If you decide to take a gap year make sure you spend some of it doing temporary or voluntary work.
Recent research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) shows that big employers are only interested in jobseekers who have spent their time out wisely.
The 2010 survey, which questioned 214 large graduate recruiters across the UK, found that work – whether paid or unpaid – was valued much more highly than simply travelling.
Backpacking has become a commonplace activity. Taking what is essentially an extended holiday is not as much of a challenge as it was in the 1970s or 80s, when there were no mobile phones, no internet and few hostels – and employers are well aware of this.
A properly planned break, which develops useful workplace skills and experience, can be an asset to your CV. Anything else could damage your chances of getting a job, as employers may suspect you’re likely to get wanderlust again when the going gets tough.
Structure your time so that even if you’re not gaining career-specific experience, you are developing some of the workplace skills that employers now regard as so important, like the ability to work in teams, to negotiate, solve problems and build relationships.
The pros of travelling in your gap year:
• It's a great way to see something of the world and have some fun before you’re tied down to a job.
• You can broaden your horizons, learn about other cultures, make new friends and gain personal insight.
• It will help you develop self-sufficiency, initiative, adaptability and hopefully some new workplace skills and experience.
• Lack of support when you get back. It’s much harder to find a job without all the support you get in an academic environment.
• Bad timing. The graduate recruitment process tends to be linked to the academic year, so think carefully about when you need to be back in the country.
• Commitment questions. The longer you stay away, the more people will question your commitment to finding a serious job and a more settled lifestyle.
• Gaps in your CV. If you’re going away for six months or more you need to return with some useful skills and experience.
So what are your options? You could get a work placement, study in another country or volunteer, either in the UK or overseas.
Volunteering abroad can be one of the most fulfilling ways to spend your time. You will integrate with a different culture and come away with a sense of achievement because you’ve done something worthwhile. Whether you’re working in your chosen career field or trying something completely different, you’ll be gaining valuable skills. You’re also showing an employer you’re able to commit to challenging projects.
The downside is the expense: some firms actually charge you a hefty fee for working with them. Recruitment for volunteer work is competitive, too.
Types of volunteer work:
• Work camps. Run in developed countries around the world and ideal for those looking for a structured life.
• Conservation. There are many projects aimed at protecting the environment, including game and nature reserves, working for your keep on organic farms, rainforest conservation schemes and expedition organisations.
• Projects in developing countries. These tend to require quite specific skills, such as construction or engineering.
• Disaster relief. These schemes often require a sustained redevelopment programme for months or years afterwards. Be prepared to see extreme poverty, disease and distress – this will be a life changing experience.
Health and wealth
Gap years typically cost £3,000 - £5,000, so unless you’re lucky enough to have parents willing to cough up, you’re going to have to work hard and save up.
You could also consider getting a Nationwide Flex current account because it’s the only UK bank that doesn’t charge for use abroad.
For travel in Europe get a European Health Insurance Card, which replaces the E111 and offers free or reduced-cost medical treatment in 28 countries. However, this is not a substitute for proper travel insurance because it won’t cover expenses like an emergency flight home.
Many travel insurance policies won’t cover periods of more than a month, so do your research when buying. Some insurers offer specialist extended cover, which includes adventure sports – you’ve got to have fun occasionally!
- Independent gap year advice
- Gap year advice from Hobsons
- Information about volunteering in the UK
- Information about volunteering abroad
- Information about foreign healthcare
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