Does A Gap Year Help Or Hinder Your Career?

Education secretary Justine Greening has revealed she was turned down for a job because she hadn't taken a 'gap year'. We sat down with the ELLE team to find out whether they think their decision to hit 'pause' or 'continue' on life affected their careers.

Wild | ELLE UK
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UK Education secretary Justine Greening admitted this week that she was once turned down for a job in banking because she hadn't taken a gap year.

Which seems baffling, no? Let's investigate...

Whether it's a six-month backpacking trip around the world after receiving A level results, a bar job in Australia while you decide what to do with your life post-university, or a once-in-a-lifetime holiday between jobs, a 'gap year' provides the perfect opportunity to take time out of the monotony of daily life and broaden your knowledge of the world – and yourself.

However, is it a wise choice when it comes to career progression?

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First and foremost, whether you choose to take a gap year or not, it's an entirely personal decision, depending on matters far greater than the whim to pack a bag and jet off the next outbound flight to Aruba.

Financial, relationship and career responsibilities all factor into the ability to set off on an adventure or hit 'pause' on life for several months.

Those who do will be well-accustomed to the months foregoing Saturday nights out, mini-breaks with friends and new wardrobe purchases in order to fund their travels.

As a result, many return with dream-like stories about adventures to the furthest reaches of South East Asia, late-night swims in Byron Bay with fellow travelers and sunrise hikes to the top of Balinese volcanoes.

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For others, a gap year remains just that – a dream – with many worrying whether a year on the road might suggest a lack of career ambition to a future employer, will waste valuable time away from the career ladder or is, let's face it, will be financially impossible in times of crippling student loan debts and rising house prices.

But, could the decision not to take a gap year actually have a detrimental affect on your career goals?

Speaking at the launch of her new social mobility strategy, Education secretary Justine Greening recalled an interview at the former merchant bank, Barings Bank, when she was allegedly told she wasn't suitable for the job because she hadn't travelled enough.

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At the time, she felt 'too embarrassed to admit that I simply couldn't afford one' and now hopes businesses will stop favouring job applications who had the luxury of taking a gap year.

In light of Greening's comments, we asked the ELLE team to reveal whether they found their decision to take a gap year or not helped or hindered their careers:

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1 Catherine Pykett, picture editor

I took a gap year straight after sixth form and travelled to Thailand, which was one of the most amazing, grounding experiences of my life. 

It enabled me to get tonnes of invaluable work experience before I headed to university, knowing exactly what degree I wanted to do and the career I aimed to pursue. 

2 Lila Roberts, fashion cupboard manager

I think it massively helped. I used my gap year to work a month's internship at ELLE before traveling  for five months and then returning to the magazine. 

Taking a gap year taught me that I can do whatever I put my mind too (sounds so lame, I know). During that time, I went out of my comfort zone, was able to pursue my dream job and travelled – things  I never thought I'd be able to do. 

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3 Kelsey Freeman, designer

I haven't taken a gap year myself. Instead, I chose to save during term time and use long summer breaks during university to travel to Thailand etc. However, I imagine I'll do a big trip later on in life but I wanted to kick start my career first.

A few of my friends decided to travel as soon as we left university but found it really hard to get a job when they returned. They found themselves competing with a bunch of new, fresh graduates eager to climb the career ladder. In comparison, I was beginning my second job with a year-and-a-half experience under my belt.

4 Hannah Nathanson, commissioning editor

I took a gap year where I worked for six months in the city as a PA before going travelling and teaching English in Chile. Taking a gap year has had no influence whatsoever on my career. I don't think it does unless you're smart enough to know what you want to do at 18-years-old (who is?) and get yourself a job that will help you move towards your dream career. 

What it did help me with was doing things I would never have done at school, university or in my later career for that matter. For me, it was a year to be brave, adventurous and, at times, to experience how uncomfortable and unpredictable the real world can be. 

We shouldn't be putting too much emphasis on a gap year's influence on later life – it's just a year and so many of my friends took gap years after university or in between jobs. I definitely hope to take another one at some point in my life.

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5 Susan Ward-Davies, travel editor

I had lots of gap years – almost  a gap decade – but not in a very organised way. I've roamed the world which eventually led me to become a travel writer. 

However, I found I was often turned down for 'proper' jobs because all my global wandering  made me look too restless – the kind of person who could never settle down to a nine-to-five job. 

Taking gap years has taught me that a lack of money should never be a barrier to what you want to do. I used to set off with just an inter–rail ticket, pick up live–in jobs or and sleep on trains when I couldn't and hitchhike with long-distance lorry drivers. 

They've taught me how to get on with all kinds of people from all walks of life, to sense who you can trust (and who you can't) and, more importantly, that speaking languages is essential. Wherever I travelled to I would make sure I learned enough for a very basic conversation in a matter of hours. 

6 Katie O'Malley, digital writer

As I studied French and Spanish at university, my gap year was already a part of my degree course and resulted in 15 months studying, working and interning abroad before returning to complete my final year. 

While I don't feel I missed out on a gap year, I slightly regret not taking the time to travel to the more far reached places of the world such as Australia, Thailand and South America before/after university when I didn't have the responsibility of rent or a job.

I still have dreams of taking several gap years, most likely between careers in the future, but personally, I'm glad I threw myself straight into my studies and a career. 

My view is gap years can be taken throughout your lifetime. I don't see why someone's experience of traveling should have any factor in their skills or abilities for a job. 

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