While the traditional route of education is to go straight from high school to college – and, hopefully soon thereafter, a first job – some students do not feel ready for university right after high school. Similarly, some university graduates might not want to take on a job immediately following college graduation.
If this describes your situation, consider taking a sabbatical, otherwise known as a “gap year.” In fact, some college advisors even encourage students to take a gap year. Employers are also more likely to accept a student who has taken time off to reflect on his or her goals to acquire relevant skills.
A gap year can take on many forms. While some students choose to travel to foreign countries to take a job, such as becoming an ESL teacher, others combine their stay abroad with volunteer work. You can also hone in on specific skills, such as by taking language classes or enrolling in subject-specific certificate programs. Moreover, the time frame is not limited to a solid 12 months – you can opt to take off only half a year or a few months and have a similarly enriching experience.
Reasons to Take a Gap Year
1. Explore a Foreign Culture and Language
Reading about a distant country in the news does not compare to experiencing its culture first-hand. A gap year provides a unique opportunity for you to travel and learn about how people live in other parts of the world. If you are looking to perfect your foreign language skills, this is a great time to do so. By surrounding yourself with locals, you can pick up conversational phrases and colloquialisms faster than you would back home.
2. Gain Work Experience
A gap year is not a year-long vacation. Instead, it is a time to gain work experience by volunteering, interning, or working in a foreign destination. While doing so, you’ll acquire new skills and learn how to communicate with others in your workplace. Whether you’re helping to conserve sea turtles or translating documents at a law firm, you’ll be exposed to circumstances that can give you a leg up in landing future employment and help you hone in on what you want to do long-term. Consider your gap year as a chance to grow professionally and to think about where you’d like to work in the future.
3. Become More Independent
Many students decide to go abroad during their gap year. In a foreign country, you won’t have your normal support network of family, friends, and professors to lean on. Instead, you’ll be on your own and responsible for your own decisions and well-being. Inevitably, this will force you to become independent and mature in the process. Whether it’s doing your own laundry, finding your own apartment, or making travel arrangements, you will have to plan your day-to-day routine, as well as your future.
4. Reflect on Your Goals
Gap years are ideal for those who are unsure about what it is that they want to do in the future. This time will give you the “mental space” you need to reflect on your goals and how you will achieve them. By being less distracted by classes and gaining new experiences, you can focus on yourself and find what you enjoy and excel at. Slowly but surely, you will find out more about what you want to achieve in life, both personally and professionally.
5. Renew Your Interest in Returning to School or Work
Often, students are burned out after high school or college. Taking a gap year can be an ideal time to regain your energy and motivate you to return to study or work afterwards. In fact, some people come to miss their studies or work while they are taking their gap year. When you’re away in foreign lands, you learn to appreciate what you had back home, and you can come back feeling re-energized.
How to Maximize Your Gap Year
Before You Go
It’s easy to let a gap year turn into a year-long vacation. To avoid wasting valuable time, it is essential that you consider your goals and make a plan. Talk to advisors and possible employers to determine what you will need to do abroad to achieve your goals. If you want to learn a language, find a school to do so. If you wish to obtain a skill, be it web design or scuba diving, find a course or certification program.
During Your Gap Year
During your time off, be sure to frequently re-evaluate your goals. If you find that you are not achieving what you had planned, take the initiative to make it work. For example, if you find that you’re not sufficiently learning the language, change schools. Apply for jobs while you are away, take part in phone interviews, and return home with in-person job interviews already lined up.
When You Come Back
Upon returning, reflect on your gap year. If you are still looking for a job, update your resume to include the skills you acquired abroad. You can also mention your gap year in your cover letter. Once you land a job, put your acquired skills into action and remind your employer why he or she hired you.
Why Taking a Gap Year Increases Your Chance of Being Hired
1. Employers Value Work Experience
If you weren’t able to complete summer internships or take on part-time jobs in college, a gap year is the time to do so. Your resume will be enriched with practical experience, and you will have professional references who can write you a recommendation letter. When you apply, your work experience will stand out, especially if you worked overseas. This can separate you from other applicants and increase your chances of getting hired.
2. Employers Value Cross-Cultural Communication Skills
In today’s global society, being able to communicate across cultures is becoming increasingly important. Companies often operate with clients and partners from different countries, and being able to handle these clients can increase your job prospects.
Use your gap year to learn about a foreign way of life and combat stereotypes. This can help you in the workplace when you have to interact with people of all ethnicities. You should pay special attention to acquiring cross-cultural communication skills if you are interested in working in international relations.
3. Employers Value Foreign Language Skills
Along with cross-cultural communication skills, employers value job applicants who speak a foreign language. In the United States, the Spanish language is increasing in usage, and many students are also learning Chinese to be able to break into emerging markets. If you speak the language, you can handle more responsibilities and may ascend faster in your career ladder.
4. Employers Value Initiative
A gap year can show your initiative. Employers will quickly recognize whether you saw your gap year as an extended summer vacation, or as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn new skills. If the latter is the case, this will show on your resume, in your recommendations, and during your job interview. If you package your experience and skills effectively, you increase your chance of getting hired.
5. Employers Value Independence
Living on your own in a foreign country shows that you are independent. Employers value applicants who can work effectively on their own without consulting a supervisor every minute with a new question. During your interview, discuss how you gained independence, such as by talking about a challenging situation and how you mastered it on your own during your gap year.
Taking a successful gap year requires extensive planning. More than anything, you will have to look at your finances and see how they match up with your goals. Rather than viewing it as “time off,” approach your gap year as an opportunity to pursue activities and acquire skills that you might otherwise not have available to you.
When you’re fresh out of college or high school, you have little tying you back like a career and family. This is the time to go abroad and come back with a new perspective. And if planned correctly, a gap year can significantly increase your chances of getting hired in the job you want.
Are you thinking about taking a gap year? Do you have any other tips for how students can increase their chances of getting hired after taking a gap year?