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Guest Blog - How a Gap Year Can Mark Your Way to Lifelong Career Success

Date added: Friday 19th August 2016

There are plenty of good reasons why you should take a gap year. The transition from high school to college can be somewhat stressful, so getting mentally prepared for it is going to help you deal with some of that stress. But beyond that, there are benefits to gapping that stretch way beyond college.

Find Your Strong Points Early

There are probably some things you do better than others. In high school, work is pretty straightforward, so you donít really get a chance to figure out your own unique strong points. College is going to be different, but not by much.

The things you find easy to do are probably quite specific right now, like understanding geometry better than arithmetic, or preferring to work with abstract information, rather than concrete dates, charts and tables. These are very useful skills, and they can point in the direction of your strong points, and help you choose your basic career path.

But these arenít the only things that are going to help you. You need to discover the underlying theme of the things that come naturally to you. Taking a gap year is the perfect opportunity to explore your potential in a work-like environment or at least one where you have to cooperate with others to achieve a goal Ė on an expedition perhaps. Volunteering, interning or being in paid work can help you find out what youíre truly good at, so you know what to focus on later.

See Where You Need Improvements

Your gap year is a relatively low risk environment in which you can find out what your weak points are and see how you could work to improve on them. You certainly donít need to be an ace in everything to be successful, but you need to understand where you might not be so effective. You can then work on strategies to get around these, learn new skills or plough on mindful of the likely hurdles.

Although youíll have plenty of time to get better, once youíve started down a career path, itís going to be harder to take significant time off to train, learn, and improve yourself the way you can do right now-at least until you are in mid-career. Itís worth thinking about how and when you might find time to spend 6-12months doing something other than being at university or in a fulltime job.

If you have never had to push yourself to be a success at what you do, perhaps you are operating in a comfort zone? A gap year spent doing something where you feel just out of your depth, a bit uncomfortable or where you can be inspired by the achievements of others might be the thing that propels you to greater achievements in future.

Discover Your Passion

There are probably all sorts of things you like doing, and plenty of others youíd be interested in trying out. But the key to a successful career is finding something youíre truly passionate about and sticking with it-more or less!

In high school, you donít really get a chance to do anything in-depth. There are exceptions of course, just look at the age of some Olympians, but working towards a career means you have to find something that you like doing so much, youíre willing to do it for many years. That doesnít mean youíll be doing the same thing all your life. As you become more expert, new opportunities that draw on your talents will emerge and keep you motivated. However, trying to decide what this is at 16 or 18 years old is pretty daunting and a gap year is an opportunity to find out.

Experiment as much as you can, and see if thereís a pattern to the things you like doing, and the things youíre good at. Choosing a path blindly, without knowing what it involves can be very frustrating, and the further down the line you are, the harder itís going to be to switch to something different.

Of course, this doesnít mean any decision you make right now is going to be set in stone. People change all the time, and thereís nothing wrong with that. But having a full year at your disposal just to figure out what it is you love doing is definitely going to help you get on the right track early on.

Meet New People

Finding a career you love and moving up in that career will take a lot of skill and experience. Nobody can deny that being good at what you do is essential if you want to be successfulÖ.but knowing the right people can also help. Donít think of it as cheating. People are more likely to recommend, or even hire, people they know and trust. Forming this sort of solid relationship takes time and during college you might not be able to build these kinds of relationships with people outside of your study and friend circle.

The bonds you form during your gap year, with other volunteers, instructors or community leaders can last a lifetime. Shared and intense experiences often bring people closer together in relatively short spaces of time. Knowing yourself is essential if you want to be successful and the people you connect with are going to help you figure that out.

Networking can definitely improve your chances of finding a good job early on, but a successful career is not just about the job. Success is going to mean different things for different people. Learning about what other people understand by this term is going to help you realize what it means to you.

Get Some Work Experience

After youíve finished college you will face some very well prepared competition. Consider just how many people will enroll on the same college program as you. By the time you graduate you will all have similar education and probably similar skills.

Your gap year can help you gain some valuable work related experience and thatís going to set you apart. You might not find work or volunteering exactly in your field of interest but learning how it feels to have a job and seeing yourself in that environment can be an even more valuable experience. Coming up with a plan thatís right for you can take quite a long time, especially if you donít know exactly what youíre looking for so why not talk to experts to help you choose your gap year experience?

Lastly, most employers donít expect fresh graduates to have a great deal of relevant experience but showing them that you are genuinely interested in finding a job, being familiar with a work environment and where your passion connects with a job in their company, can make you a stand-out candidate.

by Amanda Wilks:†Amanda Wilks is a Boston University graduate and a Contributing Editor at Job Descriptions. She has a great interest in everything related to job-seeking, career-building, and entrepreneurship and loves helping people reach their true potential.