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Turn your travel adventures into an edge over competitors in your search for a job.

YOU’VE JUST GOTTEN BACK from a year away and now you need to get a job. You’re nervous and have to figure out how getting drunk at hostels, lying on beaches, and photographing churches can be classified as “experience.”

First, breathe. It’s not that bad. You’re lucky, not only because you got to travel, but because current events have turned in your favor.

Businesses need experienced people who know other cultures, have a desire to learn, are motivated, speak another language, and are willing to move around, all of which are qualities you possess.

It was only five years go that taking a year off was considered career suicide, but now, it’s often considered a career boost- a sign of independence, motivation, and ambition. Employers won’t throw away your resume anymore because of a gap year.

But how do you turn that year into tangible experience to showcase in a resume?

1. Don’t put everything on your résumé

90% of your travels aren’t really “experience,” but soft skills you picked up on the road: people skills, confidence, and independence. Though you may be tempted to write that stuff on your resume, don’t. You’ll sound cheesy and as though you are just putting in useless filler.

2. It’s not the resume, it’s the cover letter!

Your travels are a story and the details don’t translate well as bullet points on a resume. Talk about them in the cover letter, where you can give more detail.

Explain why you left, what your experience taught you, and how it makes you a better employee. This is also where you want to mention those “soft skills,” as they require more detail than a simple bullet point expression. Discuss your travels in depth here using only a small section of the resume as support.

Photo by SOCIALisBETTER.

Tip: Regale interviewers with funny (but not over the top) stories. It will make you stand apart from everyone else. Those willing to take a chance are the type of leaders businesses look for. They want people who lead them into new directions, not waste away behind a desk.

3. Step by step instructions for articulating your experience.

Step One: Call it what it is. Many people put their trip under work experience, but since it’s not work, it’s not work experience. At the bottom of your resume, create a section called “Other Experience” and title it “(Your Name) Gap Year” and include the dates.

Step Two: Pick tangible skills. Skills that translate into any job. Like everything on a resume, this will be all about how you word things. Choose your wording carefully. For example:

Haggled over a dollar with a tuk tuk driver or tried to save a few thousand Dong off a shirt in Vietnam? Negotiation Skills.

Got stuck in an airport because you forgot your plane? Adaptability.

Had to plan, finance, and organize your trip? Budgeting and Planning.

Got stuck in a jungle at night because you explored off the trail? Self-reliance and independence.

You get the idea. It’s all about wording your experience correctly. Notice how those are all skills you can use in the business world. I didn’t put any of those “soft skills” down.

Writing “I’m good with people” is generic and makes you sound full of crap. Choose only job related “hard” skills for the resume because what you are doing is showing how your life experience makes up for your lack of practical experience.

Photo by psoup216.

Step Three: Know your audience! Only put travel on your resume if it helps explain an extended work gap (i.e. a year or longer), is relevant to the job, or unique. If all you did was live in Thailand on Phuket and got drunk then it is useless filler that will only hurt you. If you volunteered in an orphanage in Cambodia, then keep it on. If this job requires extended travel, definitely put it here.

So what would this all look like? Here’s how I would put it on my resume.

Other Experience

Matt’s Gap Year 2007-2008

  • Developed negotiation skills through daily contact with sellers in markets and vendors throughout Asia.
  • Learned how to adapt to unanticipated situations and improvise new plans due to periodic travel mishaps and unexpected events.
  • Developed budgeting and planning skills by financing, planning, organizing my year around the world. This involved using various spreadsheets and keeping a record of expenses.
  • Cultivated language and communication skills through contact with people from around the world. Learned to use non verbal and verbal communication to overcome communication and language barriers.

That sounds professional, actionable, and tangible. It explains each skill and how I developed it. Remember that the employer is going to ask you to explain these points just like they would any other part of your resume.

It’s important you have anecdotes supporting each bullet point, especially since these have no boss to confirm any of this- just your word. If you can’t explain it well, keep it off.

Use your travel experience to differentiate yourself. That’s why in the beginning, I said put it in the cover letter. It allows you more time to explain the story behind it.

Career Advice

 

About The Author

Matthew Kepnes

Matt Kepnes travels because life is short and cubicles are not fun to sit in. Visit his personal website, NomadicMatt.com.

  • http://Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Rebecca

    What a great article. I never thought about translating my travel experiences to my resume. God knows I had to be adaptable when I missed my connecting flight from London Heathrow to Edinburgh Airport.

