Gap years used to be thought of as something only rich people or unreliable people did. These days, however, everyone is taking gap years, from young adults just out of high school to people in their mid-20s or 30s who want to take a sabbatical from work and travel for longer. A gap year should be seen as a way to achieve your goals, personal and professional, instead of a questionable gap in your CV.
This article will give you tips on how to present your gap year in a way that highlights the benefits and how you’ve learned from it. These suggestions can be used either in a traditional CV for job applications or in a cover letter or personal essay for students who are applying to higher education.
1. Be honest about it.
The most important thing to remember when you have a gap in your CV is that you have to be honest. If your gap was due to a sensitive reason like health issues or family issues, you don’t need to write about it in detail, but not explaining it or lying about the reason behind it is a terrible tactic. You also shouldn’t extend your last working position because you will be found out when the hiring manager hires your previous employer with worse consequences. The same goes for taking a year off between high school and post-secondary education, there’s no harm in explaining the gap.
2. Explain the reasons behind your decision.
The next thing you should note is that it’s also important to give the reasoning behind your decision. Whether you took time off to volunteer, educate yourself, or travel the world with just a backpack, you should explain how it helped you in a professional sense. Consider making a list of the skills and languages you learned will help you frame this portion of your CV, cover letter or application essay. There are always positive reasons to draw from, such as learning to adapt to unfamiliar environments, increasing your confidence, understanding different cultures and perspectives, and more.
3. Focus on the positives.
Sandra Krupp, a career advisor at Paper Fellows, shares her top tip: “When you explain what you drew from the experience, focus on the positive aspects you gained, whether you were working abroad, volunteering, freelancing, or learning from your surroundings. Explain how you’ve grown as a person, and what you’ve done which will improve your work performance.”
4. Discuss what you’ve achieved.
Your CV should highlight the achievements during your gap year, in the same way you’ve listed past employment. Include them in bullet points and using the past tense, such as “Volunteered for an organization by teaching English to students in Nicaragua”. These should include specific things such as receiving a certification, learning a language, or working for a good cause, and be sure to give the right amount of detail and in business terms so the person reading your CV or cover letter will understand exactly what you mean.
You want your resume to be clear and easy to follow and above all free of grammar and spelling mistake.
5. List the skills you gained.
You should also add the skills you gained that will be useful for your career and which make you more employable. For example, skills like negotiation from haggling at markets have taught you more about business and deal-making, budgeting and planning before and during your year away, adaptability when things went wrong and you had to think quickly on your feet to solve the problem you were faced with, communication with people of different backgrounds and cultures, sometimes with a language barrier, and leadership in situations where you taught or volunteered abroad.
6. Be resourceful.
Think of different out-of-the-box ways to showcase your gap year on your CV or university application essay. On your CV, use tricks like scaling back the detail or only listing years of employment instead of months and years is an acceptable thing to do. You also don’t need to indicate why you left a position, which means you can keep your gaps small.
If you have a significant gap in employment, you don’t need to address that in your CV but instead, use your cover letter to your advantage. Use it to elaborate on your gap and how your skills you learned make you the perfect fit for the position.
Ellie Coverdale is a tutor and blogger. She helps people achieve their learning goals, and write stories for online educational blogs and magazines.
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