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Taking a Gap Year after graduation – what graduates need to know

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You’ve graduated and the temptation to take a Gap Year remains – should you or shouldn’t you? The fear of losing momentum and missing out on a graduate job or graduate scheme might deter you from travelling, but you won’t be alone in this predicament. Many graduates want to seize the opportunity, but how can a graduate job be secured after a year out travelling?

Give A Grad A Go spoke with Will Jones of Gapyear.com on why graduates should strongly consider taking a Gap Year and how graduates can use it to their advantage when they return.

What are the main concerns for graduates who aren’t sure about taking a gap year?

One of the major and perfectly understandable concerns for graduates considering a gap year is whether or not they can afford it. Many will have just spent the last three years scraping by on student budgets, will have huge loans to pay back, and will be unemployed. For these people, dropping everything to jet off around the world can seem like a completely unrealistic idea. But it’s important to remember that while gap years aren’t always cheap, you can make it happen if you are really determined, even if you’re saving on a minimum wage job. And if you go to somewhere like Australia, or New Zealand, it’s relatively easy to find work when you’re out there, so you can boost your budget that way, too.

What are the main skills graduates can pick up while travelling?

There are two main types of skills graduates can – and will – pick up while travelling. The first is specific, career orientated skills, which you will need to proactively pursue. For example, if you think you might like to work in nursing, you could take part in a medical elective, which will provide fantastic, real life experience which would be applicable to a career in the medical profession.

And then there are the more general life-skills, which are transferrable to any career. In the words of ex-gapyear.com employee Cormac Scanlan, who wrote this excellent piece of advice about how to discuss your gap year in an interview:

“Let's consider an example situation from a recruiter's perspective: Two candidates, Andy and Bill, have applied for a position at your company. Both guys are young and enthusiastic. Fresh out of university. They have similar grades. They are both clearly smart and capable. They both come across well in person and each has some basic work experience. Their skill set is very similar, and on paper they are very closely matched. But Andy took a gap year.

During Andy's gap year he spent a month working with a team of volunteers to build a hospital in Ghana, where a gracious family of locals put him up in their home for several weeks. He slept in their home and ate with them, doing his best to communicate, despite the language barrier. He travelled extensively through South East Asia, stopping for a couple of months in South Korea, where he taught English to children and adults alike. He had to plan his own border crossings, and arrange visas in a number of South East Asian embassies. He also had to change his route significantly when a natural disaster struck Thailand.

Not only has Andy come back with some extraordinary tales and experiences, he has returned feeling genuinely stronger, worldlier, and filled with a new level of confidence. While both guys may actually have the same basic traits, Andy has the advantage of being able to demonstrate the application of these traits in extra-curricular settings, far outside of his comfort zone, in parts of the world which are culturally different.”

What kind of careers do graduates who have taken a gap year go on to pursue?

While it’s worth noting that taking a gap year doesn’t change what’s already out there, it will open you up to significantly more opportunities that you might otherwise have had.

The most obvious opportunity to mention is a job in travel itself. The tourism industry is one of the world’s biggest and employs millions and millions of people worldwide. Once you have travelled, you have crucial first-hand experience that will be very appealing to travel companies. Many graduates begin their careers in travel as consultants, selling the very kinds of trips they themselves have experienced.

Travelling can also open doors that would never have occurred to you to look for before. For example, perhaps you decide a fun and creative way to keep in touch with friends and family would be to start a blog. This in itself may begin as a hobby, but could easily turn into something that you could plaster all over your CV as proof of your newly gained web design, journalistic or photography skills.

What can graduates do while travelling to boost their career prospects?

As noted above, just the mere process of travelling can give you the kind of general life skills and confidence needed to push you above the competition. But it is certainly worth trying to spend some time on your gap year doing something that will look good on your CV and develop you as a person. This could be something directly related to a path you want to follow – for example, if you want to become a vet, you could spend some time volunteering with elephants in Thailand – but generally, anything overtly positive is always a good idea.

What advice would you give to someone who can’t decide whether to take a Gap Year?

Often it comes down to trusting your instinct, and trying to do what is right for you as a person. If you are absolutely itching to get into the workplace, can’t leave your CV alone and are fizzing with enthusiasm, it might be worth putting gap year plans off until a little later in life. Conversely – and this is probably true of more people – if you are still a little unsure about what you want to do and need time to get your thoughts in order, a gap year can provide the mental as well as physical space you’re looking for.

What is TEFL and where are the best places to do it?

TEFL is short for ‘teaching English as a foreign language’, and it’s a really popular thing to do, especially for those hoping to get into the teaching profession. In theory you TEFL anyplace there are people who want to learn English, but for the most part people tend to end up doing it in Asia, in places like Thailand, South Korea, China and Japan. One of the great things about TEFL is that you are not required to have any knowledge whatsoever of the native language – in fact, you are actively encouraged to speak in English, and English only.

Gapyear.com is the biggest backpacking site in the world, offering advice on volunteering placements, working holidays, adventure tours and plenty more! As Will put it: “if there is anything we don’t know about gap years, it’s not worth knowing!”

Find more advice on our Graduate Blog - or search the latest Graduate Jobs on our jobs board.

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