NEW YORK (MainStreet) What do you do when travel leaves a gap on your resume?
After leaving practice as a lawyer, I decided to indulge in something I hadn't enjoyed in a very long time: freedom. For ten months after I left the firm, my fiancée and I traveled the world, seeing all of the places we'd talked about going during my brief stops home between the office. It was one of the best experiences of my life, but, as with all good things, eventually had to end. We came back home, moved to Chicago and got back to real life.
Then it came time to account for my actions. This is one of the biggest challenges with long term travel, especially for someone in his 20s. What do you say about the time you spent abroad? Sure you might know that it wasn't all rum and hook-ups, but how can you communicate that to an employer?
To help answer that question, I spoke to Chicago career consultants Theresa Jaffe and Charlotte Weeks and got their advice on how to best showcase travel on your resume.
Step One: Chronology, Chronology, Chronology
Don't leave any time gaps, make sure you do put your travels on the resume.
Updating your resume after travel is not an impossible task, it just takes a little more creativity and attention to detail than simply rattling off your history of employers. As career consultant Theresa Jaffe explained, recording your travels can be easy and even impressive. The first step, though, is to make sure you actually do account for them.
"The chronology of your career is really important," Jaffe said. "You absolutely do not want to give a resume reviewer anything that will cause them concern, and a time gap on a resume is an immediate red flag, because what does it mean? It could mean you were incapacitated, you were sick, you were in rehab. Maybe you were in jail. Any amount of undisclosed information is a really, really bad thing."
According to Jaffe the first job of a resume is to account for your time. It absolutely must show where you've been.
So first thing's first, if you've been traveling for an extended period, put that on the page. Don't run away from it or apologize for your experiences, but make sure that those months don't just go missing. It won't go unnoticed. When, not if, an employer sees a large gap in the timeline the people hiring you will want to know why, and many will simply assume the worst. Instead, put your time abroad in just like everything else.
Step Two: Treat it Like A Job
Give your travels a title that sums them up, and include examples of your memorable experiences or accomplishments.
Once travel gets its space on the page then the next question is how to talk about it. World travel has immense value. It can teach you to become a more mature, curious and complicated person one small experience at a time, but capturing the nuances of that personal growth in two bullet points is far from easy.
Jaffe recommends thinking about your travels the same way you think about a job. Come up with a title that best describes your experience, then think of a few of the most outstanding moments from that trip.
It's the same exercise you do for every job on the resume, just applied a little more creatively. Where were you? What did you do and what skills did you need to do it? What were some noteworthy accomplishments? Break down that time abroad, and you might find that it had more real value than even you realized. Then write it up like anything else: title, duration and key events or skill development.
"You want to present it as time that you invested, and then you want to describe it," Jaffe said. "I always tell people that a good resume gives people the job title, the location, the time that you've invested and a brief description of the company. So when you describe this part of your life, you will maybe say 'invested personal time and resources in a six month independent study' of whatever it might be."
The fact is, few of us actually cross the world to lie on the beach and drink. Certainly we still do that too, but there's art and culture, food and diversity, and the odds are good that you dove into a lot of it. Getting home from a long trip abroad always comes with a sense of culture shock from re-integrating back into regular life and there's a reason for that. Your experiences changed you. They mattered. Let your resume reflect that.
Step Three: Talk About Your Skills
Travel, especially budget travel, builds and tests real life skills. Talk about that.
"There's few jobs anymore , I can't think of any, where being able to adapt to other cultures wouldn't be seen as a good thing," says Charlotte Weeks, CEO of Weeks Career Services. "It doesn't need to be a formal class if someone went to London, for example, and really emphasized the history, really studied the museum. The thing with all of these is to really make it look like more than a vacation, which it usually really is."
Long-term travel tests your skills on any number of levels, from personal time and financial management to cultural flexibility. Make sure to showcase that on your resume. Companies increasingly want to know that their employees can adapt to changing environments and work well with colleagues from different backgrounds. Don't miss this opportunity to point out that you fit that to a T.
"Show your skills, that you enhanced your skills somehow," Jaffe said. "What knowledge base do you have now that you didn't know before you went on your journey? If you can show to a potential employer that you have an appreciation of cultural differences based on your personal travel and experiences you have a much broader appreciation of cultural patterns, normative differences, languages, you could be very helpful to an international company."
This kind of real world experience is key. According to Jaffe, one of the biggest single headaches for any employer is hiring new graduates, because they simply don't yet have the tools to survive in the real world. They've never had to. For people recently out of college, then, take this opportunity to point out that you've already had to sink or swim on your own.
The organization and management skills, both personal and financial, necessary to make any big trip happen will translate easily into an office. Talk about them.
"The business of personal self management and learning how to really focus is important, and that's what you learn when you travel," Jaffe said. "If you've done it, you understand it. And many interviewers many people who review a resume have done this, have traveled.
Step Four: Talk About Purpose
If you had any specific goals on your trip make sure to highlight them.
Weeks points out that travel often comes with built in opportunities to tie back to your own career goals. Take them when you can, and then brag about them back home. Language lessons in Delhi or a visit to the local clinic in Kenya belong on your resume. They paint the picture of someone who not only uses her time wisely, but came back knowing more than when she left.
"When I was in college," Weeks said, "I studied abroad in London, and we were able to meet with and get a lecture from someone who is on Fleet Street and worked out there. It was a way to tie in the journalism industry with someone who worked in London."
For anyone who has not yet left, Weeks suggested building a purpose into your trip ahead of time. Instead of traveling at random, make a habit of visiting schools or taking classes at each stop along the way. Take a world museum tour or even just dive into the local cuisine, anything to build in a sense of purpose that you can discuss upon getting home.
Also, travelers who work often do so in service sector and temporary jobs. Anyone who's spent time on the beaches of Indonesia, for example, could be forgiven for thinking that the country's second language is Australian. Don't underestimate those jobs, write them down. Not only will they show that you worked, always impressive, but service sector work is more impressive than people give it credit for.
"Service jobs are one of the most important training jobs you can have," Jaffe said. "If you've waited tables you know how to serve a customer. You know how to deal with nice people and mean people. The best people that I've hired in my life, and I've hired hundreds of people, have waited tables, tended bar, worked at camps, etc."
Step Five: Don't Forget the Cover Letter
Cover letters are your chance to expand on complicated matters and fill in your back story. Take advantage of them.
Both Weeks and Jaffe emphasized that job seekers should absolutely never forget their cover letters. It's important to include your travels on the resume both because you want your timeline complete and to highlight some of the most important experiences, but a resume simply doesn't allow for much depth.
That's what the letter is for. Use that time as an opportunity to explain exactly why that time abroad was important and how it sets you apart. Go into more detail about the places you visited and the challenges of living in completely different cultures.
Don't be afraid to talk about the rough spots. Employers want to know that you can handle adversity, and living out of a backpack has hardship to spare. If you can handle food poisoning, spiders, monsoons and corrupt border guards, managing a surly officemate will be a piece of cake.
"You want to be able to show that the time away helped you to be able to grow personally," Jaffe said. "In your cover letter you can say, 'As you can see from my resume, I invested my personal resources and time traveling through Israel, traveling through Western Europe. This provided me with an opportunity. Independent travel taught me self reliance. I literally had to fend for myself.'"
Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.