  • http://iguide.travel iGuide

    To be honest, if travel teaches you anything, it’s that there are more exciting things to do than work. Work has its own soul-crushing culture. Leave travel off the resume unless you are applying for a job serving tables or working in travel or with other cultures.

  • http://3rdeducation.com Colin Wright

    Very timely and well-written article. As the world gets flatter and flatter, it will be more and more necessary to speak a few languages, be familiar with at least a few cultures, and be able to think outside the box (which can only be helped by leaving the quit tangible box of your home country).

    Not to mention the fact that more an more professions are going virtual, which will allow you to take the travel skills you learned and apply them every day, since you’ll be logging into work (and therefore can work from anywhere) instead of commuting in the not-to-distant future (if you aren’t already).

  • rand

    i believe travel makes for a better person all round, but this article’s crap. you write that in a CV for a competitive job, you’ll come off as trivial at best and a hippie at worst.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/gypsynoir Shreya

    very helpful and extremely relevant — thank you Matt

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/michelles Michelle

    Great article, Matt. Wording your experiences this carefully is so much better than leaving them off altogether- avoiding an explanation screams “unemployment.” Thanks for the tips!

  • http://www.poweredbytofu.com/ Powered by Tofu

    I wouldn’t say the “current events” have turned in favor of those who are unemployed, but I guess this article was written a year ago, so things were different then. ;)

    And for #3. I actually do list my year of travel under “Work Experience” because I call it a “One Year Career Break” and link to my travel blog, but then again, I work in marketing, so it might be a little different than if I worked in healthcare etc.

  • Amy B

    This article raises some good practical strategies for learning to sell yourself and your experiences no matter what they are.

    The only thing is, I find I have to include all travel details on my CV even if it was only 2 months of galavanting around Mediterranean Europe. This is because otherwise employers don’t know what you did during that time. It looks bad to have gaps on your CV, you must always have dates that match up with no gaps. It keeps your integrity in tact and leaves nothing to be guessed or assumed (such as unemployment).

    I worked in Recruitment for 3 years while on a working holiday visa in the UK and I always saw gaps in candidate CVs in a bad light. It just made extra work for me to have to fill in the blanks and I didn’t want to have to ring them up and screen them just to find out information they should have given me up-front in the first place!

    Cheers
    Amy

  • http://scottworldtour.com Scott

    Matt is right about knowing your audience. I’ve been trying to find work in New York after an eight month trip and not many people are taking my travel experience seriously.
    Also, in this economy, it’s tough to justify travel experience when you have to compete with people that have just been laid off, or worse when you get an employer who thinks someone who got laid off deserves a job more than someone who quit to travel.
    That being said, I still put my travel experience on my resume because as Amy B noted it does let people know what I have been doing.
    As a compliment to this article I would suggest that potential travelers increase their network before they travel with people who are sympathetic to their goals. That’s a great way to get ahead of other people who were constantly working while you were away traveling.

  • http://www.lcahill.co.uk Liam Cahill

    Sorry Matt, I feel that although your article makes a few salient points about translating what should effectively be a negative (a long holiday) into a positive, I think that this advise at best is only applicable to people struggling to fill a CV. As a consultant who returned from a year off travelling around Latin America last year, I would, when returning to work, never ever dream of trying to include my career break as anything other than what it was. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of which can be translated (for example a new language or hobby skills picked up along the way), however, in such a competitive environment in the job market people will likely automatically bin your CV if you are wasting valuable space writing about your long holiday. Negotiating in a Thai market or budgeting your travels well are all very good to use when in an interview and asked a “describe a situation when you’ve….” question. However, I fundamentally disagree that filling what should be valuable CV space with what you have suggested above will do you no favours in getting an interview.

    As someone who consults in HR departments I would suggest that anything that is not work experience, then anything more than ‘Career break, travelling through X, Y & Z’ should be left out of the CV & Covering letter and perhaps saved for the interview, where you will then have the chance to demonstrate that your time off has made you a much more interesting and fun person to have around.

  • http://www.travel-hub.co.uk Ali

    An interesting article – I have certainly used my travels for examples in interviews. But it is not mentioned on the CV, working in Travel I guess this wouldn’t hurt, but can’t help but feel it does look a lot like ‘filler’

  • Henk

    I took 1.5 years off some 20 years ago. To this day I am proud to tell business partners that I learned my negotiation skills in the streets of Delhi!

  • http://AmateurTraveler.com Chris (Amateur Traveler)

    The best tip is to hand it to a manager who also wishes he/she could travel.

