People of all ages take gap years for various reasons. Whether it’s so you can go travelling, looking after a sick family member or raising children - there are plenty of acceptable reasons to take a much-needed break.
So, don’t be afraid to include a gap year on your résumé. As long as you can show the transferable skills you attained during your time off or connect the experience with the role you are applying for, your gap year could enhance your professional document.
By following this guide, you’ll put your best foot forward and turn your gap year into a career-building experience.
Why you should include a gap year on your résumé
A gap year shouldn’t diminish your credentials, it should enhance them. By including a gap year on your CV or résumé, you can demonstrate that you are caring, dedicated or daring - all qualities that can benefit you in the workplace.
A gap year can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, allowing you to grow as an individual and as a professional. It can prove that you’re confident, motivated and an independent worker which will enhance your résumé and make you more attractive to potential employers.
Where to list a gap year on your résumé
Knowing where and how to mention a gap year on your résumé is a game-changer. A short sentence won’t do; you will need to add an informative description that details what you did.
Where to include this on your résumé depends on how long your gap year was. If it was just a few months, there is no real need to include this on your résumé.
That said, if your gap year extends beyond six months, then you will need to mention it within your résumé. Where you do this will depend on what sort of gap year you did. If you spent your gap year working or volunteering, you could add this under your ‘Work Experience’ section.
That said, if your gap year mostly involved traveling, volunteering or working a job that is irrelevant to your main expertise, you can also create a separate ‘Volunteer Experience’ or ‘Other Experience’ section.
Meanwhile, if you had to take a year off due to an injury, illness or to take care of a loved one, then this can also be added under you’re the ‘Work Experience’ section by listing the dates and adding a brief description explaining the situation: ‘I acted as the mean caretaker for a close family member but I am now eager to join the workforce.’
How to explain a gap year in your résumé
1. Be honest
When writing your résumé, honesty is the best policy. There’s no need to go into too many details if you have a sensitive or personal reason for taking the gap year, but you definitely shouldn’t try to hide it either. The hiring manager could find out if you’re lying and it will ruin any chance that you had of securing the job.
2. Highlight the positive
As already mentioned, there are many positives to taking a gap year. In fact, showing that you have the courage to take a break and work on yourself or help someone else shows great strength of character.
So, be sure to draw on the positive experiences and how they have helped you grow as a professional. Even if you were ill or raising children, you can show that this experience has helped you develop other useful skills, so don’t be afraid to talk about this.
3. Mention your achievements
Your main goal is to describe your achievements during the time that you had off work. Depending on what your gap year was for, you should list quantifiable results.
You could mention courses, qualifications or training you undertook while you were on your gap year. So, let’s say you took a break to complete a short course, you could say ‘During this time I completed XYZ course which taught me ABC skills.’
Or, if you were volunteering abroad, you could focus on primary achievements from your experience such as ‘Worked with a cross-cultural, diverse team of volunteers to help build shelters for a local community.’
4. Don’t go into too much detail
The space on your résumé is golden; there’s no need to fill it up with unnecessary information. So, even though it’s important to list your gap year, there’s no need to go into too much detail. The information you do provide must be focused and relevant to the job you are applying. You can elaborate further during the interview.
5. Make the gap year relevant to the employer
Making the information on your résumé relevant to the employer and the role that you’re applying for is essential. Be sure to use relevant keywords; for example, if your gap year was part of a volunteering programme, mention the skills that you gained during your time abroad and try to connect your experience to the job you are applying for.
6. Show your commitment for stability
Gap years can occasionally raise red flags for employers since they could be a sign of instability.
You need to prove that you’re keen to get back into the workforce and become a valued member of any organisation. Especially if your gap year was quite recent, you need to show that you’re motivated to land a full-time position with the company you are applying at.
7. Mention transferable skills
As mentioned, the key takeaway from a gap year are the skills that you’ve attained and developed as they make you even more employable. If you’re unsure of what these are, we’ve listed a handful of skills that you will most likely gain during your break:
Negotiation: Whether you’ve been dealing with local markets and buying products or working on your own business, you can show how this enhanced your negotiation skills.
Budgeting and planning: Any time off work with no steady income is bound to improve your budgeting and planning skills, so explain how you managed to stick to a tight budget during your gap year travels.
Teamwork: If you’re volunteering abroad, you’ve likely worked as part of a team with volunteers from different backgrounds, so make sure to put emphasis on this point.
Adaptability: When you travel, things can go wrong, and plans can change rapidly. Explain how you were forced to adapt to new situations and find quick solutions to the initial problem.
Communication: Learning to communicate effectively with others is an essential skill to learn during any career break and can make you even more employable in customer-facing roles.
Leadership: If you partook in activities like teaching abroad, you likely gained key leadership skills that can be used within any working environment.
Critical thinking: Evaluating situations and coming up with quick solutions is a great skill that can be learned during a gap year and used within any position.
Creativity: Creativity doesn’t necessarily refer to artistic skills, it’s also how you approach tasks. If your gap year has taught you to think outside of the box and come up with new solutions to a problem, then you’ve enhanced your creativity skills, too.
8. Use your cover letter wisely
Here is an example of how to tie your gap year into your cover letter:
Gap year résumé example
Are you wondering how to apply all this information to your résumé? Don’t fret! We’ve created the following sample to use as a guide when you’re including your gap year on your résumé.
Within this example, we used a chronological timeline since the candidate has a great education, followed by a solid chunk of work experience. However, if you have a patchy employment history, use a skill-based résumé structure instead - this allows you to focus on the skills you have rather than the work experience you’ve gained.
Although it might be tempting to skip over your gap year, it’s important that you don’t. By including your gap year in the right way, you’ll be able to enhance your résumé and, actually, make you even more employable.
Remember, that regardless of the reason, it’s not a crime to take some time off work to pursue a life-long dream. You just need to show your dedication to finding and keeping a new job!
Do you have any tips or advice for jobseekers who are returning from their gap year? Share them with us in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 31 January 2018.