It was only a couple of years go that taking a year off was considered a bad move for your career, but now, it’s often considered a career boost- a sign of independence, motivation, and ambition. Employers won’t toss your resume anymore because of a gap year.
But how do you turn that year into tangible experience to showcase in a resume?
1. Don’t put everything on your résumé 90% of your travels aren’t really “experience,” but soft skills you picked up on the road: people skills, confidence, and independence.
2. It’s not the resume, it’s the cover letter! Your travels are a story and the details don’t translate well as bullet points on a resume. Talk about them in the cover letter, where you can give more detail. A well written cover letter that includes travel experience can often make you look really good!
Explain why you left, what your experience taught you, and how it makes you a better employee. This is also where you want to mention those “soft skills,” as they require more detail than a simple bullet point expression. Discuss your travels in depth here using only a small section of the resume as support.
.3. Step by step instructions for articulating your experience.
Step One: Be honest. Many people put their trip under work experience, but since it’s not work, it’s not work experience. At the bottom of your resume, create a section called “Other Experience” and title it “(Your Name) Gap Year” and include the dates.
Step Two: Pick tangible skills. Skills that translate into any job. Like everything on a resume, this will be all about how you word things. Choose your wording carefully. For example:
Haggled and saved hundreds of dollars in art work traveling across the World. Negotiation Skills.
Planned, financed, and organized your trip? Stayed under budget by $1000 for over 6 months when traveling to Peru. Budgeting and Planning.
Got stuck in a jungle at night because I explored off the trail? Self-reliance and independence.
You get the idea. It’s all about wording your experience correctly. Notice how those are all skills you can use in the business world. I didn’t put any of those “soft skills” down.
Writing “I’m good with people” is generic and makes you sound like you are using "buzz words". Choose only job related “hard” skills for the resume because what you are doing is showing how your life experience makes up for your lack of practical experience.
Step Three: Know your audience! Only put travel on your resume if it helps explain an extended work gap (i.e. a year or longer), is relevant to the job, or unique. If all you did was live in Mexico and got drunk then it is useless filler that will only hurt you. If you volunteered in a village in Cambodia, then keep it on. If this job requires extended travel, definitely put it here.
So what would this all look like? Here’s how I would put it on my resume.
John's Gap Year 2008-2009
- Cultivated language and communication skills through contact with people from around the world. Learned to use non verbal and verbal communication to overcome communication and language barriers.
- Learned how to adapt to unanticipated situations and improvise new plans due to periodic travel mishaps and unexpected events.
- Developed budgeting and planning skills by financing, planning, organizing my year around the world. This involved using various spreadsheets and keeping a record of expenses.
- Developed negotiation skills through daily contact with sellers in markets and vendors throughout Mexico.
It’s important you have anecdotes supporting each bullet point, especially since these have no boss to confirm any of this- just your word. If you can’t explain it well, keep it off.
Use your travel experience to differentiate yourself. That’s why in the beginning, I said put it in the cover letter. It allows you more time to explain the story behind it. Good luck!