  • http://briefcasetobackpack.com Michaela Potter

    Gap years and career breaks are not as common in the US as they are in the rest of the world, so the concept is still very new to potential employers. Likewise, there is a difference between returning travelers who were just out of University (and needing to fill a resume) and those who were in established careers and planning to return to the workforce.

    My husband took his very first career break after 14 years with the same company and found that those he interviewed with were fascinated by his experience. The break actually helped him in advancing his career goals and securing a new job:
    http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2009/07/michael-bontempi-how-my-career-break-helped-my-career/

    And those who do plan a career break should definitely update their resume before going. It may seem like a tedious task when your thoughts are on traveling, but those latest work accomplishments will disappear from your mind quickly. Here are some additional tips on adding your career break to your resume/cover letter/interview when you do return:
    http://briefcasetobackpack.com/2009/02/next-steps-getting-back-to-reality-and-resumes/

  • http://cerusso.blogspot.com C. Russo

    Great article! I never thought about putting my travel experience in my resume, but you bring up very interesting and valid points!

    If I ever travel for a year; I’m make sure to get enough experience to better my resume! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://londoniscool.com William Wallace

    The most important lesson that I have learned from travel, is that I need to start making enough money via my own initiate so that I can be in the position to travel, whenever I want too and to wherever I want too.

    • http://www.beatplexity.com beatplexity

      you know what Will, i was thinking about the things i have learned and are still learning on my trip (im currently traveling Asia for 2 years, 1.5 year in to it) and this is EXACTLY what sticks in my head, and im glad i have learned it. I dont want to just go back home and work again, save up then go some other place in the world, i want to work to set my self up just just make enough money so i can travel and work for any amount of time. I only need about $1000 per month to get by and i will do fine!

      your point is the best one bought up

  • Christina

    Great article, very helpful!

  • Francis

    MAN!!!! This article embodies me word for word. Thanks a million!!!
    Now just to get traveling again

  • http://MaxTheITpro.com Maxwell

    Great tips! I’ve actually gained a lot of experience and exposure from exploring East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar) for the past 4 1/2 years even though I came here on a ONE WEEK business trip in the Winter from Canada…haven’t been back yet. lol!
    How can I leave now when I havent even visited Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia or Angola? :-)
    Thankfully my IT/CompSci background has given me a little leverage in these parts.

    Cheers!

  • http://tunsjourney.blogspot.com Jen

    What a great article! I laughed the entire time I was reading it as it is all true! Thanks and good job!

    -Jen

  • Zack

    Hmmm, good article but hard to know what to take from this. It seems some people think it would be better to pretty much leave it out entirely, others to use it as much as possible, I guess it depends on who is reading it and their oppinions! Seems like… a grey area. Well Im re- writing my CV after a year out travelling and looks like I have some decisions to make! Zack

  • http://www.warnaarwriting.com Dawn

    I am a resume writer and have a previous client who recently spend almost a year traveling abroad after graduating college. She asked me how to incorporate her travel into her resume and/or cover letter and I ran across your site. This article is perfect for her situation! I sent it to her and posted it on my business’s Facebook page. Thanks so much for the wonderful information!

  • http://www.allwaysaustralia.com Aussie Mike

    Good advice.  I find it really depends on the job you’re applying to whether to keep it in.  For example, if Im applying for a travel job, then I leave it in.  If Im applying for a land job, then no, I might mention it, but wouldnt focus on it. 

  • Katie McGuinness

    Leave travelling off your CV/Resume unless you’re applying for a relevant travel related job.
    All it tells me (and I have interviewed countless people) is that you’re shying away from real work and life and after a short while you won’t be able to settle and will go off travelling again.

    • Jeca Amphigouri

      Of course, it’s a matter of perspective: shying away from *crap* work and life, which is what the average company is offering me, and yes, I will eventually get bored/dissatisfied and move on to more interesting life experiences. ;)

      Doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference while I’m there, though, like “Reduced inventory errors and customer complaints by 90%” :)

  • Roselyn Omaka

    love this!

  • Adventurous Andrea

    Fantastic tips! I’ve had this conversation many times and will definitely be referencing back to this post!

  • Jordy Clements

    I agree with Katie. I would leave travel off of your resume unless the job explicitly requires certain travel experiences. Most jobs don’t want to hear it, but you can gauge by placing something in your interests section. For example, I put “Travel (41 countries, 6 continents)” at the bottom of my resume. To be honest it rarely comes up in interviews.

  • Sara

    So if you leave your travels off your resume..wouldnt you just have a massive gap on there?! lol

  • Lauren@GreenGlobalTravel

    This is great! Travel is such a rich rewarding experience.

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