Some time off can be a valuable thing.
It often feels like the job market is geared to benefit people who have been on a certain, rigid track for the duration of their educational and then professional lives. We dive into qualifications, project history, and extracurricular groups because we feel vulnerable if we aren’t ascertaining value to every activity, we’ve ever participated in. One could argue that this is a result of our culture internalizing the lessons of a generation of parents who structured their children’s entire upbringing around activities that could make them economically and culturally competitive, a certainly well-intentioned archetype that yielded arguably mixed results. In this context, taking a gap year can sometimes feel like a luxury that may come back to bite young people later on when they’re having to explain a non-productive blank space in an otherwise immaculate resume. When you’re putting on a suit and tie to go talk about how the Nasdaq closed high this week, it can feel awkward to know you’ll likely also end up explaining the year you spent surfing or working on a dairy farm in Ireland. I am here to give you one little piece of advice on that front: DON’T BE NERVOUS.
I often find myself writing about how job interviews, like almost any other type of business or social interaction, are as much about interpersonal connections as they are about the nuts and bolts of our professional history. I think I linger on this point because it is as true as it is counter intuitive. We’re so used to grooming ourselves to be the immaculate professional: sometimes the human being can get lost in there, and not always to our benefit.
Job Interviewers, like anyone else, get bored doing their jobs sometimes. They ask the same questions all the time; they get the same answers just as frequently; and they spend all the time talking about pretty much the same subject. They, like you, may be looking for ways to break that pattern and enjoy a bit more personal of a connection. Talking about your gap year, like any other hobby or interest you have, gives you a chance to make yourself more memorable. And, unlike most other hobbies or interests, a gap year is something you can put down in black and white on your job history without raising any eyebrows. It’s an extremely valuable way to discuss how you interact with your work life, how your work life intersects with your personal interests and goals, and how you have maybe learned a few out of the box ideas that most people aren’t picking up in college or at the office.
If you spent a year working on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Dublin, maybe you have some new insight into how rural markets can affect the supply and demand of certain goods in ostensibly disconnected urban centers. Maybe your time touring the classic cities of Europe taught you how much our current ideas of entrepreneurship are traced back to ancient civilizations that you previously only understood through history books. Whatever insights or experiences you have, they weigh into the presence you’ll have in a company.
Don’t get me wrong. You shouldn’t go on a gap year so you can sound more impressive in a job interview. You should go on one if you want to and if it makes sense for you, and you shouldn’t put it off because you’re worried about how it will make you look in a job interview. We all want to work with the most interesting and effective person possible, so don’t be afraid to lean into what makes you interesting and interested!
This article was written by Jason David. Jason David is a graduate of the University of Southern California and currently works as a freelance writer and performer in New York City.