year.’ ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘I just worked.’ And immediately the interview becomes rather boring and rather dry.

It is the scenario we are all likely to end up in: the one where you are asked to talk about the year of your youth in which you were not acting under instruction or following a syllabus. It sounds exciting: freedom, an entire list of opportunities...it should be exciting. So you don’t want to sit in an interview room and tell the interviewer that you ‘just’ did something. If you worked the entire year don’t make it sound even more boring than it was. Charles Logan, Director at Hays recruiting agency, comments on the subject of gap years. ‘Be clear about the value that it has had. Did you work? Did you learn valuable skills?’ Present your year in a way which focuses on the type of experience which you had, not the little adventures that you enjoyed.

If however you are able to plan to do more in your gap year than working for its entire, the more unique your choices are the more exciting you appear on paper or in an interview. ‘There is so much competition for jobs that graduates need to do all they can to stand out,’ says Logan. ‘Taking a gap year is quite commonplace nowadays so if you are considering this it is important to think about how your time off can help to secure a position in the future.’

For a start, consider how much time you have to use up. If you have say, ten or eleven months to yourself then consider what you want to do or achieve in your year. If you need to earn some money to fund any travelling or volunteer projects then ensure you set a proportion of your year aside for working. Any job you have will provide you with some experience, even if it is the very basic of retail work. But as for the rest of your year, you could have enough time to do a volunteer project, an extreme sports project and still allow for a limited amount of time to travel solo. The more experiences you gain, the more you’ve made of your year out of study.  

Spending your entire year travelling solo is great for life experiences. It’s also great for ticking tourist destinations off the list. And if it looks good to employers then it’s because you have proven yourself able to survive and live independently and take responsibility. Time-wise, there’s also no hanging around waiting for other people and there’s no changing decisions (unless you’re really, really indecisive) so you really can see the world. Despite all of this, on paper this type of gap year does not demonstrate your interests, and unless you are planning to work for a travel company it doesn’t show that you actually have everyday experience and interest in the job you are applying for.

If you spend at least part of your trip with an organisation they can get you to places you wouldn’t be able to get to as a tourist. Think the very centre of the primary jungle; think meeting incredible people; think being taught by the best; think going to a community which hasn’t yet entered the market of tourism.  Organisations offer trips from two weeks to a full year; and joining a trip which focuses on the area you prefer looks great in the eye of employers.

It is worth considering that some careers are more competitive than others, particularly in certain aspects. Some will, for example, require more practical experience than others. ‘If you are looking to get into accountancy, journalism, or teaching for example, then assisting with the book-keeping, writing a travel guide for a company or taking a TEFL course can really help,’ comments Logan. Choose your gap year according to what you are interested in and passionate about and you will be more likely to make the most of it. Plan certain parts of your trip but try not to go overboard: work-related opportunities come and go and you may well be able to get involved in something while you are away. To pick one example, Natalie Tran, an Australian video blogger on YouTube, has been backed by Lonely Planet as she travels around the world. It is original ideas like these which stand out to employers. Consider, if you travel, using a guide book as a guide but do not follow its every word: it is likely that another thousand-odd people are doing the same. Make your trip yours, and then you’ll stand out. 

 

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