How to Take a Gap Year Without Hurting Your Career

Sometimes you need to take a break and reassess your life. An increasing number of young professionals, early in their career, are considering a gap year in which they travel instead of logging 40+ hours per week in an office. 

Older generations might consider this a waste of time and talent and look at this activity as self-serving and unnecessary. But it’s possible to take this time away from work and develop skills that will help enrich and grow your abilities and understanding, making you even more valuable as an employee. 

Here’s how to turn a gap year into a growth year: 

  • Consider an outlet that will develop leadership skills. Organizations like Teach for America or the Peace Corps provide the opportunity to move to a new city or a new part of the world and take an important role that can help shape a community. Without your familiar surroundings and the people closest to you, you’ll have to learn to adapt and change in ways you might not expect. Plus, you will be playing an integral role in the organization in that location. 
  • Take on a task that will record your experiences and growth. Have you always wanted to write a book? Bike across Europe? Use your gap year to accomplish a long-standing goal, perhaps something that many people wish to do, but few attempt. Keep a journal, if only for your own memory, to help solidify and retain those stories after you’re back home. 
  • Embrace the unknown. If you choose to travel to a new part of the world, go for it with gusto. Learn the language. Take tours. Go for hikes or boat trips. Learn all you can about the country and the culture, starting your studies before you leave. Being a “stranger in a strange land” teaches you how to strengthen your communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, and improves your ability to read people and situations.
  • Find ways to work. If you don’t want to teach English abroad, find other ways to do meaningful work while in a new place. If you’re going to live in a new city or country, look for volunteer opportunities. If you belong to a professional organization or fraternity, see if there’s a branch close to where you’ll be staying. Customs and cultures vary so widely around the world; having a common ground upon which to build can teach you valuable teamwork skills that can be surmounted despite language or other barriers. 
  • When you return, update your resume with the skills you’ve acquired. Prepare interview answers that include details from the challenges you faced while away from home. Be ready to discuss how you managed your budget while not working, or how you picked up a skill you never thought you’d have thanks to your adventure. 

Many people will be applying for the same job you are eyeing when you return from your gap year. Your experiences in a new place can be just the ticket to set you apart. Speak with confidence and detail about the time you took away from work. Hiring managers and possible team leaders will be curious to see the gap in your resume and understand that all experiences are learning opportunities that can transfer to leadership skills that cannot be taught in a classroom. 

Are you ready to re-enter the workforce?

IFG Global works with industry leaders who will appreciate the new skill and insight you’ve gained from your gap year, and many of our clients have international offices. Call IFG Global today and review our job posting database to get started on your next adventure.