Taking time out

Many students take a break during or after their studies. For some students this is part of a clear strategy, while for others the decision is forced upon them.

Reasons for taking time out after graduation are varied:

  • Some students, particularly those who have not already taken a 'gap year', feel that they want to have some 'time out', and that it will be easier to do this immediately after graduation than at a later stage in their career, when they may have personal and/or financial commitments
  • Many students feel that, after so many years in the education system, they are not ready to 'settle down' into a career or further study
  • Some graduates have not found work before they graduate, and have chosen, or been forced, to leave job hunting until after they leave university 
  • Some graduates want specifically to develop skills (often language or IT skills), or to gain knowledge or experience in particular areas, before they begin their careers in earnest
  • Many graduates want to take a year out to save the money they need to embark on a course of further study

Reasons for taking time out during your studies are equally varied, and can include the need to recover your physical or mental health, a wish to gain quality work experience, unexpected family commitments, or doubts as to your current course or situation. See our section taking time out during your studies for further information.

What do employers think?

Employers' attitudes to time out vary, but, generally speaking, they will view it favourably as long as you can demonstrate that you are a better candidate as a result of your time out than you would have been before it. In other words, they like to see that, rather than simply postponing career decisions, you have used the time wisely and productively, had positive experiences and developed useful skills and attributes:

This means that you should expect employers to be interested in:

  • Your reasons for taking time out
  • Why you did what you did
  • How you planned it
  • What you achieved
  • How you have developed as a person

What really matters then is the quality of the 'time out'. Employers are not going to be particularly impressed by six months on benefits followed by a few weeks' sunbathing on the Costa del Sol!

It is also worth bearing in mind that, if the career you are considering makes direct use of subject knowledge you have acquired from your degree (eg computer science or psychology), or if you are considering further study, there may be a concern that that knowledge may go a little stale and become dated. Do some research about how long your knowledge will be considered current as part of your thinking about possible time out.

Planning your time out

To get the most from taking time out requires forethought, research and planning. Considering why you want (or have) to take the time out will help you to work out how to make the most effective use of that time.

  • Consider how long you want to have time out, and what skills, knowledge or experience you want/hope to gain. Future employers will want to know what your personal goals and achievements were in that time.
  • Think how you can make the most effective use of your time out by perhaps combining more than one option - either simultaneously or consecutively.
  • Work out how you are going to support yourself, especially if you are planning to travel. Be realistic about finance - living overseas is seldom as inexpensive as you hope it will be.
  • Leave yourself enough time to plan what you are going to do. Some structured work experience programmes have early closing dates - examples include the JET Programme and the BUNAC schemes. You may also have to arrange visas and inoculations if you intend to go abroad.

Think about longer-term constraints that might affect your planning - especially if you are finishing your degree and want to start a graduate job on your return.

Lots of employers base their recruitment around the academic year, with closing dates often in the autumn term, and interviews and selection centres before Easter. This has implications for your planning - particularly if you intend to be out of the UK during this period.

A number of employers do recruit all year round, and the growing use of online applications is making it easier to apply for vacancies from anywhere in the world (although virtual interviews are still rare). Check to see whether your potential employers will effectively require you to be in the UK during the recruitment 'season', and, if so, plan any overseas travel or work accordingly.

Some employers are willing to defer entry. If you are taking time out after your degree, and already know what careers you are considering, it's worth identifying employers who will accept applications from candidates wishing to defer entry for a year, and applying for (and hopefully obtaining) a job before you go.

If you don't know what you want to do in the longer term - and coming to some decisions whilst you are away may be part of your plan - remember that we are here to help you and have a look at our choosing your future pages in good time. Your plans may, of course, change as a result of your time off, but it often helps to have some ideas beforehand.

Remember, too, that a careers adviser will be able to help you to market your experiences effectively when you do start applying for jobs or further study.

Time out options

The choices open to you are vast, and many students choose to combine different options, each addressing different goals. Some of the most popular choices include:

Work experience and internships

Many students and graduates, particularly those who have not already had internships or other work experience, choose to use their time out as an opportunity to gain an insight into one or more employment areas. A few internships (structured programmes offered by some graduate recruiters) are aimed specifically at graduates, but the majority are for students in their penultimate year. With the latter, it is often worth contacting individual employers to see if they will consider graduate applicants. Our work experience section has lots of useful advice and information about finding work experience, and you can search our online vacancy database for available opportunities.

Casual work

Time out doesn't necessarily mean taking a complete break from paid employment. For many students and graduates it can be a means of paying off their debts, sampling work (see also the work experience section) or providing money to fund travel later in the year. You can use our on-line vacancy database to look for short-term work, but it is often difficult to find graduate-level positions for short periods. Most people make do with less demanding and lower-paid work, and may live at home or stay with friends in low-cost accommodation to save money. Have a look at our employment section for more information.

