Corporate Leaders Give Thumbs Up to Productive Gap Years

Aug 31, 2011

Can taking a productive year off during college help or hinder when it comes to pursuing a career? For the most part, the answer depends on who's being asked. The Education Insider weighs the positives and negatives of college gap years as seen through the eyes of corporate CEOs.

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By Harrison Howe

interview

Gap Years Praised

With words like 'positive', 'fantastic' and 'honorable' given in response to questions about gap years, it would seem many corporate executives see these educational side roads as a way for students to grow, mature and possibly develop skills that could relate directly to a specific industry. Last year RainDance Technologies President and CEO Roopom Banerjee told USA Today College writer Monika Lutz, 'To maximize the experience, candidates should do something relevant and impressive. . .'

Relevance was a word used, directly or indirectly, by several of the CEOs interviewed by Ms. Lutz. Many preferred that job prospects who had partaken of a gap year pursued some type of industry-related activity. Not only might this mean that the candidate had developed some useful skills during their experience, it could also show a deep interest in the work of a certain company or industry.

Other CEOs felt that the completion of a gap year displayed commitment and they were willing to consider a candidate no matter what their experience entailed. Some felt that a gap year showed that the student was a take-charge individual, one able to handle the real world. Any skills developed by participating in such an experience, these CEOs feel, would be useful in any work atmosphere.

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Hobbyists Need Not Apply

Another word used by nearly every CEO Ms. Lutz spoke to in reference to a gap year was: 'productive.' Traveling simply for the sake of traveling, for instance, would not be considered time well spent by most CEOs. A gap year should by CEO standards be less of a leisurely pursuit and instead be something that can later show prospective employers that the student can be, in Banjeree's words, 'a more vital and valued employee.'

While to some a gap year that related to a particular industry didn't matter, others need to see that connection when considering a job prospect. The founder and CEO of Solomon McCown went as far as to say it was 'risky' to hire a candidate for a sales job who had, say, taken a gap year to help build a school in South Africa. The worry is that, without that industry connection, such job candidates might decide some time after being hired that they wish to pursue a job in a totally different field, possibly one more related to their gap year experience.

The good news for gap year participants? It seems that more CEOs like the idea than are against it and acknowledge that, depending on the endeavor, taking a year off school can reap benefits one can't find in a classroom or an office. And candidates who bring a fresh perspective and unique experience to the table just might be a step or two ahead of the next applicant.

There are many exciting opportunities available to students who wish to pursue a gap year, such as those offered by AVIVA and Raleigh International.

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