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How to Explain Long-Term Travel in a Job Interview

by Ethan Walker Mar 20, 2014

Traveling the world was probably a lot harder than you’d imagined, and now that you’re back, you find yourself in need of a job. You may be disheartened to learn that, in spite of your new-found appreciation for full-time work, basic possessions, and a permanent living situation, coming back and convincing employers to hire you can be the biggest challenge of all.

In places like the US, with a permanently recessed economy in which companies are not growing, a surplus of workers unable or unwilling to retire, devalued academic credentials, and exploitative entry-level wages, starting a career was already hard enough.

And now, with this suspicious void on your resume, how can you pick up where you left off?

Be honest and sincere.

Employers appreciate those who accept responsibility for their actions. If you went abroad on impulse, own up to it. Tell them why your life sucked at home. If you honestly didn’t see yourself at that job for a long period of time, tell them why. No chance of advancement? No raise in two years? Worked for a pathetic salary? Moral or ethical issues? They’ll want to know, honestly, why you left. Chances are, the reasons were more legitimate than you think.

Highlight positive experiences.

Those who traveled abroad exclusively for a job, such as the Peace Corps, would have a new credential that looks excellent on paper — even if it was really just a guise for the freedom to explore. Others who traveled on their own terms will have to get more creative.

Most long-term travelers have worked and volunteered at least once in some form. Be sure to point out, among your smorgasbord of life experiences from the road, any tangible skills that translate to the job.

Downplay the questionable ones.

Employers would not be impressed to know how you’ve invested a lot of time and money to improve your skill in an aggressive and dangerous form of Polynesian dancing, for example. The things that will not directly benefit them and could be interpreted as negative character attributes due to associated stereotypes — leave those out.

Study the rhetoric.

You made and sold jewelry? Sole Proprietor. Did work exchanges at hostels? Hospitality Associate. Dug holes and weeded? Experienced Landscaper. Find the right words to convey your experiences in a way that makes you a viable product for this business to purchase.

Put it all in context.

Like any transformative experience, extended travel takes a long time to process — could be a year, could be a decade. What you need is psychic distance. So it might be difficult to say exactly “what you were doing,” as people love to ask, or “why” you did what you did.

These questions can quickly become philosophical and difficult. When you finally do get it, write a memoir. Until then, in your interviews for jobs to make a living, compose phrases like, “I wanted to go abroad before I settled down,” which tell an employer that you did what you needed to do, and now that it’s out of your system, you’re even more employable than before you left.

Believe in travel.

You read Matador. That’s a good first step. Keep reading travel. Read Pico Iyer. Read Whitman. Whoever it is that speaks to you. Absorb their philosophy as if your life depended on it, and then sit down and write your own. Carry influential essays and poetry with you everywhere you go. Practice with friends and family and strangers explaining ‘why we travel.’ Believe in yourself, and don’t forget how it felt to be there, doing it, living the dream.

Because it may come up in the interview: the legitimacy of travel as a worthwhile pursuit. If it does, consider it a red flag towards that business’s culture — but still explain how you feel, that, as 21st-century humans, there still exist aspects of our lives other than those that equate to social production, and that in the grand scheme, travel leads to a great deal of wisdom and contentment. If this sentiment doesn’t appeal to an employer, they’re not worth working for anyway.

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