Working abroad (including casual and TEFL options)

Some students and graduates combine travelling with work, either by gaining short-term, casual work abroad, or through longer-term, structured overseas opportunities.

Voluntary work

Volunteering is an excellent way of putting something back into the community whilst also developing your own skills and knowledge base. Some students and graduates volunteer with particular organisations in order to gain experience before going on to train for certain professions (such as social work or library management) but volunteering can be a useful way to gain experience in a wide range of occupations. Time out can provide you with an excellent opportunity to spend a longer period volunteering than might be possible whilst you are studying.

Further study - short or part-time courses

A period of time out can be used to attend short or part-time courses. These courses tend to be vocational in nature, such as those which develop IT skills or teach or improve a foreign language. Choosing to take a course during a period of time out is a very positive option, as a well-chosen course can increase your employability and demonstrate your willingness for continued learning. See our section on further study for more information and resources.

Travelling

Many students and graduates, especially those who haven't had a 'gap year' before coming to university, decide to take time out in order to travel and 'see the world'. This can mean spending time in different countries, an extended period visiting one country or a whistle-stop tour of the world. Travelling is a great way to experience other cultures, visit interesting places and meet other like-minded people. The key to having a good experience is planning, and this will include considering:

  • Where you want to go, how long you will be away and what you will do whilst abroad (people often combine travelling with casual work in the countries they are visiting)
  • Working out your budget and how you are going to finance the trip
  • Health issues - particularly important if visiting developing countries
  • Red tape. As well as the obvious, such as ensuring that you have a valid passport for the duration of your time away, you will need to investigate what visas may be required for the countries you are thinking of visiting.

We have a number of relevant books in the Careers Service which you may find useful. These contain advice and suggestions from experienced travellers, but all stress the importance of good planning and having challenging but achievable goals. It is also worthwhile reading travellers' guides to specific countries (eg Lonely Planet and Rough Guides), as these contain valuable information - including suggestions for finding casual work. The following websites also have useful information for travellers:

10 Common pitfalls

It is easy to get carried away with the wide range of exciting opportunities open to you - beware of these common pitfalls!

  1. Not deciding what you want to get from your time out
  2. Not making the most of opportunities to fill possible gaps in your CV - such as limited work experience or low IT skills, for example
  3. Not being aware of recruitment timetables - a year out can rapidly turn into two without careful planning
  4. Feeling you have to go travelling - because that's what everyone else does
  5. Not having any specific goals and spending the entire time watching day-time television or in a dead-end job
  6. Heading for one option - eg an internship - when what you may need is to explore a range of careers and take a short holiday
  7. Forgetting funding issues
  8. Over-estimating what you might be able to save towards further study
  9. Not having a back-up plan when things fall through
  10. Thinking that time out will, all on its own, help you to decide what you want to do with your life...

Now you know these common pitfalls, take a look at the steps you can take to avoid them:

  • Work out what you want to achieve over your time out. Look back at the options listed earlier to give you some ideas. Write down a list of goals - and make sure they are realistic.
  • Decide how much time you are going to take out - and think about the most effective use of that time. If you want to improve your IT skills and get work experience in four types of occupation, all before Easter, then consider a part-time or distance-learning IT course, plus some short visits or shorter periods of work experience as opposed to one longer placement. Start with 'fixed' elements, which have specific date constraints, and plan around them.
  • Decide what your budget is and how you are going to fund your plans. Make sure your budget is realistic by doing careful research and speaking to others who have done similar things. Always allow for unexpected costs and for important basics like insurance, travel, rent and food. Have an emergency fund if you're travelling - just in case.
  • If you're a graduate, consider whether taking a whole year out will affect your career. Many employers fully endorse and support time out but others are less keen, so do your homework before you commit yourself. You may be able to get a job offer before you take your time out, and have a stress-free year with a job already in the bag to return to.
  • Start planning as soon as possible - many schemes, work experience opportunities and courses have early closing dates. Do your research to ensure you don't miss out.
  • Finally, make sure you consider longer-term time constraints - these include graduate closing dates and recruitment schedules. Do your research carefully and you will invariably fit all your plans together.

If you don't know what you want to do in the longer-term, try to spend some time with a careers adviser before taking time out.

How we can help

We have excellent resources to help you plan your time out, and staff are familiar with the various issues that you may wish to raise.

Before you go:

  • Ask our staff to show you the resources we have to help you plan your time out
  • If you are considering time out after graduation, identify career areas you may be interested in pursuing when you return
  • Discuss your ideas with a careers adviser
  • Use our website resources

During and after your time off:

  • Use the resources on our website for help with your longer-term career planning, wherever you are
  • Remember that you are eligible to use the Careers Service for as long as you need after graduation - and may be eligible to use those of other universities, too

Whatever you plan to do with your time out, have a great time and make the most of it!