How to make the most of your gap year

Gap years are often seen as a time when school or university leavers jet off on extended adventures around the world, taking a break from reality and enjoying as much fun as possible before returning to the classroom or the workplace. But, when put to good use, having this time off can be a brilliant opportunity to learn new skills, try different experiences and greatly enhance your CV.

People take a gap year for many reasons. You might have made it a life goal to have a gap year, you may have missed the grades for your first choice university, the job you secured may have fallen through, or you might genuinely have no idea what to do next in your life. All are good reasons. I would fully support anyone considering taking a gap year. This is a rare chance to gain some valuable knowledge and new skills that will benefit you in the long run. This could involve experiencing new cultures, volunteering for a worthy cause, learning a new language, or staying at home and working in a business.

A year off is a long time, so it’s important to really make the most of it and to consider which options will best support your long-term goals. Whatever your reasons for taking this time, make sure you spend the time wisely so that you’re in the best position to find a great job when you’re back.

How might you make the most of your gap year?

1.Broaden your horizons

A gap year is a great opportunity to learn new, transferable skills and travelling to different parts of the world can offer this whilst helping your confidence and independence to grow. Whether this is problem solving through group ventures like mountaineering, or taking an intensive Spanish language course, these activities show that you’re interested in engaging with and learning about new cultures and that you are prepared to immerse yourself in what your host country has to offer.

Spending time abroad is also a chance to mix with people from different walks of life. At times this may challenge your communication skills, force you to take on new levels of self-reliance and teach you the value of “norms” that may be different to your own. All of this is life enriching, and will broaden and enhance your perspective of the world you live in.

See your time travelling as a chance to explore new cultures, meet new people and above all, learn. Keep sight of your purpose – this is an opportunity to develop and grow. Be prepared to explain to a future employer why you decided to take a year out, and to demonstrate the transferable skills you achieved from this.

2. Get real-life work experience

Going abroad isn’t for everyone, and is definitely not the only way to make the most of your gap year. Finding work will accelerate your learning and your personal development in a practical environment, giving you the opportunity to deal with customers, take on additional responsibility and build your communication skills.

Some people I’ve met have used this time to earn enough money to pay for their three-year degree – an impressive achievement and something to certainly point out on your CV. Saving up during your gap year demonstrates to employers that you are disciplined, responsible and can work towards long-term goals.

If you don’t want to miss out on travelling, then working temporary jobs in different countries around the world is certainly another option, and a great way to earn as you learn. If you’ve been able to negotiate multiple contracts on the go, that will be a sign you are flexible, motivated and confident – all excellent traits that will appeal to a prospective employer.

3. Take on charity work or volunteer

Charity work and volunteering are other ways you can gain valuable experience during your gap year, whilst giving back to a cause or community you are passionate about. Many companies are very serious about their social responsibility initiatives. If you’ve worked at a shelter, community group or charity, a potential employer will view you as a candidate with a wide range of interests and skills to offer.

It adds another string to your bow, showing that you are compassionate and likely to have great people skills. It also indicates to prospective employers that you might be open to helping with any charitable causes they support, or help with their corporate social responsibility agenda alongside the role you are applying for.

4. Present what you’ve learnt at interview

Once you’ve finished your gap year and are ready to take the next step, whether that’s going into higher education or the world of work, you’ll have a long list of new experiences to discuss with your interviewer.

Document your gap year by keeping a diary, a photographic record or by writing a blog. At the end of the year you can assess your achievements and keep track of any important details or anecdotes that could serve you well in an interview situation. That way, you’ll be able to confidently talk about your experiences and give specific examples to support your statements if faced with any tricky or challenging questions.

A gap year can be a very enriching and rewarding time where you’ll create long-lasting memories and stories to share for years to come. If you aim to come out at the end of it with something to add to your CV as well, then it will certainly have been time well spent.