Gap Years: Your Guide to Taking a Year off after Graduation

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As the economy is becoming more and more unstable recent university graduates are looking to get a job that will ensure a salary as soon as possible. Taking a gap year to travel world straight after university might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that there’s actually a lot to be gained from taking a year off, including the fact that it could make you more employable and not ruin your job opportunities as many people believe.

Before you decide to take a year off

There are many things to consider before you start packing. For example, you need to understand the consequences of a year abroad on your career, as well as figure out how you are going to support yourself financially.

In regards to how a gap year can affect your career, I won’t lie to you. There’s a risk factor involved in this decision, especially as Brexit is looming over us. Getting a job in your sector might be more difficult a year later, but you can’t accurately predict the future, so if you really do want to travel after you graduate then you shouldn’t let fear keep you back.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider the consequences. If you are a realist, then you are going to want to do everything in your power to ensure that your adventure not only doesn’t hurt your job opportunities but that it actually increases them.

What if the gap year is too risky for me?

You should never make the decision to take a gap year lightly. In order to make an informed decision, you should research your industry, talk to your university’s career services and contact recruiters to find out more about your particular field.

If you feel more comfortable securing a job before you leave it is possible. Look for companies who are in constant demand for employees and discuss with them the possibility of taking some time off before you travel. Be warned that this might not resonate well with many people so be very cautious about discussing this option.

You should, however, note that many industries can be next to impossible to enter and if you have high career aspirations you might want to think twice before taking the year off. For example, the banking and finance sector offers some of the best graduate schemes in the country; companies like KPMG, PwC and Deloitte have been voted time and again as some of the best graduate employers and getting on one of these schemes is extremely hard. Therefore, if you are interested in one of these schemes you might want to focus on them, rather than taking a year off.

Other professions, especially the more creative ones, might benefit from a gap year as employers in these industries generally look for people with more unique personalities, so having experienced something different to the other candidates could easily put you ahead of the competition.

How can I ensure that I am making myself more employable?

Experiencing new things is always a good thing, and if you are a good story-teller you’ll be able to shape every experience into a skill relatable story that you can tell hiring managers, but you shouldn’t stop at that.

Taking an active step towards making yourself more employable is not only recommended, but it’s also highly advisable. To do that you can either intern for a few months before you head out to see the world, or you can get a job in your target destination.

If for example you are planning on just visiting one country and living there for a while you might want to start searching job boards to find either a full-time job or a part-time job. As a UK graduate you’ll be in high demand in many places around the world.

However, many graduates feel that their gap year should be all about collecting different experiences so you might want to consider simply picking odd jobs as you travel across the world. You can focus on honing on different skills or on acquiring new skills.

Many young people find that volunteering helps them make the most of their gap year as they are not only gaining valuable skills, but they are also giving back.

How will I explain a gap year during job interviews?

Adding a gap year to your CV can boost it, especially if you focus on the skills gained during your year abroad. But, you may feel that explaining it during an interview could be more difficult, especially due to the pressure we often feel during interviews.

However, you shouldn’t worry too much as having taken time off and done different things can help make you sound more interesting. Sharing stories from abroad will intrigue interviewers, and if you carry yourself confidently and explain how this experience has shaped you into a better employee you’ll definitely be able to win the interviewer over.

Organising your gap year

Deciding where to go

As discussed earlier it’s important to not only focus on the travelling aspect of your gap year, but it’s also essential to be mindful of how you can turn yourself into an ideal candidate. This means that you shouldn’t spend a year on a beach sipping mojitos, but rather you should choose your destination based on how it will increase your job opportunities in the future.

1. Choose your destination

Deciding where you are interested to travel is just as vital as figuring out how to make your gap year count. Many people find that travelling to Africa, Asia or South America is the best option as they are worried that they might never again be able to go on such a long journey. But, it’s really up to you and what you are interested to experience.

Checking out entry requirements is definitely recommended as getting a visa could end up to be a nightmare, while you should definitely ask for feedback from people who’ve already travelled to your chosen destination.

It’s also important to note that some countries are more expensive than others, so you may want to consider expenses as well.

2. Find work

In addition to easing the expenses of your gap year, getting a job can actually help you return to the job market more skilled.

If you are looking for full-time and part-time employment, you should look at international job boards. If on the other hand, you are more spontaneous you might want to travel to your chosen destination and then find a job. For example, getting a job as a waiter is generally easy in most countries around the world.

Many graduates also choose volunteering and work exchange programmes as these are usually more secure and you can plan ahead as they generally very organised.

3. Volunteering programms vs work exchange

The difference between volunteering programmes and work exchange is that the first are specifically designed for people who are looking to make themselves more employable and give back. The latter is for people who are simply looking to fund their holiday, but this does not mean that you can’t gain skills with a work exchange programme as it’s still work-related.

Volunteering programmes usually require people to pay fees to participate; fees generally cover accommodation, meals, and other activities such as excursions etc. Some programmes are more affordable than others, but it really depends on what you want to do and for how long you want to stay.

Some work exchange programmes include farm work, but you can also get work as an au-pair or as a housekeeper. You are not expected to pay for anything, but you are expected to work for a fixed number of hours per day. Make sure that you read the terms and conditions of your programme thoroughly so that there are no misunderstandings when you arrive.

