If you’re thinking of taking a career break to travel—or are currently on the road—you may be nervous about your job prospects when you return. While you believe you are embarking on an amazing, life-changing experience, you aren’t so sure potential employers will view your break with such enthusiasm.
Indeed, you may be afraid that your time off will hurt you more than it will help you.
That is certainly how I felt when I quit my job in August 2011 to spend a year traveling and volunteering overseas. Although I had 10 years of professional experience in two different fields, I had no idea how my “grownup gap year” would be received. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my biggest struggle was juggling multiple interviews and deciding between not one, but five, job offers—all within three months of returning home.
Based on my experience, here are 10 things you can do before, during and after your trip to maximize your chances of finding the job you want after you return:
Before You Go
1. Know your industry (or your desired industry)
Be familiar with the hiring trends in your field or industry. Is it growing or shrinking? Does hiring take place throughout the year, or is it limited to a certain time period? You don’t want to return in August if most employers won’t be hiring until May. If you hope to change industries or fields when you return, talk to people who do what you want to do before you leave to get a feel for what to expect in your job search.
2. Revamp your resume
Add major accomplishments from your current job while they are still fresh in your mind—and while you still have access to the numbers you might use to quantify those achievements. As you travel, add any relevant work, whether it’s volunteering, working or other relevant skill-building activities. Once you get into your job search, customize your resume as appropriate for each position, highlighting the most relevant experience.
3. Update your LinkedIn profile
Even if you don’t intend to use LinkedIn in your job search (though you should!), potential employers will check out your LinkedIn profile. This is your online resume, so update it accordingly before you leave. Connect with soon-to-be former colleagues, ask for recommendations and join and participate in relevant groups to stay informed while you’re away.
4. Set aside a “return fund”
While you’re saving and budgeting for your travels, be sure to set aside sufficient funds to cover living expenses for four to six months once you return. This should alleviate some of the pressure you may feel to land a job immediately and prevent you from settling for something that’s less than ideal.
While You’re on the Road
5. Enhance your experience
There’s nothing wrong with taking a year off to party around Southeast Asia or lay on a beach in the Caribbean. But when it comes to your job search, it would be beneficial to also include some volunteering or other skill-building activities along the way. If you can find opportunities directly related to your niche, that’s even better.
6. Be aware of your online presence
Launching a blog about your travels can be a great way to keep in touch while developing new skills (writing, editing, social media, etc.). However, be sure your blog is something you’re comfortable with a potential employer reading. The same goes for social networks like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Share your experiences, but do so in ways that will reflect positively on you as a professional.
7. Start your job search before you return
A month or two before returning, update your resume with any experience you’ve gained along the way, subscribe to job boards in your field and create a list of organizations that interest you. Start submitting applications, making it clear you can be available for initial interviews by phone or Skype. For many employers, the hiring process can take several months—by the time they get around to bringing candidates in for interviews, you may already be home.
When You Return
8. Be positive
Approach your job search as a positive learning experience—this is your chance to forge a new path for yourself. Go into every networking meeting and interview with an open mind. At worst, you might confirm what isn’t right for you. At best, you could discover a new career path altogether!
9. Own your travel experience
Don’t shy away from sharing your travel experiences. Explain with confidence why you left when you did and why you are ready to return to work. Be prepared to articulate what you learned, what new skills you developed and how the experience will make you a better employee. Most people will think it was great and want to hear more.
10. Be patient
The job search process can be grueling and take much longer than you would like. It’s crucial that you stay patient. Even if you land a few interviews, nothing is a given; continue searching and keep applying for jobs until the day you finally accept an offer. That day may be a month after you return, or it may be six months, but it will happen.
Katie Aune quit her fundraising job in 2011 to spend a year traveling and volunteering throughout the former Soviet Union and is now back at work as the director of alumni engagement for a law school in Chicago. You can read about her travels, job search and re-entry experience on KatieGoingGlobal.com or follow her on Twitter at @katieaune.