Timeout after graduation – opportunity or hazard?

Just think of it: skiing in New Zealand, working on a cruise ship, improving bird habitats in Queensland wetlands, au pair work in China, water sports instructor in the US, medicine and healthcare projects in India, or learning French in France. There are so many opportunities to do something out of the ordinary at a time in your life when you don’t have the responsibilities you could opt for later.

In a way these activities aren’t timeout but a way to enhance your career life whilst having a whole lot of fun. By involving yourself in eye-opening activities you are learning more about yourself and developing those much-sort-after transferable skills. To give you an example, teaching skiing is developing your leadership, time management, instruction, persuasion, resilience, planning and communication skills. Employers highly prize these transferable skills in applicants. Not only that but it gives you something exciting to write on your application which will make your résumé standout from the others in the recruiter’s pile.

The opportunities are certainly apparent but what about any hazards? You do need to be careful about the amount of time you spend away from your profession. There are a few reasons for this. If you are hoping to get a place on a graduate recruitment program you will need to apply at the right time of year – this is usually between February and April for a start January/February the following year. Some graduate recruiters expect applicants to apply within two years of graduation. This is something to keep in mind as it can put a time limit on your adventures.

Most degrees don’t really have a shelf life as their main purpose is to teach underlying principles and learning. However, there are professions that require you to start before a certain date. An example of this is law; ‘Qualifications may be considered ‘stale’ by the Board of Examiners after 5 years and you may be required to undertake further study as a result’ (Law Society of South Australia, Guide to Admissions). Also a break for too long could give the impression that you are not interested in pursuing a profession; this depends on the profession and how you intend to spend your time. For these reasons it would be beneficial to check with your potential employers or professional association whether you are required to start within a particular time limit.

The other hazard is deciding to take time out and then finding that time has passed and you still haven’t achieved anything. The danger of this is that you have a gap on your résumé and when asked by an employer what you did with your time you know that there is nothing you can say that would impress. By the end of your timeout you will need to have either; travelled, completed voluntary work, worked, studied, pursued an interest or achieved something. You will also need to judge the length of time that you spend. For example, travelling overseas for one week and spending the rest of the year on the couch would not show that you are a proactive person.

In summary, check with your potential profession how long you can leave it before joining the profession, ensure that you achieve something in the time you have put aside, and think through how you can explain the advantages of your timeout to potential employers on applications and at interview.