WWOOFing might sound more appealing due to the lack of initial fees, but the moral reward you can get from volunteering is unbeatable. Whatever you choose to do bear in mind that it’s important to read reviews and feedback for the programme and/or host you choose.

Top volunteering organisations:

  • GVI: Dedicated to making a difference, the GVI offers over 150 hands-on volunteer projects in just about everywhere. There are options to work with children, animals, wildlife and marine conservation and even women’s empowerment.
  • International Volunteer HQ: Offer over 150 affordable volunteering trips to 28 countries. Projects include teaching, healthcare, childcare and more.
  • Working Abroad: A UK-based organisation that offers projects across the world. What’s great about this particular organisation is that it allows you to search for projects by skills you want to gain.
  • Projects Abroad: Experts in volunteering abroad, Projects Abroad offer a wide variety of projects worldwide. From healthcare to building and from Asia to South America, you can literally go everywhere and do everything with this organisation.
  • VSO: This organisation offers programs specialised in graduates who are looking to put their skills to use. You can join programs for up to 12 months sharing your skills and experience and make a real impact on people in Asia and Africa.

Top work exchange organisations:

  • HelpX: HelpX launched back in 2001 and it has since been dedicated to offering holidaymakers the chance to travel the world in exchange for some work. Typically a worker is expected to work for about 4 hours a day in exchange for accommodation and meals.
  • Workaway: Workaway allows you to come into contact with over 1,000 hosts in 135 countries. You can stay for as long as you want or are needed in the host country and you can even ask your hosts to write you recommendation letters.
  • WWOOF: Perhaps the most popular work exchange organisation, WWOOFing means that you’ll get to live and work on organic farms across the world. Work opportunities are limited to farm work but the experiences gained are invaluable.

4. Find a project

Depending on your degree and the industry you are interested in breaking into, you might want to look at specific projects. So, if for example you’ve graduated from the humanities and are interested in a creative position, you may want to look into cultural based projects, whereas if you are interested in healthcare you may want to look for a similar project.

Top Project Ideas

1. Animal Care: Great for those who are interested in working with wildlife. Work in shelters, surgeries and rehabilitation centres is common.

2. Care and Community: These projects include social and youth work. You might find work as an au-pair or even in an orphanage in underprivileged countries.

3. Conservation: Protecting rainforests, endangered wildlife and conserving marine life are all popular options with this field.

4. Culture: Options in this field include teaching arts and crafts to help make women’s lives easier, as well as teaching drama and music to children.

5. Farm Work: Extremely popular in work exchange programmes, farm work can actually help you gain skills and traits like teamwork and self-discipline.

Teach English as a foreign language

One of the most common gap year choices, teaching English as a foreign language can help you become more employable; from becoming a great communicator to taking initiative, there are quite literally a thousand different ways that teaching can help you become an ideal candidate.

It’s important to note however that this option is becoming highly competitive and if you have a degree in linguistics or education you might be better able to secure a position. If you don’t have a degree in these two areas you will need to get TEFL/TESOL/TESL certified.

All these certifications will teach you how to teach English to non-native speakers and they’ll also help you grasp teaching essentials (lesson planning, classroom organisation, test creation etc.)

You can get certified either through a course at a university, an institute, or online. The CELTA is probably the most prestigious certificate you can get. If you are interested in the online route, bear in mind that you are required to complete at least 120 hours, while you should also ensure that online-based qualifications are accepted in your target country.

Adding a gap year to your CV

Many graduates find that the most difficult part of taking a gap year after university is convincing employers that they are willing to dedicate themselves to their career. The first step to do that starts with ensuring that your CV explains your gap year thoroughly and that it emphasises on the skills gained.

1. Taking initiative

Not everyone can boast this skill and proving that you actually possess it can be even more difficult. But with having planned for a year (or less) abroad which includes finding jobs, shelter and making the most of your time in each country, leaves little doubt that you are capable of taking the initiative even during stressful times.

2. Self-management

One of the biggest reasons why employers tend to avoid hiring graduates is because they think that their youth translates into irresponsibility. But, having managed your personal finances as well as your time proves that you are more than trustworthy.

3. Teamwork

Most graduates can’t afford to spend an entire year on holidays; travelling and supporting yourself can be quite costly which is why many young people choose to work during their time abroad. One of the most popular solutions is to travel volunteer where people are expected to dedicate a few hours of work in exchange for food and shelter. Many of these projects involve teamwork and adapting to new teams fast is the key to making the most of your gap year.

4. Drive

Taking a gap year abroad, especially after graduation, is a daring endeavour. It proves that you are determined to exploit everything that life has to give you and if you make the most of this experience by working and gaining skills then you are proving your drive for success.

5. Decision making

Apart from people who are willing to take initiative, employers are also looking for individuals who are quick on their feet and who can take responsibility for their decisions. Having tackled major challenges during your year abroad (which are inevitable) and succeeding will help ensure that your decision-making process makes you a great candidate.

Taking a gap year after graduation can turn you into a highly skilled professional. However, it’s important to actively focus on gaining skills and valuable experience as these are the things that will help you jumpstart your career.

It’s for that reason that it’s essential to choose your destination wisely; not in the sense that you shouldn’t focus on having fun, but in the sense that you should focus on making this a unique experience counts towards getting the career you’ve always wanted.

Are you a recent university graduate thinking about taking a gap year?