How to Explain a Gap Year in Your CV
In addition to providing you with a tremendous amount of fun, your gap year could—and should—enhance your career prospects once you start looking for work. But you have to know how to explain a gap year in your CV in order for your experiences to be translated into something of value for potential employers.
As a new graduate, your CV and cover letter likely won't show a great deal of work experience, but they can show aptitude and character. You need to come across as a bright, independent, motivated person who could be of real advantage to an employer—what you've done during your gap year can help demonstrate this.
If you simply write "Spent a year abroad" on your CV, potential employers won't know how you spent your time. While extensive travel might signal to some people that you are mature and independent—great qualities in any employee, to be sure—you could just as easily have spent your days drinking beer on a beach as helping local farmers, teaching young children, or learning a new language. Hiring managers won't know unless you tell them exactly what you did during your gap year.
Determine the Right Skills to List on Your CV
Knowing how to explain a gap year in your CV starts with determining which transferable skills you picked up along the way. These are skills that have been gained in one environment that can benefit a new position you apply to.
Taking the time to think more widely about how the experiences you had during your gap year can benefit your potential employer. For example, if your gap year included volunteering with the International Citizen Service, working with people, being a team leader, having knowledge of a certain country or industry, these are all valuable skills that you can bring with you and which should be included on your CV.
Create a section towards the bottom of your CV, beneath your education section, with the subheading "Other Experience" or "International Experience" then list your top accomplishments and their results. For example:
Half-Year International Travel: Latin America, June to December [Year]
- Independent travel through five countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru.
- Developed advanced fluency in Spanish language, both spoken and written.
- Participated in the ongoing development of an eco-village outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which included collaborating with local community to help tend to vegetable garden, work with several volunteer organisations to secure book donations for a new library, and map out and clear nearby trails.
- Participated in a two-month-long volunteer program at an animal rescue centre in San Lorenzo, Costa Rica, which included updating and maintaining their social media platforms, assuming office manager duties, and maintaining food and medicine supply inventory.
Keep Track of Your Accomplishments
While you might have posted daily on Instagram, it's sometimes easy to forget exactly what you did, or at least forget some of the useful aspects of it. If you are starting your gap year now, plan to keep a journal during your time away to remind yourself. This will also make it far easier when you're figuring out how to explain a gap year in your CV. If you have already completed your gap year, go back and make notes while it's fresh in your memory.
At the end of each day or week, ask yourself if you overcame any significant obstacles such as a lack of resources, then explain how you coped. Did you come up with a solution or improvisation? Did you organise any team's work, or collaborate with other participants to achieve results?
The ability to communicate at all levels is also highly regarded, so think of those examples when you needed to get something across—with or without words—or even in another language. Did you need to talk with an official at a higher level, or communicate in public? How you handled any of the above are all stories worth telling in your CV.
A major part of how to explain a gap year in your CV is this: Employers are always impressed by initiative. You may not see overcoming a certain problem while you were away as CV-worthy, but any achievement that can show your ability is worth it. You don't need to outline every detail in the CV, but you do want to spark an interesting interview question that allows you to give a great relevant anecdote as an example.
Get Industry Experience
Ideally, you could spend some of your gap year working in an industry, perhaps as an undergraduate placement. Taking a fixed-term internship or work experience placement before or during your university course also has the advantage of earning you money and improving your candidate profile. In terms of displaying internship experience, this is how to explain a gap year in your CV for employers:
Digital Marketing Intern – [Date range]
ABC Travel Company, [Location]
- Provided editorial support to social media team during summer holiday campaigns, which saw engagement increase by 20% year over year.
- Assisted copywriting team in the strategy and execution of 15 to 25 posts per week on all major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok.
- Helped analyse daily and weekly traffic and engagement data to help plan for future promotions.
With this experience under your hat, you'll build up contacts, as well as gain an understanding of different businesses and how they work. This sort of knowledge, especially if you have worked in more than one sector, will be appreciated when you apply for jobs.
Keep these points in mind during your gap year and make a record of key events, both positive and negative, and how you responded to them. When you are applying for work, application forms and interviewers will often ask for examples of the range of competencies they are seeking, and this record will help you to remember some specifics.
Remember that planning your gap year and what you want to get out of it shows you have thought about the direction you want your life to go in. This is important to employers who want to hire people who have a sense of continuity and forward-thinking. Plan your gap year well and it could be more than an incredible experience, standing you in good stead as you build your career.
Get More Out of Your Gap Year
Now that you know how to explain a gap year in your CV, you'd do good to learn more tips to leverage all the skills you bring to the table. Want some guidance? Monster can show you some smart ways you can stay ahead of the competition. We can even help you find the right kind of jobs that you're seeking.