Does going travelling ruin your chances of a grad job? We asked a recruiter

‘I’ve never found a graduate who took a gap year then got a job as a banker’


With the university year coming to a close, graduates are making their way out into the real world of debt and dead-end nine-to-five jobs. For those lucky enough to have work lined up, the ensuing summer will be full of fun before eventually becoming boring for the rest of your life. Many, however, don’t have anything lined up and choose a gap year after university.

We spoke to Sam Martin, a recruitment consultant and founder of Smart Choice Student Support, about gap years after university and how they could affect your employability.

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What is the biggest mistake graduates make in their post uni gap year?

The assumption that a gap year should actually be a ‘gap’. No matter how hard you’ve worked during your degree no employer is going to think you’re entitled to a year of nothing but mooch. The truth is, a gap year is just as much about gathering CV points as it is having fun.

And as harsh as it sounds, if all you have to show for your gap year is a Chang Beer pot belly and some photos of you playing football with the local kids, then employers are not going to be impressed. So grads really need to keep in mind that if they intend to take a gap year they’ve got to still make sure it’s full to the brim with impressive experiences.

And if grads are finding it hard to find experiences, there are loads of ways they can create their own.

Be proactive in asking employers if they offer short internships and work placements. Thousands of businesses are short staffed over the summer due to the bulk of employees jetting off on their holidays. It’s up to grads to capitalise on this and speculatively ask if companies need a hand for a month or two. Obviously this won’t be with the large corporations but think about the countless small local businesses in your hometown. Whatever the level of ‘office based experience’ you get, it’s much better for your future job prospects than just another summer of pulling pints.

You can also start your own blog, volunteer, or get involved with big charity events/projects. Again, there are thousands of charities crying out for help and even if it’s just 5-10 hours a week where you can lend a hand, that’s still going to result in a solid brick when you’re building that CV.

Most post grad gap yearers I’ve come across only ’travel’ for six months. That leaves you with half a year to build some great experiences while you still work out what you’re going to do with your life. For which jobs do employers not like post graduate gap years?

From my experience I’ve never come across someone who’s taken a post graduate gap year and then gone into banking. I have no doubt tonnes of grads in these roles would have loved to have done gap years but I think because how competitive and long-winded the recruitment processes are for these roles, then there’s not much of a chance to ‘get in’ after a year out.

You’ve got thousands of grads from all over the world, who have literally been bred to go into these roles and for someone to ask to defer their start date for a year… well I’ll let you be the judge of how that’ll go down.

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Are there any sectors that prefer graduates taking gap years either before or after university?

I wouldn’t say there’s a preference, however creative roles are becoming ridiculously competitive and therefore a gap year can sometimes be advantageous. Unsurprisingly a huge amount of the ‘social media’ generation just so happen to want to land digital marketing and social media marketing roles. By this industry’s very nature they are looking for innovative and unique grads. But everyday I see the same ‘good’ CVs of: great academics, a nice digital marketing internship, and social media handling for a university society. This is no longer enough.

If you’ve done a gap year, one where you’ve done various bits and bobs aside from Full Moon parties, then you’re going to raise the eyebrows of both recruiters and employers. A great example of this was a lad I put forward for a for a marketing role. He always wanted to do a gap year after uni before entering the world of digital marketing.

So what did he do? He carried out a short social media marketing internship close to home straight after graduating. Then he did some of your standard ‘get some money together’ type work e.g. bar/waiter work. After Christmas he then went to Australia to do a month long digital marketing internship and subsequently spent 4 months travelling thereafter. After presenting his profile my client immediately wanted to see him for an initial interview.

Check out this great site for info on internships abroad and also take note of how many awesome international opportunities there are through your university.

What is the gap year graduate ‘career crisis’ and is it still prevalent?

The gap year graduate ‘career crisis’ was first knocking about around 10 years ago. It’s essentially the idea that a lot of grads who’ve no idea what they do with their lives, will end up heading home and taking a gap year almost by default. They’ll spend time in low-paid admin jobs before going off travelling to work out what career pathway they want to take.

The problem is they’ll then come back and they’ll still not have much of a clue as to what they want to do and struggle with securing a decent grad role due to having to compete with a younger and hungrier intake of fresh graduates.

It’s a vicious cycle that can leave grads feeling ‘left behind’ as they see their peers who got onto grad schemes and into grad roles start moving up the career ladder. This leads to panic and grads accepting absolutely any role they can get. They’ve then joined the supposed 80 per cent of the population who hate their jobs.

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Should my growing student loan scare me away from taking a gap year?

Absolutely not. You don’t start your repayments until you’re earning at least £21k and it’s wiped after 30 years. Most of us are unlikely to pay the full thing off so there’s no harm in delaying those payments by a year.

It’s also worth noting how cheap gap years can be. Yes flights will set you back but day to day living is not going to bleed you dry. Check out Tomislav Perko’s Ted Talk called, “How to Travel the World with Almost No Money” for some quality tips on getting the most out of travelling on the cheap.

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What is the most regular fear you hear from graduates intending to take a gap year?

There is a fear of what’s to come after the gap year. So many who take a gap year are doing it for one reason and one reason only – avoiding their inevitable soulless career. Going to Cambridge allowed me to hear first hand from countless grads who’ve chosen to take a gap year before “having” to start their jobs in consultancy or do their law conversion.

You get a lot of grad gap yearers who have ‘great’ jobs lined up but are blessed with the opportunity to defer their start date by 6 months or even a year. So what do they do? They take a gap year to travel “while I still can”. It baffles me why there is this endemic mindset among grads, who think that going to a top university automatically means you have to jump onto the classic corporate conveyer-belt. They see the gap year as one last free roam before 40 years on a hamster-wheel.

The post graduate gap year should be much more than a delay mechanism for the inevitable. It’s not about going off to ‘find yourself’; it’s about delving into a load of new experiences, challenges, projects, and cultures. No fear should be attached before, during, or after. Provided you do one for the right reasons, the post grad gap year will definitely be one of the best years of your life.