For many people, there is an employment gap after graduation. Whether it's because they chose to take the summer off after college or are beginning to realize just how hard it is to get a job after graduation, it's more common than you may think. With that said, you can use the time after graduation before your first job (which is the hardest to get IMO), to do some fun things and some productive things, which is what we will look at today.
This post if actually from a reader who recently sent me an email asking for, “advice about the best way to utilize this time? I think a lot of people are in the same situation as me where our start dates got postponed or our graduation travel plans got canceled,” and I think she's right. Through all of 2020's chaos, I've always said my heart breaks for those graduating.
Table of Contents
How To Use The Time After Graduation Before You Start Working [+ How To Explain The Employment Gap]
- Should you take the summer off or a year off after college graduation?
- How to use the time after graduation before you start working
- List of fun things to do after graduation
- How to NOT spend the time off after graduation
- How to explain employment gap after graduation
- Employment Gap Explanation tip: Highlight skills
- Employment Gap Explanation tip: Keep it short
- Keep in mind: you have more potential than proof at this point
- How to get a job after graduation
Should you take the summer off or a year off after college graduation?
Yes! If you find yourself with time off before entering the workforce after graduation, consider yourself lucky.
I know that may be easier said than done… many have a clock that's begun ticking on their student loan repayment. Others may begin experiencing depression as life after college sets in – add in the fact that for the first time in many people's lives they don't have school to define them, and no job to define them either, it can lead to feeling lost, depressed, and on the verge of a crisis.
So that's my first piece of advice if you find yourself with time off after graduation: recognize you are not alone.
Three to six months is the average time it takes to get a job after graduation. Yes, you have student loans to pay back, but honestly, you have your entire life to work. There is a rare beauty in the time post-grad, pre-employment where you get to pause. Really look inward and figure out if you've been making choices because they excite you or because you've been on autopilot for someone else's dream. <— And that's why I say consider yourself lucky.
Granted, I'm biased. I didn't take time off or experience a delay in plans due to a global pandemic like many are currently going through. Instead, I graduated, jumped right into grad school where I landed a job while in school, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, only to find myself backsliding deeply into my depression and gettting fired twice in a month. It was only after I got fired twice in a month that I realized I needed to pause and reflect… possibly could've skipped grad school had I done that from the beginning – LOL.
How to use the time after graduation before you start working
Personally, I'd recommend using the time after graduation to do some soul searching. Check-in with yourself and make sure you actually want to be in the industry you just got a degree in. Talk with people in your industry, ask them what they love about it? What do they hate about it? What have been the biggest hurdles in their career?
Think about what you want your life to look like.
Then reverse engineer it. If the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything, it's that the workforce as we know it is going to continue to collapse. Things will continue to get shaken up. So figure out what your vision is for your life, then build it. Opportunities are popping up that didn't exist five years ago, let alone a year ago! So who knows what your career will look like in five years.
I can promise you this… life is short and fragile. You better start doing what lights you up on a BIG level; like a soul calling level. The career will follow. Here are some ideas for sorting that out:
List of fun things to do after graduation
- Take a gap year through AmeriCorp
- Find an internship
- Become a nanny
- Grow your network
- Prepare for a grad school exam
- Start a new hobby
- Take on a research assistantship
- Take on seasonal work doing things you're passionate about while traveling
- Read for fun
- Create a wellness / self care practice that will sustain you in your career
- Work at your college. There are so many more people in your college town than you realize when you are an undergrad student. I have friends who did seasonal work at our college rickshawing people around town while starting a company. Don't feel like you need to skip town just because you graduated.
- Invest in your passion
- Continue learning with e-courses
- Start a side hustle
- Start a fitness routine
How to NOT spend the time off after graduation
If you are taking time off after graduation or your plans fell through here is what not to do with your newfound time: move back in with your parents, treating the time like summer vacation between Junior and Senior year of high school… which is what I find most people do.
Like I said earlier: the time after graduation before entering the workforce is a time where many feel lost… so we go back to what feels normal. Moving back home since we don't have much money of our own… only we revert back to being the “kid” too often rather than being an adult in the family home. I think that's why you see so many people ask, “why is it so hard to find a job after graduation?”
There is nothing wrong with moving back home with your family after college. But in order to keep depression at bay and a prospective career on the horizon, you want to treat this time like you would if you had a job.
Heck, get a part-time job if you need to add some structure into your day. Take online classes or non-matriculating classes at your school. Volunteer to help neighbors. The people you meet in life are often your best leads for new jobs anyway, so build up your network and get involved in a community.
Offer to help more around the house too… I know there's always going to be more adulting you can do later in life, but my goal here, is to keep you feeling GOOD about yourself. Invest in a new skill, help more around your house or the neighbors, do whatever you can to keep your self esteem and self worth high. It will help you in the next part of this…
How to explain employment gap after graduation
Depending on how you've chosen to use the time after graduation will largely shape how you explain your employment gap after graduation.
Explain why you have a gap
Honesty goes a long way here, but you also want to frame it in a way that paints you in the best light.
For example: maybe you chose to take the year off and do some soul searching, you could say something like, “I was debating between grad school or entering the workforce, but wanted to ensure this was the line of work I really could see myself doing for the next 20+ years, so I did some community work, interviewed and networked with a lot of people in the industry, and decided I can't wait to jump in! I realized I didn't need a graduate degree to get started and am eager to join a company like yours.”
This shows the potential employer that, while you don't have things you could put on your resume, you were getting involved in the community and networking while soul searching. Talking about 20+ years shows that you are planning to commit at this point in your life and won't flake out on them in 5 months. If you can, provide character reference letters from people you may have networked with to really back up a response like this.
Highlight skills you picked up and refined during your gap
Study the job listing for this, or typical tasks/skills required for the job, and really ask yourself, “what is this potential employer looking for in filling this role?” See what skills you've picked up and refined during your time off with real world experience that make you a great candidate for the job.
Keep it short
Know what you are going to say and where your end point is. This sort of goes for all interview questions, but it's really key here. You want to exude confidence in your response, and trailing off, rambling, etc. will weaken your position.
Keep in mind: you have more potential than proof at this point
I really want to stress this: employers know that young people graduating college have more potential than work history at this point. Taking time off whether by choice or due to the current state of the world doesn't change the reality that you and your peers are in the same boat. Do not beat yourself up for lack of experiencing or not have a job secured the day you graduate. Instead, focus on what you can bring to the table: a good attitude and eagerness to get the job done. When I first started working, that's what I would always lead with. People want to help young people who have those qualities.
How to get a job after graduation
Whether you are looking for a job after graduation, or later on in your career, the best way to get a job is always through your existing network. Ask your family, friends, former professors, etc. if they know of anyone you could meet with in your desired industry.
Invite people out for coffee or lunch or a virtual coffee date. Make sure you practice good etiquette here: if meeting in person, always pay for what they are having as a thank you for their time (in business, the general rule is if you invite someone out for a meeting, you pick up the tab). If it's virtual, take note of any quirks the person may have shared and send them a “saw this and it made me think of our conversation” gift or article. And in either case, always send a thank you email or text for their time.