The advantages of taking a gap year


Almost half (46%) of 250 UK HR professionals surveyed this summer by YouGov said they would be more likely to employ a graduate with gap year experience involving independent travel, working or volunteering overseas than one without.

Another survey carried out by Opinion Matters found that managers in the HR, travel & transport and healthcare sectors were the most likely to believe gap years are as valuable as a degree. Conversely, those in the engineering sector were most likely to prefer traditional university degrees.

Employers believe that gap years allow students to develop ‘soft skills’ useful in working life in which the average graduate may be lacking. These include willingness to learn, teamwork, oral communication, reasoning and independence and initiative.

A gap year that is career focused and targeted at the industry you want to work in can be very appealing to employers within that industry, however voluntary work and independent travel are also seen as desirable – although a long holiday or overly-structured volunteer programmes don’t necessarily impress as participants are likely to have faced very few real  challenges.

According to a Barclays recruitment manager “Graduates using their gap years wisely to learn new skills, stretch themselves and gain an insight into the ‘real’ world have great impact with employers when seeking careers.”

However, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters’ annual survey, when asked what advice to give graduates looking to improve employability in the current jobs climate, graduate recruiters seemed less positive about those taking time out in the form of a gap year, preferring them to accept temporary or unpaid work or undertake skills training. Post-university gap years can also cause problems when it comes to availability for applications and interviews, so graduates should research the application pattern for their chosen sector and structure their gap year accordingly.

Vitally, gap years must be presented well on the CV and at interview so that employers are convinced of their benefits. Employers want graduates who are able to articulate what they have learned from their gap year, yet many employers complain that, at interview, applicants do not use their gap year experiences to their best advantage. In response to this, gap year organisation BUNAC advises participants to evaluate their experience and break it down into more recognisable skills, and be able to talk about not only what they did, but what they gained from it.

If graduates fail to adequately communicate their skills when applying for jobs, or to capitalise them once employed, gap years aren’t of benefit to anyone.

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