How to Account for a Career Break on Your Resume

You arrive home at the end of a life-changing travel experience and one of the biggest questions facing you likely will be how to find work again. Whether you traveled as part of a career break, gap year, or sabbatical, you will need to figure out how to best represent the time and experiences on your resume.

Where should it go on my resume?

It depends. Do you think the experiences you had traveling apply to you finding a new job in your field?  If so, then place it in the main part of your resume. If you don’t feel like it applies, then it probably belongs in a section reserved for Additional Information or Hobbies.

Kristin Zibell of Takeyourbigtrip.com is a frequent career breaker and she keeps her resume flexible saying,

I found the recruiters and hiring managers were looking for the professional story in my resume. Every statement on my resume needed to support this story and show a situation, action, and results.  If my travels and experiences had a direct relationship to the position, like my blogging or volunteering abroad, then I listed it like a position. Most of the time, I found that travel was an interesting fact about me and explained the time gaps, but not directly related to the positions. In this case, I placed my travel experiences at the bottom in an ‘Additional Activities’ section that colored who I was and what I had done.

Kristin’s resume highlights her travels as international experience:

♦ Ten months of travel to India, Nepal, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and Europe from October 2008 to May 2010.

♦ Activities included volunteer work at Mother Teresa Mission Charities in Kolkata with disabled women and teaching English to street children in Jaipur.

♦ Designed and authored three travel blogs during multi-month these solo trips. Currently editor of Takeyourbigtrip.com.

What type of information should I share about my travels?

It’s probably NOT a good idea to put that you were a beach bum for 12 months, or that you traveled the full moon party circuit. Instead, think about what you did on your travels that had to do with education, skill building, volunteering, and business skills and highlight them in a professional manner. But there are some other skills you might want to consider:

Volunteering
One should always represent any volunteering done while traveling on their resume. It demonstrates a commitment to education, giving back to other cultures, and global experience. You should always include where your volunteering took place, what your responsibilities were, and if there was any end result. The end results could be tangible things such as building a house, cleaning up after a natural disaster, or restoring wetlands.

If not covered somewhere else in your resume, also consider including any resume building intangible results such as improved leadership skills, proven ability to take initiative, as well as listening and communication skills. Finally, if your volunteering was for an extended period of time such as 6 months to a year, then consider putting this experience in your work or education history.

Working
More and more people are working while they travel. Work that is relevant to your field is important to highlight. Did you do any freelance work, consulting, working at a hostel, or teaching ESL?  If so, this can belong in your work history.

Meet, Plan, Go! co-founder Sherry Ott highlighted her various work experiences as international work experience:

ESL Instructor: ILA Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City

♦  Teaching adults English as a Second Language (ESL).

Consultant:  CAMENAE, Singapore

♦  Delivered a usability analysis of the e-commerce site and led subsequent redesign.
♦  Conducted tests and created a regression test plan.
♦  Consult with owners on their business vision and ensure that it can be supported on the site.  Offer guidance on short and long term business plans and their technical implementation.

Blogging
Did you blog, write for publications, or do photography; all of these things illustrate that you took your travels seriously. Think about the new skills you learned when maintaining your blog. Did you increase your knowledge about Search Engine Optimization, marketing/sales of affiliate programs, coding, and social media tools?

Laura Keller did a career break with her husband Ryan and blogged about it at www.roundwego.com. She represented her blogging in the following way:

Digital Entrepreneur, Travel Blogger & World Explorer

♦ Expanded economic and cultural views while exploring 20 countries in 14 months of extensive travel across six continents
♦ Created, launched and hosted the travel website RoundWeGo.com, attracting 10,000 unique monthly visitors
♦ Governed online traffic, social media and SEO to create advertising and sponsorship revenue for RoundWeGo.com
♦ Contributed travel articles to leading lifestyle and travel Web sites and blogs

Talking about the soft skills

Even if all you did was lounge around a beach all day and drink beer, you picked up some business skills while traveling around the world.  It’s hard to think about the mundane day-to-day experiences as skill building, but they are. There are a lot of business skills you can learn without actually having gone to business school. In fact, these “business skills” are simply important life skills that can give you an edge:

♦ Negotiation skills – All that time spent in markets haggling over the cost of a magnet was beneficial.  You were exposed to and employed various negotiation tactics that can be highlighted. Businesses want people who are sharp negotiators and can make deals not people who are push overs.
Budgeting and Planning – You most likely had to plan and save for your career break.  In addition, you continue to monitor your budget and assess any financial risks.
Adaptability – When you travel, things go wrong, plans change, there are mudslides that you can’t predict.  As a traveler you are forced to change plans constantly.  You handle the issues that are hurdled your way quickly after a few months on the road. In the ever changing world of business, the ability to adapt is important.
Communication  – When trying to converse in foreign cultures every verbal and non-verbal communication is necessary to overcome language and cultural barriers. This skill is helps you deal with people which is an important aspect of any job. Workers with good communication skills are the ones who rise fast.

All of these new skills belong on your resume. And when you are asked about them in an interview, you’ll be able to share an amazing story about “that time in Vietnam…” when a skill came in handy and how it can help you in your job.

Bottom Line

Use your travel to make you stand out. Keep in mind that many of these experiences, if described in a professional manner, will make you stand out from other candidates.

Don’t hide your travel when searching for a job; embrace it!

 




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