People of all ages take gap years for various reasons. Whether it’s to go traveling, spend time caring for a sick family member or raise children, there are plenty of acceptable reasons to take a much-needed break.
So, don’t be afraid to include a gap year in 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’re 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.
For high school leavers and university students, a gap year refers to taking time off between high school and college, or between an undergraduate and a graduate degree, typically to travel or volunteer (or both).
For working professionals, a gap year is a year off that’s taken between jobs. Though you’re bound to be doing something with your time, you won’t be in full-time employment and your career will therefore be “paused” for a while. These “adult” gap years are also referred to as sabbaticals.
Though we associate gap years with younger age groups, there are many reasons why an adult might choose (or need) to take a year out from work. The most common ones include wanting to:
- Pursue personal projects you’re passionate about but otherwise don’t have time for
- Travel around the world or to far-off places and experience different cultures
- Enroll in a course (or several ones!) to enhance your skill set and learn new things
- Volunteer in your country or abroad, getting involved in rewarding work
- Reassess your career wants and needs, and potentially pursue a different career path
No matter what you spend your gap year doing, one thing is certain: your routine will cease to be what you’re used to. Adjusting to your new reality and taking up new activities to fill your schedule is guaranteed to help you expand your skill set.
More specifically, you can expect to develop the following soft skills:
- Adaptability: Stepping outside your comfort zone means that, at least some of the time, things won’t go according to plan.
- Problem solving: When things don’t go according to plan, you develop your problem-solving ability besides your flexibility.
- Self-reliance: Navigating a year of frequent changes and new experiences will require you to build your resilience, which also positively impacts your confidence.
- Communication: Whether you use your year off to travel, volunteer or enroll in a course, you’re bound to put your people skills (and particularly your communication skills) to good use.
- Teamwork: Teamwork is yet another one of those people skills that you’ll most likely get to strengthen during your gap year.
A gap year shouldn’t diminish your credentials; it should enhance them. By including a gap year in your CV or résumé, you can demonstrate that you’re caring, dedicated or daring — all of which are 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.
Knowing where and how to mention a gap year on your résumé can be a game-changer. A single sentence won’t do; you’ll need to add some dates, too, and a short yet informative description.
Where to include this on your résumé depends on how long your gap year was. If it was just a couple of months, there’s no real need to include this on your résumé.
That said, if your gap year extended beyond six months, then you’ll need to mention it on your résumé. Where you do this will depend on what sort of gap year you took. If during your gap year you ended up working a little or volunteering, you could add this under your work experience section. Or, if you mostly spent your gap year traveling, volunteering or working a job that is irrelevant to your main expertise, you could also create a separate volunteer experience section.
Meanwhile, if you had to take a year off due to an injury, chronic illness or to take care of a loved one, then this could likewise be added under the work experience section by listing the dates and adding a brief description explaining the situation — for example: “I acted as the main caretaker for a close family member.”
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 that would ruin any chance that you had of securing the job.
2. Use a clear header on your résumé
If your time off work spanned several months, this should be indicated (in most cases) under the work experience section on your résumé. For example, if you were out of work for a bit because you were made redundant, you could include a header such as “Career Break” in your work history.
This can be followed by short bullet points explaining the situation, such as: “Made redundant due to company downsizing. Volunteered at ABC Non-profit as English teacher.”
3. 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 caring for a loved one or raising children, you can show that this experience has helped you gain valuable skills, so don’t be afraid to talk about this.
4. Mention your achievements
Your main goal is to describe your achievements during the time that you took off work. Depending on what your gap year was for, you could list quantifiable results.
You could mention courses, qualifications or training you undertook while on your gap year, for example. 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.”
5. Don’t go into excessive 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’re applying. You can elaborate further during the interview.
6. Make the gap year relevant to the role
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 program, mention the skills that you gained during your time abroad, and try to connect your experience to your target job.
7. Show your commitment for stability
Gap years can occasionally be seen as red flags by employers, since they could potentially signal a lack of commitment, direction or professionalism.
You need to prove that you’re keen to return to the workforce and become a valued member of any organization. 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.
8. Highlight the transferable skills you gained
As mentioned, on a professional level, the key takeaway from a gap year are the skills that you’ve attained and developed, as they make you more employable. Thus, it’s imperative that you showcase them effectively on your résumé.
You can do this in two places: one would be under your work experience section, under your “Career Break” header, where you’d list the responsibilities that you undertook or the activities you pursued during your time off. By describing them, you’re highlighting the skills and know-how you put to use in that time.
The second place to highlight your transferable skills is within your résumé’s dedicated skills section. A good rule of thumb is to include between 10–15 unique skills.
9. Use your cover letter wisely
Here’s an example of how to go over employment gaps in your cover letter:
Dear Mr Richards,
I would like to apply for the role of digital marketing specialist which is advertised on CareerAddict’s job board and on your company website. Enclosed you will find my résumé which highlights my most recent experience.
I have gained experience in the field working on numerous influencer campaigns which received a 100% ROI. I feel confident that my experience can benefit your company, and I am eager to take on new responsibilities and challenges within the marketing field.
I have recently taken a year off work to teach English abroad and have gained great leadership and time management skills that will help me with my day-to-day tasks. Not only that, but it has also kindled my appetite for an international career and dealing with professionals across the globe.
I hope you will find my skills and experience suitable for the role. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
10. Be prepared to answer questions
When you’re done putting together your résumé, go over what you’ve written, and make sure it’s coherent and concise. If you leave important information out or, worse, overdo it with the details, then the hiring manager might request clarifications regarding the gaps in your résumé — and the last thing you want is to be caught off guard.
In fact, the hiring manager might request that you further explain the gaps in your employment regardless of how well you’ve described it all in writing. So, have a think about what you’re going to say when you’re called in for an interview, particularly if the reason you had to step away from your job was due to something particularly challenging or emotionally taxing.
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 lists a solid chunk of work experience. However, if you have a patchy employment history, you may want to 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 yourself 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!
Originally published on January 31, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.