So you’re back from a year backpacking around South East Asia - you need some cash but the job boards have you stumped. How do you explain a year of beach bumming to potential employers?
Well the answer to this one depends a lot on what industry you’re in. In fact some people advise if you have relevant work experience and qualifications, to keep travel off your CV all-together. Personally I don’t agree, travel I’m sure has taught you many valuable lessons, that will help you to be an asset to any potential company but more than that do you really want a boss who hates travel?
To help get you the job you want, let’s start by dividing your time overseas into three sections: hard skills, soft skills, and skills that need explaining.
Hard skills are anything you learned while working overseas; teaching English, working in a hostel, volunteering, studying or unpaid internships, blogging or working online as a consultant. These are all hard skills that directly translate into business capabilities and should definitely be included in your resume. In fact having experience in overseas markets is often thought of as an advantage.
The next section is soft skills - these are skills you picked up as you travelled. Worded in the right light these can show a potential employer how much you learned during your travels. Soft skills should only be included in the body of the CV if they directly relate to the job you are applying for, otherwise consider adding a section titled ‘other experience’ or even a hobbies section. In this section you can include all sorts of things, look for wording that address the competency’s listed in the job description.
Consider skills such as; negotiation, planning/organisation, communication, adaptability, budgeting, self-sufficiency and decision making. All these skills are a huge bonus in the business world and are honed by even the most party loving backpacker. Have a look at the list of questions at the end of this post to help identify some more skills that will be relevant to a potential employer.
Lead with the skill and then add the experience anecdote i.e.
Financial Planning/Budgeting – financing my year around the world involved extensive planning and book-keeping, keeping a record of expenses, spreadsheet creation and an understanding of tax systems in several countries.
Again depending on the industry and job you are applying for it may be appropriate to leave the other experience section off your CV altogether and instead use your anecdotes to illustrate your relevant experience in your cover letter or interview. Remember the keyword there is relevant.
Skills That Need Explaining
The last section is skills that need explaining. I find it hard to believe that you have spent a month or twelve, exploring new cultures or locations without honing new skills and learning about yourself, something’s however just need to be explained. If you think that considering your chosen industry travel is not relevant, you may leave travel off your CV altogether. You may or may not mention relevant skills in your cover letter but you need to be prepared to explain your hiatus from work in an interview. To frame this in the best light, the best bet is to fully understand what you learnt and why it is valuable to a potential employer.
This is the same process you would use to frame relevant experience for your resume, even if you have chosen not to include your travels, being able to answer the following questions will stand you in good stead for an interview.
First in an interview situation, be prepared to answer questions such as: Why did you choose to quit your last job and go travelling? What was the biggest lesson you learned on the road? Explain why this was more than an extended holiday and do you plan to travel more in future?
You and I both know how important the experience of travel can be but to help you put this into words try asking yourself the following:
What employment did you undertake during this time?
What positive feedback, complements or commendations did you receive?
What study or training did you undertake?
What tools and equipment did you use?
What volunteer work did you undertake?
What hobbies or interests did you study and develop?
What did you like/dislike and why?
When did you notice a change or turning point in yourself?
What goals did you accomplish during this time?
What did you learn during this time?
Don’t try and hide travel in your resume, especially if you have been away for a while the gap will be noticeable but to many modern employers the experiences you have gained during your travels can in fact, help you stand out from the crowd. Keep it professional and relevant to the job you are applying for and you will find travel can continue opening doors long after you return.