Travelling – How To Make It Work For Your Job Applications
In the UK, gap years are common and traditionally taken before starting university. If you got your ‘travel bug’ out of your system during this time, there’s not much explaining you’ll have to do to a potential employer. Either your interviewer has taken a gap year themselves, or has employed someone else who has.
But British people love to travel between jobs as well. A survey found that 48% (that’s nearly half) of the UK workforce want to leave the 9-to-5 grind in order to spend time abroad. Most will return after long-term travel in search of a new job. Leaving a decent job to globe-trot is a difficult decision, and a potential employer will want to know why you made it.
Here’s how to spin travel to your advantage in a job application.
In your CV and cover letter…
Include time spent travelling in your CV. Otherwise, the gap between jobs will look suspicious and raise red flags. You also want to explain in your cover letter, very briefly, what you gained from your experience. After all, the cover letter is meant to match your skills and experience to the job spec, and if travel can help you do this, then it’s worth including.
Even if you didn’t gain any essential skills (such as SEO and social media marketing through travel blogging) or desired skills (such as a second language), you can still spin the travel experience in a positive light. There are many ‘soft skills’ gained through traversing the globe. These include interpersonal skills, communication, budgeting, planning, and time-management. Travelling on your own might have made you more confident, self-reliant and able to work in a team – say, through volunteering or working abroad.
But keep it brief. No-one wants to hear about your ‘amazing personal journey’. Cringe alert. Use your words sparingly so that the rest of your cover letter focuses on the more essential skills and achievements that you have gained from previous work or studies.
In your interview…
If you’ve made it to the interview stage, congrats! Your potential employer has seen your CV and cover letter and doesn’t consider your travelling stint as an act of millennial laziness or hedonism. Still, it’s important to be prepared for questions, such as, “So what have you been doing since your last job?” or “What made you decide to travel?”
It might be the case that you are the only interviewee who has this gap that ‘needs explaining’, so this is your chance to ensure that you stand out from the rest of the candidates. If you spent the majority of your time getting drunk on a Thai island, then it’s hard to see how you gained any translatable skills from this experience – besides maybe being enthusiastic about after-work drinks.
It’s important to remain honest and to give a well-thought-out answer. In my case, I never took a gap year between studies. If this applies to you as well, then long-term travel becomes much more understandable, and easy to sympathise with – you wanted the experience at least once in your life. From there, you can expand on the points made in your cover letter, citing specific examples when you developed a useful skill.
Funny, interesting or engaging stories are a plus as they let your personality and uniqueness show through. You want the interviewer to remember you. Also, they want someone who is personable and likely to get on with the rest of the team, not just someone who gets on with the task at hand.
What you don’t want to do is give a clichéd answer, such as travelling to broaden your horizons. While travel may do exactly that, an employer will want to know something substantial about the experience that challenged you and developed you as a person.
In your job…
Alert! You don’t want to give the impression that you are a travel addict who can’t shake the travel bug. You want to impress the interviewer with your commitment to developing yourself in the appointed role, and being an asset to your team and the company at large.
If they think you’ll get itchy feet – maybe evidenced by more than one ‘gap year’ in your CV – then they will find someone else who is more likely to stick around. So, even if you have an ever-growing bucket list of places to visit, keep this to yourself. Get the point across that the time spent travelling was a bridge to your next career, and not the other way around.
Sam Woolfe writes for The Canary (thecanary.co/author/sam), with previous work for The Backbencher, Breitbart and Philosophy Now magazine. He has a personal blog (samwoolfe.com) and a travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com). Find him @Samwoolfe.
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internship jobs and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.