How travel can boost your résumé
So you’ve just taken a few months (maybe even a year off) to travel … that’s great! It must have been an enlightening opportunity. You probably experienced new cultures and languages and met people from all walks of life. But now that you’re back home, it’s time to face reality. You might need to find a job in order to finance your life and, of course, future travel plans.
A gap on your résumé thanks to time spent traveling the world may seem daunting, but if you word it right, it might actually help you land the job you want. Remember, people take time off to travel the world all the time — it’s nothing new. In the end, it’s usually a rewarding experience and you can still be realistic about finding a career afterward. We spoke with three different career coaches and counselors to learn how to strategically fit travel on your résumé.
Where should one fit ‘travel’ on a résumé?
There are plenty of different ways to format a résumé, but when it comes to creating a subheading for “travel,” do so with purpose. You should address it as if it were any other job.
“I’d recommend sticking to a chronological résumé format as it’s typically the easiest to follow — so include your travel where the date fits,” explains Belinda Elworthy, career coach at SheThrives. “You could also include it under the title ‘relevant experience’ if you can link skills or capabilities gained during your travel to 1-2 of the skills/attributes required for the job.”
If you format chronologically, that may mean the gap is at the top of the page, which may seem a bit intimidating. Elworthy explains that it’s important to highlight and demonstrate how the skills you learn abroad are valuable to the job you’re applying for. You can do this with bullet points. If your travel experience doesn’t enhance your overall professional story, include it in a section titled “other interests.”
Prepare to explain why there’s a gap in your résumé
So now that you know where to fit a gap for travel on your résumé, be deliberate in your explanation for it. There’s no benefit to dancing around the topic when you can actually use your experience from traveling to your advantage.
“My recommendation is to never leave a gap on your résumé without addressing what it is as this can create suspicion. Addressing the career gap succinctly and in a positive light is important. Include any work experiences during this time that might be relevant to the role you’re looking to land,” says Elworthy.
“Ensure that you can explain to the interviewer why you decided to leave a job and travel,” advises Paul Di Michiel, career coach at The Career Medic. “Briefly outline the benefits you derived from traveling, for instance, not just R&R, but things like self-sufficiency, cultural awareness, and budgeting.”
Keep the explanation short and sweet. The interviewer doesn’t need to know intense details that might derail the conversation. Think of this as an elevator pitch — expect the question to arise and rehearse exactly what to say.
“In conversations about your career gap, it’s important to not over-explain or apologize for it, and instead, to acknowledge it briefly. Then be able to transition the conversation back to what really matters — that your career gap is over, and you are enthusiastic about returning to work,” says Elworthy. “Follow this with a relevant work experience example, which can be very useful to shift the conversation forward.”
Explain how you’ve kept up any relevant skills
What the interviewer really wants to know is how you’ve kept up any relevant skills pertaining to the job. The company may be less inclined to hire someone who they have to reteach skills to. Demonstrate how you’ve improved your expertise on the road. Show your enthusiasm about the job so the interviewer knows that the work related to the role is something you’re passionate about.
“There’s also a level of interest on the interviewers’ behalf as to how you have kept up your skills while traveling, particularly in IT or tech roles, which evolve very rapidly,” explains Di Michiel. “In that case, it would be good to say you have read blogs or discussed current topics with others. No one wants to hire someone who is not current or contemporary in terms of their knowledge and skills.”
Use keywords that can be transferred from travel in order to boost your résumé
When sifting through a pile of résumés, employers usually scan through each one to look for keywords that jump out at them. You might have already explained past work experience with keywords such as time management, customer service, or attention to detail. Use other, positive language to highlight the travel gap on your résumé.
“If traveling was a goal you made, and you took the necessary steps to achieve that goal by saving and planning, then that’s a great thing to make known during the hiring process,” says Kaylyn Taylor, who edits résumés and does career coaching on the side to complement her job as a digital editor at P.S. Frocks. “Employers want to know that you can set your sights on a goal and make it happen.”
Elworthy explains that using specific keywords such as “curious,” “adventurous,” “resourceful,” “culturally diverse experiences,” “adaptable,” and “organized” are helpful when transferring skills from travel to the job. For instance, if you learned Spanish when you spent time traveling in South America, highlight that you learned a new language as this shows that you continued to educate yourself on the road and can now converse with a larger group of people. Searching for more keywords? After traveling, you must be a master at strategic planning, communication, and negotiation.
Remember, a gap on your résumé is not a total deal-breaker for employers
“Taking time off is absolutely not a total deal-breaker from the point of view of someone looking to hire. I think the bigger question you should be asking is, why would you want to work for someone that doesn’t value travel and self-development?” says Taylor. “The only fear that many employers have is that you may want to travel again, which would mean turnover costs. This is why it’s very important, to be honest with your employer about your future plans.”
Think about it: You just spent time exploring the world! Not a lot of people get to have this experience. It’s not something to be ashamed of when you put it on your résumé — it’s something to be proud of. It’s important to be deliberate in your actions when you return from the break.
“When you return from an extended break, it’s good form to meet people, talk about your break, and what you’d like to do next. The fact that you are refreshed and have the travel bug out of your system is attractive to employers,” says Di Michiel.
“Good employers value expanding your knowledge and experience whether that comes from traveling, reading, or developing a new skill,” Taylor says. “What you really need to bring to light during the interview process is why you traveled, what you learned, and how it makes you the best fit for the job.”
Make sure the interviewer knows that you’re excited to recommit yourself to your career. You can write the best résumé in the world, but nothing beats enthusiasm, passion, and a positive attitude when it comes to landing your dream job.