Gap years are an increasingly popular phenomenon amongst young people, providing an exciting means to see the world after exams, or providing a break before embarking on the start of your career. After all, there are few more exciting or fulfilling ways to test yourself and experience the world than doing it on your own, under your own steam.
However, there's more to a gap year than just having fun and exploring international locations; there are many ways in which a gap year can increase your personal and professional skillset, in a manner that will make you far more appealing to future employers. We'll take you through some of the ways that a gap year abroad can increase your career prospects, below:
Gap year travel benefits
When backpacking around the world on your gap year, you're doing more than just having an extended holiday; you're learning valuable life skills in the process. From more basic, yet hard-won, attributes like self-confidence and self-reliance, to more practical skills like orienteering and bartering, a gap year provides a great many ways to better yourself. It's actually quite amazing what you can discover about yourself, and learn, when you pull yourself out of your usual comfort zone.
In terms of improving your career prospects, it's difficult to overstate how much of a positive difference that a gap year can make. On a more superficial level, employers will be aware that you're willing to push your personal boundaries and take risks. On a deeper level, they will be more impressed with the confidence and self-management that you will have had to display during your time abroad. Ultimately, a gap year abroad demonstrates a necessarily more evolved faculty for decision making and taking personal responsibility; essential personality traits for increasing employability.
Learn and travel
Of course, gap years are often more than simply just travelling. If you're spending a year on the go, the trip is unlikely to pay for itself, even if you have been saving up funds for a considerable period of time prior to leaving. It's extremely likely that, sooner or later, you're going to run out of holiday savings, and need to make ends meet in other ways. While it may not be an ideal aspect of your gap year itinerary, the necessity for fresh cash-flow will eventually hit even the most frugal of backpackers; getting a job, or even multiple jobs during your time abroad is the often the only solution.
While this may sound like a real downer, raining on the parade of your gap year holiday experience, it's important to not only see such jobs for the necessity that they are, but for the opportunity that they present. Finding work while in an unfamiliar environment is a challenging task in its own right, even if you make use of a specialist employment agency for travellers. This will be seen as a positive in the eyes of future employers in its own right, but the skills picked up from the job itself will also be of great use to them; whether you're a bartender, lifeguard, tour guide... all of these roles, no matter how far from your dream job they may be, demonstrate your ability to grit your teeth and get down to business. They may be serving the practical purpose of paying your bills and expenses while on holiday, but they're also showing future employees that you've paid your professional dues; all while honing your professional and personal abilities.
Learning from teaching
A popular choice with many who are heading out on a gap year, is to pursue a particular role or vocation while abroad, prior to leaving. This allows them to pay for any aspects of their gap year that they were unable to save money for before they left home, while often providing a more entertaining or fulfilling professional experience. Teaching is a popular choice amongst those looking to experience different cultures while funding themselves abroad.
When it comes to teaching, many choose the more traditional route of teaching foreign children in a classroom environment; often teaching English as a language. While a fulfilling and enjoyable option, this needn't be the only consideration if a traveller is looking to better themselves through instructing others while abroad.
Many more exotic options are available, depending on the chosen locations of said gap year. One of the better options here is to focus on expanding a skill that you already have; skiing and diving are two excellent choices and many schools for either of these disciplines offer to provide further training to an individual in return for their services as an instructor. As English is such an international language, English speakers are often highly sought after for such roles; giving you an immediate advantage over any competition while applying.
It almost goes without saying that future employers will look favourably upon such gap year occupations; demonstrating, perhaps to a greater degree than any other form of holiday employment, a sense of responsibility, team-work and overall professionalism. Of course, the extra qualification and experience in any teaching area will be a great boon to those seeking a career in education. Alternatively, employment in the more specific fields that you taught (i.e. diving or skiing) will also be made easier by such experience!
Learn a language
One of the more obvious perks of immersing yourself in foreign cultures during your gap year is that you will essentially absorb an aptitude for the languages to which you are frequently exposed. If you spend long enough in the same nation or region, you may be surprised at just how much of their native tongue you pick up.
On the flipside, if some of your preparation for your international backpacking trip include familiarising yourself with some of the foreign languages that you are likely to encounter, you'll also be setting yourself on a good course for future employment. English speakers with an aptitude or fluency in another language are in demand in many industries; so if you're able to pick up the basics (or even the full complexity!) of a language on your travels, you'll be achieving far more than gaining a smoother passage through that particular region or territory.
Volunteering and Charity work
Regardless of the amount of other work that's available in any of the destinations which you visit, one thing that's almost always in demand around the world is volunteers and charity workers. Working as a volunteer, or doing charity work, demonstrates selflessness and a lack of hesitance when the time comes to get your hands dirty; both of which are immensely appealing to employers. Of course, any additional skills and expertise that you pick up along the way will also be gratefully received by future employers!
The kind of person who is willing to spend a large portion of what is essentially a large holiday helping others is likely to be highly favoured by employers upon their return. After all, demonstrating that you can work hard is one thing, but demonstrating that you are willing to work hard for little to no pay, for the benefit of the needy, is something else entirely!
Keep track of your travels
Many authorities on gap year travel experience cite that keeping track of your time away, in a blog or travelogue, is a great way to gain further employability. From a personal standpoint, it serves as a record of your travels, allowing you, your family and your friends to have a lasting impression of your time away. But from a slightly more cynical, career-centric perspective, the creation of such a blog illustrates in the clearest terms the kind of skills and experiences that you collected to potential employers.
With this in mind, if you write a blog during your travels ensure that you give particular focus to career relevant skills. Focus on the languages you've learned, the skills you've gained, the ways that you demonstrated team work, or the manner that you were personally able to navigate difficult situations. All will look particularly favourable to employers, and with the blog format, they'll have an easy means to check out your experiences in more detail, at their leisure.
So there you go; regardless of your specific plans, a gap year backpacking abroad can be extremely beneficial to your job prospects, demonstrating clearly a range of skills and experiences that are desirable to a wide spectrum of employers. While it's perhaps inadvisable to go on a gap year specifically to become more employable, unless you have a particular professional interest in something like teaching, there are a number of undeniable ways in which a gap year backpacking abroad can improve your employability, regardless. So why not enjoy yourself, see the world, and pick up some essential professional skills in the process?
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