A gap year will make your interview stand out.
Despite the horrific traffic, impossible parking, and your uncooperative necktie, you have arrived to your interview fifteen minutes early; so far, so good. Your name is called and you anxiously make your way to the hiring manager’s office, remembering at the last moment to dry your sweaty palm before you offer to shake her hand. Sitting across the desk from her, you watch as she skims your well-prepared resume, and then she lifts her eyes and says, “So, William, it says here that you spent a year in Brazil. Tell me about that.”
Talking Up Your Gap Year
Maintaining perfect posture, you smile and tell yourself, “I’ve got this one!” You were hoping that the interview would make its way to this topic, as this is just one of many questions that you have thoroughly planned for.
You explain to her that prior to choosing your destination for your gap year, you spent time asking yourself what you wanted to achieve while abroad and then researched how to accomplish it. The three professionally oriented goals that you set for yourself were:
Community involvement & networking
But, remember that your job in an interview is to translate your past experience into real and marketable benefits to the organization: principally among them is to demonstrate that you can plan and then execute.
Prior to embarking for Brazil, you took the initiative to study Portuguese. You took courses at school, volunteered as a teacher’s assistant, joined the Portuguese club (in your school, local university, and/or within your community), studied with computer software, worked with an afterschool tutor, subscribed to your favorite magazine in Portuguese (Coral Magazine, National Geographic), and read prominent Brazilian authors (Paulo Coehlo and Paulo Freire). While in Brazil, you made a conscious decision to only speak Portuguese, achieving a language ability that is comfortably conversant, and since you have been home you’ve maintained your Portuguese by returning to your Portuguese club, teaching/tutoring whenever you’re able, etc. You package this for the hiring manager as being a person that sets a goal, designs a strategy, and then executes it fully. Furthermore, you’ve anticipated what value your new language is to this company, and why they should care that you speak it -- every language has a value to an organization. In this case, it’s an international organization and Brazil is the top emerging economy in the Western Hemisphere.
Service Learning & Networking
Knowing that your professional interests lay in marine biology, you arranged an afterschool service learning experience with Projeto Tamar, a non-profit organization whose objective is to protect sea turtles from extinction. You were intentional when you chose this organization as they had a marine biologist on staff that you did a job-shadow with, and, the organization has a relationship with your university (thus enabling you to secure undergraduate credits). Through this service learning opportunity you developed real-world professional skills, immersed yourself into an environmentally conscientious community, have a professional network for career opportunities in Brazil, and are able to offer a network of professionals to the very employer with whom you are interviewing.
Just like everything in life, you will get out of your gap year what you put into it. If you put serious thought into the planning phase of your gap year the rewards will be bountiful: start early, and seek the advice of those who know how to build a good Gap Year, like the American Gap Association, or search TeenLife's gap year programs. Perhaps the two most important elements in a successful Gap Year are that you do it intentionally, and that you, the student, lead the charge. So taking the time to plan –- hopefully based on goals or explorative themes, no doubt will offer the most lasting of benefits.